March 11, 2019

It's Time we Embraced Sabbaticals

Nancy Steiger

Nancy Steiger
President/Nancy Steiger Consulting

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This summer I resigned my position as CEO of PeaceHealth’s Columbia Network, a group of hospitals in Southwest Washington. Everyone wanted to know what I was going to do next, but my intention was exactly the opposite: my immediate focus was on doing nothing.

For nine years, I worked in leadership positions for the parent organization, usually getting up at 5 a.m. and returning home at 8 p.m. Near the end of this period, I felt out of touch with the personal connection I had always felt with my work. It became a bit, well, robotic.

To put it another way, I’m a mission-driven leader, and I didn’t feel as grounded with my mission.

So I decided to take a break.

But in doing so, in hearing the longing in my colleagues’ and friends’ voices for an answer to the “why” and “what next?” question, I realized that even in an industry designed to care for others, we aren’t very good at self-care.

There’s no real notion of a sabbatical in the healthcare profession. We aren’t supposed to take a break, to recharge, to acknowledge our humanity.

Instead, we’re supposed to toughen up and make do with the occasional vacation.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my profession and have always worked hard because that’s who I am. But after three months off, I’m a different person. There were several days I didn’t get up until 11 a.m., not because I’m lazy but rather because I allowed my body to decide how much rest it needed.

I routinely do yoga, work with a personal trainer, and hop on the treadmill. I work in my garden, read books, and see my friends. When two people close to me fell ill, I was able to fly to them and help out.

I haven’t felt this good in years.

Am I going back to work? Absolutely. I’m thinking hard about my purpose and asking, “How do I use my skills for the highest good?” This is the type of question we ought to ask ourselves more often, but getting an honest answer often requires stepping back and taking a break.

I will go back with a clear head and a strong sense of what matters most to me. That will come from taking the time to recharge.

As leaders, we have to model the behaviors we want to engender in our teams. Personally, I want to empower people to improve their health and achieve a sustainable work/life balance. If we fail to do this - if we model “work until you fall down” practices - then what kind of people will we attract to our organizations?

The sabbatical is a self-care activity not currently sanctioned in our society. We should rethink this. Taking a pause is not a negative reflection on you. To the contrary, it is a sign of wisdom and maturity.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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