Taking A Sabbatical Without Guilt

Ever think, "Someday, I'll take time off and decide what I really want to do with my life"? Advertising executive Mary Lou Quinlan was at the top of her game when she decided she needed time off.

She chronicles her experiences, as well as those of other women, in her new book, "Time Off For Good Behavior - How Hardworking Women Can Take a Break and Change Their Lives."

"I was a member of the 2 a.m. wake-up club," the high-powered ad executive tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. "And I start to think: What should I have done today; what should I do tomorrow; and that went on for a long time."

It was while on "vacation" that her husband hinted she needed a break, as she was on her cell talking about, what else, work.

"He saw me yakking away and looked at me and said, 'Do you know who you are anymore?' He really didn't recognize me because I had become so work-fixated and not focusing on our life."

So she decided to take some time off and put her life back in order.

"It changed my life," Quinlan says "The first part was restoring my energy and my passion, but the most important thing was my perspective. And I decided here's what's important to me: I love to listen to women. I started a company based on that time off."

For those who want to follow her advice Quinlan says it is important to have a plan.

Says Quinlan, "Choose a weekend and take one weekend out of the ones you are off and start to think about: How I'm doing? What do I wish I were doing? And how much time might I look for to explor that?"

The key is to write it down. "When you write something down, it becomes real. All of a sudden you just might do it."

Also important is to plan for your absence because when you leave for your job you don't want to leave other people hanging.

"Write down again who's doing what," she explains. "Who could take my job as well as how can make things smooth so I can take this time off seamlessly and come back to a job I like."

And be ready to present your plan to your boss. She says, "Think about it ahead of time and keep your emotions in check. Figure out a way and say, Here's how it can work for you. Be ready to negotiate and get the time off you want."

Read an excerpt:

The Addictive Agenda

When I picture my old desk calendar, I see a lot of ink. The days were chopped into half-hour chunks, starting with a breakfast meeting, lunch with a client, late hours, capped off with evening work events. There were very few blank spaces, and when I found one, I'd fill it with someone's need. But the hardest hours didn't appear on the day planner.

The Mary Lou who set out each morning was energetic, dressed to the nines, with a big, perky smile. But most nights, a different woman returned to the apartment. I'd drag in late, pale and tired, looking for a glass of chardonnay and a takeout menu. Joe and I would eat the delivery du jour, and I'd talk about work. By 10:00 P.M., I'd fall into bed, and within seconds of hitting the pillow, I'd be out. But at 2:00 A.M., my eyes would flash to stare at the digital clock and the office would invade the bedroom. I'd learn much later that this fitful sleep was a warning sign of severe stress and anxiety.

I'd tiptoe to the living room and listen to voicemails and make lists. I left messages, thinking my employees would see how committed I was. Looking back, I imagine "committed" was what they wanted to have done to me.

I'd pace and worry till 4:00 A.M., then pass out until the alarm buzzed me bolt awake at 6:30 A.M. to do it all over again.

I was worn out. I had always been one of those women who looked young for her age, and people would say, "No way you're forty!" As the pressure mounted and the sleep eluded me, those compliments vaporized. Lack of exercise put me out of condition. No amount of undereye concealer could hide the dark circles. Sometimes my image in the mirror stopped me in my tracks. Who was that tired woman?

Getting What You Wish For

I should have known things were bad when I started to fantasize about devious ways to get time off. I was performing too well to get fired. And if I got fired, I wouldn't get severance. How could I escape? Perhaps a small accident? I figured if I stepped off a curb and broke my ankle or a car hit me—not hard enough to kill me, just enough to put me in the hospital—then I would get some time off.

In a sick way, I got my wish and it still didn't work. One morning, I did my usual halfhearted workout. Then I hailed a cab to the office where I was scheduled to make a presentation to a toilet paper manufacturing client.

Suddenly, the cab made a lefthand turn into the path of an oncoming car. A black sedan barreled into the rear passenger door. I heard the crunch, then silence.

I froze, doing a mental body scan, and I whispered to the driver, "Help me, something hurts in my back." He turned to look at me and laughed. He got out of the cab and walked away.

My first thought was to escape, but the door was smashed shut. Wincing, I slid gingerly across the backseat, and pulled myself out of the cab to wave down another.

On my way home, every bump was agony. Our apartment building's security guard rushed out to the cab and called 911 and buzzed Joe, who was upstairs. By the time my husband came out to the sidewalk, the EMS guys were strapping me to a board to lift me into an ambulance. I was terrified. An X-ray turned up two broken ribs, which, compared to my fears, wasn't bad, but I couldn't breathe without aching.

The accident should have been scary. But the really scary part was when I asked Joe if he had called my office. I was still worried about the client presentation. "Oh yeah," Joe said casually, "Melissa told the client you couldn't make it."

Still bound to a gurney, I went ballistic. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN, SHE SAID I COULDN'T 'MAKE' IT? GIVE ME YOUR CELL PHONE!" I shouted at my assistant, "Tell the client that I would NEVER just 'miss' a meeting! I was in an accident and I'll be back tomorrow."

That really spooked Joe. Years later he confessed that he wondered, Who is this woman who was almost killed and panicked about missing a stupid toilet paper meeting? I don't remember thinking it was strange at all. My mind went straight to worrying that the client was thinking I hadn't shown up, that I hadn't cared.

I was back at work within a day.

Excerpts from "Time Off For Good Behavior" by Mary Lou Quinlan. Copyright © 2005 by Mary Lou Quinlan. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.