Anna Brozek Is Back to Business

I’m back!

Technically I’ve been back. It’s been a full month and a half of being back to work and, while I still have a lot to process, I think I’m now in a good spot to share some perspective from my six-week sabbatical.

Thank you

The Big Cartel sabbatical is a gift, a thank-you-for-your-years-of-service gold watch that you get without even needing to retire. We should treat it with that same 24-carat preciousness, and bask in its glow as we do one of the strangest things we can do: not work.

I was so fortunate that the owners of Big Cartel, Matt and Eric, made sure that before I left on sabbatical I was thanked for my time and contributions to Big Cartel. They reinforced, multiple times, that they didn’t want work to creep into my time off, even going so far as offering to step in and help the team to make sure I didn’t need to be disturbed. Such a kind offer, but thankfully unnecessary because of trust.

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I can’t count the number of times I was asked how worried I was to step away from my post as CEO (not quite as weird to say it anymore). But my response was always the same: My team is amazing and I trust them wholeheartedly. They’ve got this.

And I was totally right. I was able to unplug completely, I removed every single work app from my phone. I didn’t log into a damn thing. And the team did great! Progress was made on projects, decisions got made, people got hired, and while all that was happening, I got to enjoy my family and this beautiful world we live in, reflecting occasionally on the incredible opportunity gifted to me from such a great company.

It can be tough to let go of control when you care about a company so deeply, but it’s important that the business doesn’t rely on only one person for ordinary operations. We’ve hired people we trust to do their jobs, and they’re empowered to make decisions without consulting me on every little thing.

Don’t overthink it

So many of us aren’t trained to take time away. A break can trigger all sorts of emotions: panic about things being left undone, guilt about not doing your share, or even just fear of missing out on something funny or interesting that your team is talking about. But stepping away is also important for resetting your perspective, letting new inspiration in, and celebrating how capable your coworkers are.

I did reflect on my Big Cartel life occasionally, but I cannot stress enough that I did not overthink it. When my mind drifted to work, I guided it back to the present. When I worried that I needed to return with some sort of brilliant epiphany, I remembered that this time is a gift. And when I panicked that I didn’t actually finish reading Rest and I wasn’t actually practicing any of the disciplined schedules I wanted to attempt, well, I forgave myself for being a human who just wanted to spend every waking second just being on vacation with my family. I have no regrets.

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Plan your re-entry

So maybe a half-regret.

I may have planned my exit and delegated like a true boss, but I failed to plan my re-entry back into work, and that made for a bumpy landing. If you’ve got a sabbatical (or extended vacation, break, whatever) coming up, I advise you to include the re-entry into your planning.

You see, week five of the sabbatical, I didn’t plan a thing, I thought we’d take it easy. We were all at home together, no camps for the kids, exhausted from travel, hot and muggy from July in Chicago, and as we went from being jet-setters to homebodies we had nothing but time to think about the accumulating emails and Basecamp messages and to-do lists and meetings and and and, well, the anxiety grew and grew and grew. Then when Monday rolled around, I saw first-hand how ill-prepared I truly was. Why didn’t I pre-schedule catch-up-calls with my team? Why didn’t I have a strategy around tackling unread emails and various other alerts? Where do I even begin?

So if you’re taking some time away from your business (and I really recommend that you do), some hot-tips for an easier landing: Plan some things to look forward to near the end. Your mind will want to wander to work, you may feel that pit of unread messages lingering. Keep yourself busy and joyful in this last week to really drive home the intention of the sabbatical. Pre-schedule calls with folks on your team for your first day back, ask them to have already prepared a high-level summary for you to review together. Give yourself blocks of time to focus on all-things-unread, but don’t let it drag forever, no one wants to read email for six hours straight. Schedule walks away from your desk and phone, you’re going to need some regular breaks (as in multiple times a day) this first week, so take them, trust me, it’s for the best.

At some point it’s okay to not read all the things, and be okay with that. Tackle the most obviously important items, and as you hit peak unread-exhaustion, go ahead and mark-all-as-read and trust that the truly essential stuff will bubble back to the top.

Then thank your team for being the best and making it so you could really unplug and enjoy some of the best days of your life. 💖

Anna Brozek

CEO of Big Cartel, previously Community, Customer Support, and Operations. Started from the bottom now I’m here. ✌️

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