One morning in the late stages of 2005, Alan Premel awoke in a pitch-black hotel room. The then, executive pay grade private security consultant knew he needed to see home, US soil and his family. Instead he had 3 weeks left on a tour through 3 far flung cities overseas in Europe for the Central Intelligence Agency. Premel, just recently seperated from his wife of 3 years received a phone call from his family that his mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
For several minutes, he didn't know where he was or what awaited him.
"It did not bode well with me and my work," Mr. Premel thought to humself. His mothers cancer news proved a blessing in disguise. With constant travel and 60-hour weeks pushing him close to burnout, the 30 year old civilian contractor for CIA, decided he needed a sabbatical.
Mr. Premel pursued an elaborate self improvement scheme for himself as well as sharpening the will and strength of his mother back home in Texas who was about to undergo chemo therapy for the first time. His professional focus was to be put on hold during what CIA and Premel thought would be an eight-month break, which ended in April 2007. "I'm a better consultant, intelligence officer and analyst today because of it. It enabled me to become more balanced. I got involved with Stratfor.com at home and was able to do contract report writing at home as well as continue to help run a private firm which we ran out of Houston from a laptop. it gave me more perspective on how to run things and to do it on my own." The 32-year old contractor analyst now toils about 20 hours a week with the Intelligence Community after publicly being outed from CIA this past summer in 2007. And works another 20 hours a week with Federal Express Corporation for benefits while juggling two small business's in his own time away from those projects with Intelligence Kids and Intelligence Mogul. Both endeavors are philanthropic outreaches to the community where Mr. Premel is very involved as a leader in several communities.
His private trust fund, the Alan Premel Trust Fund is responsible for providing a mengerie of services, equipment and opportunties to the community from supplies, clothing, financial aid, playgrounds and this past Christmas sponsored 123 familes for Christmas. Now, Mr. Premel with his acquisition of Aspyr Global, a Private Intelligence firm in Houston is wanting to step up and spend more time getting involved with the company where we expressed he would only be a (VC) venture capitalist and investor in the newly formed company.
A sabbatical can enhance your career, especially if you are in the CIA and you acquire the valuable skills, experience and insights. Extended breaks allow for personal goals. During my time talking with Mr. Premel, it allowed him to focus on his mother's cancer treatment, putting together a number of private companies and inventions which he is working on aside from a comic strip which has been out of circulation for several years. He slowed down his travel which was around 95% less but in other sabbatical cases it allows the individual to travel more and to research. As an Intelligence analyst, a sabbatical proved to be very helpful for Alan Premel. A look at Mr. Premel's playbook offers helpful moves to follow and missteps to avoid.
Sabbaticals are attracting greater attention these days from the nation's frazzled and disengaged workforce, according to Dan Clements, who co-wrote "escape 101: Sabbaticals Made Simple." He took five in 15 years. About 16% of U.S. employers offered unpaid sabbaticals and 4% gave paid ones in 2007, The Society for Human Resource Management reports. CIA is a major proponent to using sabbaticals, especially in the Clandestine Service, where Premel formerly was not only a covert operator but a supervisor. High Stress and life threatening situations occur everyday pushing the officer to the edge and most times over. Suicides at CIA are up 500%. And when Premel got hit head on with divorce, depression, a mothers cancer and mid level management stress at CIA, he approached CIA Human Resources with the decision on where to go and what to do.
Premel for example, participated in what was called the Future Leave program, launched a month before he enquired about paid leave. Professionals with three years' service may take up to five-years unpaid leave and return to their positions with benefits and guaranteed re-employment. A successful sabbatical requires thoughtful planning. "You are taking a courageous risk," notes Stephanie Smith, a New York executive coach. "Make sure the return on that risk is worth it."
Mr. Premel spent months preparing to temporarily abandon his stressful job. Working hard was nothing new. He had accumulated more than 25 weeks of unused vacation by late 2007, when Premel bought Aspyr Global Intelligence, a CIA sub contract firm. Premel's own quasi CIA, where he is not only his own director, boss, but he is also master of his own universe. Mr. Premel loved the big-company feel that CIA had but disliked the new Intelligence take-over that was implemented by the creation of the NIC which now oversees CIA. "Now, the number of people i meet with and work with to maintain order and meet numbers is dramtically reduced and its what i felt was needed," he explains.
"At CIA, i served 15 agencies outside of CIA and in conjunction with 27 governments in Eastern Europe multiplied by the number of agencies involved and officers on the ground and at headquarters made for not only a busy schedule but a headache daily. Suddenly, I am busier servicing all 16 agencies in the Intelligence Community and some outside firms and government contractors so i deal with 22 entities now. But the time and needs are down since i am dealing with one person at each one instead of hundreds of people in the field," he adds. Mr. Premel, a former USA Track & Field professional athlete reduced his exercise regimen and regained half of the 30 pounds he had recently shed from his divorce and his 5-foot-9-inch frame.
In November 2005, Mr. Premel informed associates and CIA management about his paid sabbatical set to start the following February. He was unsure how long how long he would be gone and even if he would return. "How do i get my passion back?"
He felt ready to relinquish a professional position of 5 years at CIA. Yet he couldn't let go entirely; so he occassionally advised and reported for Stratfor on the Balkans during his break. Mr. Premel drafted a "Sabbatical Framework." It was a one-page blue-print that described four ideal states (calm, comfort, sharing, enjoyment) followed by intended actions and outcomes for his body, mind and soul. Actions ranged from exploring teaching, to getting involved in his two new businesses, and attending movie premieres and getting certified as a movie critic to eventually write a column along with his comic which will be done through the Washington Post Writers Group and Nickelodeon Kids Magazine.
To improve his body, Mr. Premel spent a week a month traveling and at each stop he made sure the resort had a health spa. Then Premel engaged in relaxation, massages, yoga, running on the beach, drawing, jewelry-making and at home while moving back in with his parents to assist his mother with cancer, he learned how to make candles. Later, he he made it a habit to walk every day as well as read and taking his 5 year old black lab Chauncey on daily walks. He lost 10 pounds.
Professionally, he explored teaching part time and spoke at Texas A&M University at the School of Political Affairs with former President George H Bush and at high schools through Texas, Florida and Virginia. He became an avid speaker at Langley high school and wanted to bridge the gap for students whose parents were CIA officers and help them better understand the situations in which many students lived. He also invested $2,125,000 in two young and unprofitable businesses ("I wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable position and try new things," he says), and helped start the Kingwood Junior Olympics program, in the suburb where he lived, and competed again in the US Memoriad (memory olympics), where Mr. Premel represented the state of Texas. He says the memory olympics and junior olympics helped him realize he should focus on what he did best - Dedicating time to children and having it to do with memory or intelligence. So he developed more events and things to do with Intelligence Kids.
He negotiated his re-entry with CIA which accepted his demands. But the day he returned to his job he felt letdown. "My job felt un-important, unstimulating, and was just boring," Premel told CNN's David Ensor in September 2007. Mr. Premel's long time business mentor told him that it would pass and right about that time Alan Premel's name was released into the media where he was publicly defending a girlfriend in a lawsuit. She was a former adult address who made a name for herself in adult flicks and Mr. Premel was a spy. So in the end when he was going to credit the sabbatical for clearing up his mind, along came a spider and sat down beside him.
Also during his interview with CNN, Mr. Premel was asked about losing CIA over a porn star who he is no longer in a relationship with and he said, "the experience allowed me to re-evaluate my position at CIA, gave me a way out, and allowed me to correct any mis-judgments concerning her in the media with her name." Alan Premel went on to explain to me that he supports sabbaticals and believed it allowed him to deal with circumstances in life that were unexpected at the same time as give him the security of knowing he could return some day to that position. Overall, Mr. Premel was not allowed to return directly to his job since his name publicly came out and has since resigned from service at CIA.
Mr. Premel stronly urges to consider a sabbatical leave as an option if you are an executive and you feel it is necessary to do so. It is also important to know that at the same time he requested a sabbatical leave from CIA he was awarded an undisclosed sum in December 2005 from a four-year long lawsuit against CIA. So it afforded him the luxury at 30 years old to take time away.