12/18/2013 01:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Heart Attack Taught Me to Slow Down


The opening lyrics to the Simon and Garfunkel song "The 59th Street Bridge" have special resonance for me this holiday season. About this time of the year in 1989, I suffered a heart attack, not one, but three over the course of a few weeks. I didn't slow down. I kept moving too fast. I was the classic workaholic.

By the third heart attack, I concluded that if my cardiovascular trouble didn't kill me, my wife probably would if I didn't change the way I was living. I made all the standard doctor-ordered changes -- diet, exercise, less travel, even visualizing bucolic New Hampshire scenes when I needed to calm down during stressful moments. The most difficult habit to change was my attitude. I was a constant worrier.

This was an inherited trait from my father who wrote long notes to me in the dead of night because he literally couldn't sleep until he'd gotten whatever was bothering him off his chest and onto paper. Often the night-shift hotel associates would do a double take when they spotted him walking briskly through the kitchen at four in the morning. I've never been quite as bad as my dad.

I thought I had things in balance while my kids were growing up. I was home for dinner, helped with homework, took weekend trips to museums and sporting events. If anything, my heart attack in '89 showed me that I didn't have things quite as balanced as I thought.

I needed an attitude adjustment. I needed to set aside time to be, not to do. Here's my list of three changes that helped me build a better boundary between work and home:

  1. Weekly "date night" with my wife, Donna
  2. Say "no," politely turning down many invitations
  3. Pilates at least twice weekly
  4. Treadmill, five days a week.

I'm 81 years old and going strong and I hope everyone learns my valuable lesson this holiday season to improve the balance between work and play. Why? If one person learns from my life-threatening experience and changes his or her habits and is spared a heart attack, I'll be thrilled.

Work hard by all means, but don't run up a huge tab of stress and worry.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday. Can there be any better gift? I'm Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.

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