My Heart Attack Taught Me to Slow Down

December 16, 2013

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Bill Marriott at Work

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 Bill Marriott Pilatesneeded 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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I am humbled, thrilled, delighted,and opportuned to be part of the Marriott Hotel Associates and having this previledge to share this Life awaking lesson.

Thank you Bill for letting me serve this Great Company.

Dear Mr. Marriott,

Thanks for sharing your personal story. I have often wondered how a man such as yourself find the time to balance family life and work and is still able to run around happy! (Now I don't have to wonder, I'll just read your book!) I too find myself worrying about every little detail, wanting everything to be perfect. I believe once I pay attention to every little detail than I have put myself at ease and I am free to face the world with that smile, having left no stones unturned. However, as I got older I realize that this fervour to get everything done may be consuming me as the doctors cannot find anything wrong when I say I have aches and pains. I believe these "health problems" are my body's way of saying, slow down or else. Based on the fact that I do not want to have a stroke like so many my age and younger, I have decided this year to carve myself some more me time.

Awesome advice... words of wisdom.

I see it all the time as a nurse. People with high stakes/high stress jobs. They have everything in life but there health. When will we all learn to slow down and enjoy the little things that life gives us every day. We are all only here for a short time. Enjoy moments with your family. Really all you have in life is your memories.

Tom

great advice.

great advise...

Thank you for sharing Bill. We have much to learn. You must take care of yourself.

Well said. And well-timed during this holiday season.
It’s important to maintain balance and moderation - in all aspects of life. I have found that consistently enjoying the great outdoors is a great way for me to nourish a useful attitude. I believe one of my favorite quotes captures both of these concepts well:
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be..." the quote continues "...and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” -Anne Frank

Well said. And well-timed during this holiday season.
It’s important to maintain balance and moderation - in all aspects of life. I have found that consistently enjoying the great outdoors is a great way for me to nourish a useful attitude. I believe one of my favorite quotes captures both of these concepts well:
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be..." the quote continues "...and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” -Anne Frank

Thanks for such a personal story , many of us will learn from this one.
I hope everyone is as fortunate who can turn things around for their selfs.

Don Field : )

Thank you Mr. Marriott. I am a working mother of two with your corporation and appreciate your post today. Beginning today and in 2014 I am going to make it a point to "BE" and not just do. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thank you for this important reminder! Happy holidays to you and your family!

Thank you for this important reminder! Happy holidays to you and your family!

Mr. Marriott continues to be the cultural force of Marriott International. Good stuff!

Mr. Marriott continues to be the cultural force of Marriott International. Good stuff!

Thank you-your note was in perfect timing, to my personal balance.

I deeply appreciate your comments but for me this one I appreciate more Thank you for sharing

Thanks, Sir!
Be strong and healthy!

Dear Mr Marriott,

having worked for years in the kitchen as a chef in may different countries, away from the family and kids growing up without being there has really been an impact to me.
Working for the family, too see the kids succeed in their future, yet at the same time not bothered about my own health and well being has also been a great challenge.
Long hours at work, to ensure all is well and perfect, trust is something i am sometime deprived off indeed.
It becomes even so when working in hardship areas such as i am now, The Renaissance Atyrau in Kazakhstan but again, i simply don't find the time at all for myself or the family.
You blog has shown me something i might have to try and follow and will keep you updated on any progress.

Thank you

Mahady

Wow, what an inspiring story. It's a perfect balance to life. It is so easy to get caught up in the busy work week. Thank you to help keep me grounded to the main reason why I work so hard everyday, to provide for my family.

Happy Holidays to you Sir.

Dear Mr.Marriott

I really enjoyed reading this blog especially during this festive season. I am still a constant worrier as well. I have learnt a lession from this blog. Rest assured I am going to balance my life from today onwards by building a better boundary between work and home. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Dear Sir,

It's really Inspirational thank you and Wishing you a healthy holidays.

Kind Regards
Rajesh Rajan

Excellent advice, early morning food for thought. I'm going to read this to my Leadership Team in the morning meeting and probably work on starting with a 30 minute yoga session daily with the team in 2014.

Mr. Marriott, I lost my dad 13 years ago from the same thing. He literally worked himself to death by heart attack. I still miss him. It has been a dream of mine to meet you since I started working for Marriott in Omaha, and I thank you for taking such good care of yourself that you are still here to advise each of us. Your employees thnk so highly of you! Bless you and keep on doing what you do. JeanT from Omaha

Aloha and thank you for such a valuable message. After having a heart attack, quadruple by-pass, and a recent defibrillator implant in the last year (along with a acoustic neuroma brain tumor)...I am in the process of trying to "slow down" and find balance in my life. I will use your 4 points of advice as a guideline towards wellness. One day, one step, one heartbeat at a time. "E ola ia oe...long life to you!"