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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This really resonated with me. I'm not even 30 yet, and already a chronic worrier, to nearly the extent which you described Mr. Marriott, Sr. I'm going to try to take your advice here seriously, and apply a few of your own techniques. Maybe I can avert some cardiovascular trouble of my own down the road.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

thank you for sharing Mr. Marriott. Health is wealth and we need that balance in life.

Thank-you for this inspiring post. Many many people struggle with this problem of overworking ourselves (including myself), and your story is both educational and uplifting.

Thank you so much for sharing your story of becoming healthier with us, Mr. Marriott:)!
Health is so important. Good health not only enables a person to become happier and more efficient but also affect the mood of people surround he or she:). And I realize that it is important to encourage hotel employees to eat healthy and work out often since a healthy body enables good+passionate service+low call-off ratio:).
Your story encourages me to do some yoga today haha:). Thanks a lot and best wishes from Cornell.

Thank you, Mr Marriott, for the inspirational story.
We often tend to care about others and sometimes forget about ourselves. Time to time it's nice to just have 'to be' moments and to get the chance to appreciate things around even more.
Best wishes from Amsterdam!

Mr. Marriott, I am glad to know you maintain your health these days while keeping Mrs. Marriott at the forefront of your to-do-list.

I too will incorporate a date night with the Mrs; It is long overdue.

Work, school and children are our priority, however we are only alive once.

I am going to start this week.

Thank you.

Glad to see you put your lovely wife FIRST! I'm sure you honor her every day!
I predict you'll be around for quite some time!
God Bless You!
John Monks
Night Auditor
Fairfield Inn and Suites Orlando at SeaWorld where we give legendary service to our guests!

Thank you, THANK YOU, Thank you MR.Marriott.I wish it had not took two more heart attacks in 1996, to finally wake up--(Mrriott hotel in Omaha,Ne.)To many years on the road, not listening to doctors, nor my wife and daughter, and not taking care of my GOD given mind and body until I woke up.

Thank you for the great hotel stays for quite a number of years. I beliebe I received my LIFE TIME PLAT. IN 1995 OR EARLY 1996. A gain I would like to thank you for my special acknowledgement ---001-203-785.

Thank you for sharing how you've managed to have a good work/life balance. It's easy to lose perspective on how to maintain a happy and healthy life (especially when work starts to take over).

Whenever I travel for work, I stay in a Marriott. I love walking in and knowing I can expect a comfortable and relaxing stay. There's nothing like it after a long flight and hours of meetings.

Thanks for the message!

Aprecio muito e com prazer o trabalho da vossa colaboradora D. Ana Caetano

Wise words to think about as the new year begins - as two loyal Marriott customers staying at the same hotel as you this evening (GM told me she was waiting to greet you this evening and she would be with you tomorrow) a few floors below we want to wish you and yours a very happy healthy and safe new year filled with much success and everything that you wish for you and yours

Have a nice 2014 ... and all the best and I wish you and all Family healthy and happy 2014 :)
You care about us so now this is the time to care about you (Marriott )You mast take care of yourself ....Idalia Kostrzewska

Mr Marriott, I'm glad you listened to your doctor and that his advice has helped you. You are an inspiration to all of us. I know your father and Miss Alice would be proud!

Funny how so many folks think the same. Cut down on work and fill it with pressures at home, even what we perceive as good pressures. What are we teaching our kids if all their weeknights and weekends are filled with running here and there. Our children learn early that if they aren't doing homework, running to events, on several sports teams/music/fill in the blank, they are lazy, unproductive.

We all need that "down" time to just be. Relax and unwind. It recharges our mind, body and spirit.

I will definitely include this in my weekly planning.

Thank You

Thank you Mr. Marriott for sharing your personal experience with us.
Thank you to let us know that work hard; means reach your goals without stress and worries.
God bless you; I am very greatful to work in Marriott and be part of this wonderful team.
Wramest regards.

Wise words Mr Marriott. We are all greatfull for your leadership, and for Mrs Marriotts carefull attention in making sure you follow the four changes you made in your life style after your heart attatcks. Thank you for all you do to make our Company so special,

Mr. Marriott,

Thank you so much for your tweets. I have truely been inspired by many especially this one. I constantly find myself worrying for things just like your dad. I even worry about how Im performing to our guest and what I could have done different on an escalated call. This year I told myself I would find myself more active and more positive. Your story has truely motivated me even more! Thank you for your tweets and please keep them comeing!!

Thank you a lot for such a useful advice! When we're young, we usually think little of our health until we loose it. I'm young and do sport, but your story definitely motivates me to reach more goals and to spin out health.

I'm so grateful for your words. My dad passed away in 2011, at the age of 83. In his mid 40's he suffered 8 heart attacks in quick succession and was counseled the same by his cardiologist.

Like you, he took the advice seriously, and although only 5 at the time, I was the youngest of 15 children, so losing my dad was not an option. A couple of years later, our mum passed away, so the wisdom of this article is what ensured our family got to spend another 4 decades with him. He lived to see his great, great grandchildren start out their lives.

He is my hero. He received several commendations including MNZM, serving many community and government organisations. He completed his degree in his 60s and 70s then lectured the same course all up till he passed away. .. all possible because he 'slowed down', not WHEN it mastered, but BECAUSE it mattered... because WE mattered .

As my children are now starting their own families, and having lost their dad to cancer in their early teens, I find myself applying these same words of wisdom in our lives with a passion.

You are an inspirational gentleman. I'm so grateful you shared this article. Happy holidays.

Thank you!


I was deeply moved by ur stories, most of which are very inspiring, while this one is giving me a long moment to pause. I have a family, my wife and my daughter. And I am always thinking more money can bring more happiness to them, however without health, how can I be with them?

Happy new year for all of us and good health is much appreciated!

I am so glad to see someone in your position, an accomplished corporate executive, talk about the realities of 'work/life balance'. I'm sorry it took three heart attacks, but some lessons take more force to get through. We really do need to take the time to live our lives and it is wonderful to see you do it. I hope others will be inspired by your example.

This is very inspirational. Thank you for sharing your story.Happy Holidays to you and your family as well!

Thank you for sharing :) Such a valuable lesson for the workaholics!


Truly an inspiration! Thank you for time!