Stress May Signal A Life Change Is In Order
Chicago Tribune syndicated column
by Carol Kleinman
December 8, 1998
Wake up and smell the roses!
Lisa Duncan did that twice in order to bring balance to her life -- but it wasn't until the second try that she got it right.
The first was in 1989 when she decided to put a halt to the "fast runaway train" she was on: The stockbroker left her job as a head bond trade checker at a large brokerage firm in Chicago and headed for Boulder, Colo.
"The pace simply was too much for me -- I got caught up in the race," she said.
After several jobs, among them ski instructor and tour hostess, she returned to Chicago in 1995. "I was still a city girl and even though I wanted more relaxation, you just can't ski all your life."
Despite her efforts to avoid it, she soon was back in "the rat race" in every job she had -- despite health warnings that her stressful life could kill her. In July, she was hospitalized for three weeks with severe digestive problems.
It was then that she smelled the roses for real. "I lay in the hospital bed and told myself, `I can't take the stress anymore, life is too short,' " said Duncan, 42. "I want to do what I really enjoy."
What she really enjoys is design. And in November, Duncan became a sales associate at Calico Corners, an upscale fabric, furniture and design store in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood.
"I love it," she said. "I used to get to work already tense because of the underlying edge of worry. Now I get to work and I'm excited. It's color therapy. Every day is like a rainbow of fabrics."
Today her health is excellent.
And so is Dennis A Merrick's.
In 1993, Merrick, now president of Cincinnati Coffee Co., woke up and smelled the coffee after years of high-stress, high-salaried executive jobs with large staffs and budgets. That year, he quit his job in San Francisco as vice president of human resources for a Fortune 500 company.
No wonder he was burned out: Since 1965, Merrick had worked for five large companies and had lived in 13 different cities.
In 1996, he opened his espresso coffee bar in Cincinnati, closer to his hometown of Dayton. He has 12 employees. The entrepreneur is married to Carmelita Merrick, who sells group health insurance, and has two grown children.
"My blood pressure is back to normal, I've lost 50 pounds and gave up smoking," Merrick said. "I have far more time for my family, and when I'm with them, I'm really with them. And I'm into fishing and skeet shooting."
He changed his life when he realized "I just couldn't do it anymore. I just hated going to work, the corporate stuff, the games. I was always tense. And even when I was able to be with my family, I wasn't that available because I was so preoccupied with a job I couldn't stand doing."
Starting up the coffee shop "was hard but energizing because I'm in charge of my life," said Merrick, whose daughter Cristen, age 26, manages the shop. The business, he says, is "an outstanding success and wecontinue to grow." His son, Clint, 28, a doctor, is a resident at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
"I wish I had done this sooner," said Merrick."My hours and my health are much better."
Merrick was helped professionally in his transition by Jennifer White, president of JWC Group, a Cincinnati consulting and executive coaching firm. White, author of "Work Less, Make More" (Kendall-Hunt, $25), stresses the importance of "listening to the wake-up calls. Your life is more than work. You do have a choice."
Her advice: "Don't wait until you're so stressed out you can't see straight. Pay attention the first time you wake up with a stomach ache because you dread going to the office.
"It's time to make a change." And smell the roses.
To contact Jennifer White, phone 1-800-853-6218.
Copyright 1998, The Chicago Tribune