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A Whole New Career

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Time off can also become the impetus for a dramatic lifestyle change. When Arkansas attorney Frank Mackey took a summer leave of absence from his corporate law firm, it was with the intention of exploring the Chicago job market. Specifically, the 63-year-old Mackey wanted to know if he had a chance of cracking the commercial acting market. Within six weeks, he had his answer. He returned to Little Rock just long enough to sell his partnership in the firm and pack his bags.

Like many established professionals, Mackey was longing for more than a job change. He wanted a whole new life-a chance to start over in a completely different place doing some-thing entirely new.

It was a decision that came with a very high price tag-but not one that he regrets.

Mackey's wife has a well-launched legal career of her own in Little Rock. For her, Chicago winters aren't desirable. Neither is the idea of starting over. A short stint with a commuter marriage didn't prove satisfying, either. So, the Mackeys are going their separate ways.

Other couples fare better. Connie Evans and her husband Craig were long-time employees of Ameritech in Chicago. She was a secretarial supervisor; he was an engineer. Together, they earned a comfortable living, owned an attractive suburban home and were able to save for the future. The only problem: Connie was totally miserable. Although she did her job competently, she hated the office politics. She longed to work in a more comfortable, creative environment.

She desperately wanted out of corporate America, but didn't know where she wanted her career to go.

One weekend, when she and Craig were driving through the Wisconsin countryside, the answer shouted out to her. They'd buy a bed-and-breakfast inn and move to the country.

They began to research the B&B market, talking to owners, scouting locations and getting a feel for the finances. The idea only grew on them. Then, Connie started spending her Sundays driving to various Wisconsin inns to check them out. Soon, she found and fell in love with the Port Washington Inn, a lovely, affordable B&B just 30 minutes outside Milwaukee.

They realized that they could afford it if Connie cashed in her 401(k). But they knew they couldn't live entirely on profits from the inn. So Craig approached his boss about a transfer and got the green light for his job to move to Milwaukee.

After their bid on the inn was accepted, the rest of the wheels were set in motion. They fixed up their house, put it on the market and sold it in about two months. Connie gave notice at her job and, in a remarkably short time, they were gone.

Connie took to her new career like the proverbial duck to water. She's always been a homebody who loves to entertain, garden and cook gourmet meals. Even dreaded chores like laundry and housework don't particularly bother her.

One career counselor was a little skeptical about this blissfully perfect solution. He wanted to check it out for himself. So one Saturday after giving a workshop in Milwaukee, the career counselor took the half-hour trek to spend the evening with Connie and Craig. Port Washington is a small town on Lake Michigan, which means there's some good, steady tourist trade to sustain it. It's also a true 30 minutes from Milwaukee, making it an attractively short commute.

The house was beautiful: carefully restored and lovingly at-tended. Connie's care and handiwork are everywhere. Every room is decorated in its own theme. No detail has been missed- from fancy soaps and creams in the private bathrooms to candies on the bed-stand. On weekends, they prepare gourmet breakfasts for their guests and on weekdays, they set out fresh-baked goods. To do so, Connie spends a fair amount of time with her nose buried in cookbooks, experimenting with new recipes.

As a host and hostess, they're warm and hospitable. Your wish is their command. Even their dog, Woody, looks totally content. And well he should, since he's treated like a veritable prince: well-fed, well-exercised and much loved.

It isn't perfect. Nothing is.

They have to work hard to keep the B&B operating. It has taken effort to ingratiate themselves into the community. And Craig still works at Ameritech, when he might, perhaps, prefer to join Connie at home.

It's a very fair compromise, though. More than ever before, they love the life they're living.

Less Is More?

A pervasive hunger for a simpler, less stressful life showed up clearly in a recent Time magazine survey of 500 professional adults. Just consider:
  • 69 percent of the respondents wanted to "slow down and live a more relaxed life."
  • 61 percent agreed that it takes so much effort to earn a living that it's difficult to find time to enjoy life (that's why you need to find a way to enjoy the way you make a living).
  • 89 percent felt it was important to spend more time with their families.
  • 56 percent wanted more time for personal interests and hobbies.
Many of these would-be slow-trackers hunger for country or small-town living. However, it's easy to over-idealize that lifestyle. Rural life isn't typically an easy answer; more often, it's an adventure that should be reserved for pioneer stock.

In the movie Baby Boom, Diane Keaton is a successful marketing consultant in New York City. A star on the rise, her relentless ambition fuels her workaholism. Not the least bit introspective, her only signs of discontent are revealed in her ir-rational desire to read and clip real-estate ads for country homes.

Keaton's life changes dramatically when she inherits a baby from a distant cousin. Soon, Keaton discovers the perils of combining single motherhood with a fast-track career. Good child care is tough to come by and time is at an absolute premium. When she can't give her career the single-minded attention she once did, an ambitious young executive (in the form of James Spader) moves in on her territory and grabs her prized account. As her partnership opportunities fade into oblivion, Keaton is offered a new role on the "slow track."

It is a blow to her pride and she can't agree to it.

Suddenly, that country home looks mighty appealing. So the impulsive Keaton quits her job, buys a house from a real-estate agent sight unseen and moves to the country with her baby.

Picture this: Here's a woman who's always lived in a luxurious high-rise and whose attention and energy have been focused entirely on climbing the corporate ladder. Within a few days, she's living in a rundown house, playing mother to a child to whom she's grown attached and living an isolated life in a small town where the natives aren't exactly welcoming her. The winters are cold, and her home needs major repairs at a time when she has no income.

She needs a job. But there isn't much call for marketing consultants in her community and she doesn't know how to do more everyday labor. Eventually, she finds a dormant entrepreneurial drive inside her that spawns the start-up of Country Baby, a gourmet baby-food company targeted toward baby-boomer parents like herself.

Since the movie is a Hollywood fairy tale, Country Baby becomes a spectacular success. Keaton's former employer contacts her with a $3 million buyout offer and, to sweeten the deal, offers to keep her as the CEO of Country Baby.

Only then does she realize that she doesn't need or want "the rat race" anymore. She can make it on her own, even if it means turning down a cool $3 million. Of course, there's a new lover in the background fueling Keaton's desire for a comfortable relationship and a life where love does, indeed, conquer all.
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