Happy medium

The balancing act that achieves a sense of well-being.

Other than that beach vacation, when was the last time you had a completely free day, especially during these coronavirus times? Most of us are busy every single day — even Saturdays and Sundays. Add 24/7 connectivity and glimpses of daily news and social posts about COVID-19 and you’ve got stress. We know that keeping stress in check is important for our overall well-being, but how? For insight on hitting the sweet spot between work in this new, temporary world and a fulfilling life, we asked members of the W. P. Carey community to share their strategies for finding that happy medium.

Mark Stapp, executive director, Master of Real Estate Development program at W. P. Carey

Humor is a big part of my coping capability,” says Mark Stapp. “Knowing what’s truly serious and treating it in a serious way is obviously important, but doing it with a bit of levity is one of the ways I decompress. I think people would say I’m a little bit goofy, a little silly.”

People would also likely say that Stapp has a serious workload. He is the executive director of the Master of Real Estate Development (MRED) program at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He directs the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice, works on programming for the ASU Real Estate Council, and helps identify and recruit faculty for the undergraduate program. Plus he teaches in the MRED program and at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. But that’s not all.

“I also am the managing member of a development investment company and at least a dozen limited liability companies,” Stapp says. He does volunteer work, serves as a fellow for the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, does speaking engagements, and writes about community development. On the home front, he keeps up with five adult children.

“I have various levels of stress throughout the day,” Stapp says. “I have to be adept at changing gears and maintaining an understanding of many different things all at the same time. I’m like the circus guy spinning plates. That’s a bad analogy in some regards because it implies you’re remaining static, but some days it feels like I’m just spinning plates.”

In addition to using humor, Stapp manages stress by trusting others to handle the details of his day-to-day while he focuses on the big picture. And he walks. The former triathlete has no time for training anymore, so he squeezes in physical activity when he can, like parking in a spot that allows him to enjoy the energy on campus as he walks to and from his office.

“I think a lot of decompressing is physical, but it’s also about mental decompressing,” he says. “The kind of work I do, both in the university and outside in my personal life, are things I’m really passionate about. I love them. As a consequence, it makes my mental decompression a lot easier. There're stressful parts of them and there are things you just have to deal with, but for the most part, I love what I’m doing and that has a large impact on my attitude. I think it keeps my stress level way down.”

Saundra Schrock (MBA ’83)

Retirement hasn’t slowed down Saundra Schrock. After leaving her corporate job she became involved with fundraising for the St. Joseph’s Foundation, joined the Executive Connections program in the W. P. Carey School of Business, most recently, founded a consulting firm.

“When I was working full time at JPMorgan, my singular purpose was directed one of two ways: home or work,” Schrock says. “Today, my time is divided among several different kinds of things that require me to switch from one gear to the next, with different people, a different focus, and using different skill sets. It can be challenging. In some cases, the stress rivals what I faced when I was pulling 70-hour workweeks.”

Fortunately, during her corporate career, she learned something that helped her manage the stress of traveling five days a week and covering “millions of miles” over a 10-year period: meditation. She credits the practice with maintaining her health despite a grueling schedule.

Retirement gave her the luxury of time to step up her practice, study meditation at several universities, and read everything she could on the emerging science of mindfulness. Having experienced the positive impact the practice has had on her life, Schrock incorporates it into her consulting work.

Schrock says that people who are mindful about implementing traditional leadership practices can actually see greater improvement and step up performance. “Whatever you do, we’ve found it’s enhanced by being done in a mindful way.”

The good news is it can be taught and learned. The key for her, she says, is to focus on “being rather than doing.” That is, rather than thinking about her days being divided into two buckets — activities that cause stress and activities intended to reduce stress — she strives to achieve balance in each moment.

“When you stay focused in the present moment, what you find is that the beauty and the richness of your life come front and center as opposed to walking around and experiencing the world only with what you can see or hear inside of your head,” Schrock says. “When you’re projecting forward, that makes you stressed. Thinking about what happened in the past brings on stress. What I’ve learned over the years is we have a lot of choice about the way we respond to stress, and it’s not the stressor itself but the way we perceive it that is probably the greatest stress of all.”

Erin Patterson (BS Computer Information Systems ’84)

“I have a lot to juggle,” says Erin Patterson. “I am vice president of my family’s commercial real estate business, and I’m co-owner of B-Well Center of Scottsdale. I also have a coaching practice, and I do workshops and I presentation. I like the variety, but it’s a very full schedule.”

And it’s been that way for much of her adult life. Before graduating from W. P. Carey, she was already working as a controller for a government contractor. She stuck with it for a few years after graduation, then helped her family start Patterson Properties Inc. During this time, she admits to not having clear boundaries and allowing a lot of responsibility to be “heaped” on her. When the stress started to take a physical toll, she knew it was time to take action.

When traditional medicine didn’t help, she began exploring alternative medicine and also attended self-improvement workshops. Through it all, she developed stress-management skills, got her health back on track, and found her passion for sharing her newfound knowledge with others.

“I have a meditation practice that's extremely helpful in keeping me balanced and allowing me to respond to life as opposed to react to it,” Patterson says. “In slowing down the mind, it opens up your vision to see so many more possibilities and solutions. When your mind is going, you’re distracted by thousands of thoughts and you can’t see the forest for the trees. But when you slow all that down, you expand your awareness and your consciousness.”

As much as she believes in its merits, though, meditation isn’t the single de-stressing solution for Patterson. She also does a daily check-in as part of what she calls a “self-care practice.” For 5 to 10 minutes at the end of the day, she sits, breathes, and goes through an inventory of how she feels physically and emotionally and focuses on what her predominant thoughts are.

“Doing this offers clues that help you gauge where you are and when you’re starting to run on empty,” Patterson says. “That’s the point when you have to stop and make some adjustment. I think this plays a big part in keeping balance. Most people I know understand about diet, exercise, and other aspects of what you might call ‘physical hygiene,’ but mental and emotional hygiene should also be part of your self-care practice.”

Stuart Shoen (MBA ’08)

Stuart Shoen oversees the company his grandfather founded in 1945. Right off the bat, one might imagine that working in a family business is a major stressor, but Shoen doesn’t see it that way at all.

“I don’t know how other families do it, but in our family, there’s no point in trying to draw a line between work and family life,” he says. “We talk about personal things at work and we talk about work things during personal time. What’s great is I get to see my father and brother every day. I love that. And because they’re very different from me, I don’t know that I would see them as much if we didn’t work together. So I think it’s a big plus.”

His stressors come from the day-to-day management of wide-ranging departments, including facilities maintenance, risk management, marketing, external communications, and internal training, in addition to sitting on the board of directors.

“I don’t have a typical day,” Shoen says. “I try to, but it’s more like a skeleton that always has a different body hanging on it. For me, the most stressful part is trying to guide many people in different parts of the company toward the same end.

It’s kind of like trying to conduct a symphony. I have more respect for conductors — I’m not saying I have that kind of talent — but it’s hard trying to forge a compromise between different groups’ interests and objectives. You end up disappointing co-workers that you care about.”

To strike a balance between workday pressures and a happy, healthy life, Shoen uses a variety of stress-busting tactics. He makes sure his many meetings never last longer than an hour, he never takes work home, he tinkers with cars during his off-hours, and he takes time during the workday to physically leave the workplace behind.

“Sometimes I need even 10 minutes off-site,” Shoen says. “I don’t tell anyone where I’m going, except for my assistant. You’ve got to know yourself well enough to know when you’re not being productive or when you’re not able to help other people be productive. When that happens, you need to do whatever you have to do to get back in that zone. That time away helps me reconnect with the rest of the world and gets me geared back up.”

Stephen Adams (MBA ’05) and Cynthia Adams (MBA ’05)

Stephen and Cynthia Adams met while earning their MBAs at the W. P. Carey School of Business. Ten years after graduating, they’re still going strong as the parents of a daughter and leaders of successful companies. Stephen is owner of Adams Craig Acquisitions, an eco-luxury homebuilder, and Cynthia runs Zepol Imports, a custom brokerage firm and Zepol Interiorz LLC., which designs the interiors for all Adams Craig projects. In the few short months after adopting Sienna, the couple learned that teamwork and flexibility are, in part, key to juggling the needs of a family with the demands of busy careers.

“We both work from home,” Cynthia says. “We have a guest house where Steve’s office is, and I have an office inside the house. We trade off with kid duties and get our work and workouts in according to Sienna’s schedule. It helps that we’re so flexible in our work.”

Given their flexibility, plus a large extended family always willing to babysit, it seems like they have struck the ideal work-life balance. But of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds. There is the stress that comes with being parents. And for two people who manage their own companies, there are meetings, deadlines, phone calls, emails, and the never-ending responsibility that comes with being the boss. For Stephen, obligations weighed heavily, impacting family time and also significantly disrupting his sleep.

“The stress comes into play when I don’t leave the office completely,” Stephen says. “When you’re running your own business, you can take it with you as long as you want. In this cell phone world, you’ve always got it at your fingertips. I would find myself getting caught up in things — less pleasant things — that should be taken care of during the workday, not at night during family time. That’s why I have two cell phones. I leave the work phone in the office and I have what I call the ‘bat phone’ for friends and family only.”

They also find balance in each other. Cynthia is generally calm by nature and is able to let go of stress easily. Stephen, on the other hand, relies on structure and schedules and sometimes lets stress get the better of him. “It’s a good balance between us because she helps me let any frustrations go,” Stephen says. “And I help her keep a schedule and get fired up sometimes. We balance each other out.”

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