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Going for It

You’re burned out, the boss is on your case, and you feel like a victim in the latest Dilbert strip. You’re mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore. Then payday arrives and you have second thoughts. Hey, that’s life. Or is it? In fact, say career counselors, more Americans than ever are finding the courage to ditch their jobs and follow their dreams. Like Pam Sherman, a former attorney. “When you can’t stand it any longer, just close your eyes and jump,” says Sherman, who bucked her parents’ warnings and gave up a lucrative practice to see if she could make it on the stage. No question, it’s a risk, and the free spirits on the following pages have sacrificed fat paychecks only to meet with varying degrees of success. But while most are poorer, they find that their lives are now a whole lot richer.

Up…Up…and Away!

Phil Glebe was in college in Michigan in 1974 when he spotted his first balloon. With his eyes alternately up-turned and on the road, he gave chase—”quite a challenge,” he notes, “since balloons don’t follow roads.” That Christmas a friend bought him a hot-air balloon ride and, says Glebe, “I was blown away.” Glebe became a district sales manager for a wine wholesaler in Detroit, but he never gave up his passion and took out a bank loan to buy a $5,500 balloon even before he earned his pilot’s license in 1976. Nine years later he persuaded Pontiac to sponsor him in the world ballooning championships. He did well, and the carmaker offered to extend the deal for a year. But that meant giving up a steady paycheck. “Every logical bone in my body said, ‘Say no and keep working,’ ” says Glebe, 46. “But my heart said, ‘Go, go, go!’ ” So he did, and in time turned that deal into a thriving business—Renaissance Balloons—with 12 balloons bearing the logos of corporate sponsors at hundreds of events a year. “It worked out,” says Glebe, who lives in Brighton, Mich., with wife Janice, 44, and their two children, “beyond my wildest dreams.”

For a Surgeon, a Fresh Slice of Life

Only three years ago surgeon Alan Resnik had a thriving Philadelphia practice and an annual income in the high six figures. He liked the work but didn’t appreciate the 70-hour weeks or the frustrations of managed care. “Answering to insurance companies,” he says, “was really getting impossible.”

A 1987 encounter with a golfing partner who had sold his law practice to become a yoga instructor had planted the seeds of change. “This was the happiest guy I had ever met,” says Resnik, 47. His own doubts grew when he sliced his glove while operating on a patient with AIDS in 1993 (he’s okay) and when a year later his neighbor Bob Barnes, 42, died in a car wreck. “I thought, ‘Life is not a rehearsal,’ ” he says, and he sold his practice, though he had no real plans. At first wife Mary Ann, 47, an anaesthesiologist and mother of their 16-year-old son Andrew, says she was “a little angry” with Resnik but felt she couldn’t deny him his freedom. Apart from improving his golf game during his 14 months off, Resnik got hooked on cable’s Food Network and discovered a new love: cooking. After six months at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, he landed a job as a prep cook at Philadelphia’s elegant Le Bee-Fin. He’s also working his way up the culinary food chain with a little freelance catering. But for now, three days a week, for $10 an hour, Resnik peels, grates and chops. All, adds owner Georges Perrier, with a surgeon’s precision: “He has wonderful hands.”

Lawyer Tries Acting, on Impulse

Playing an attorney in a police interrogation scene for NBC’s Homicide last November, actress Pam Sherman voiced a few objections to the director. A real lawyer, she told him, would never allow a client to answer the scripted questions. His response? Overruled!

Sherman, 35, was plenty qualified to challenge the dialogue. Five years ago the native New Yorker traded her job as a Washington lawyer earning more than $100,000 a year for her childhood dream of acting. “It was like leaping off a building,” she says. “But I’ve never regretted it.” In fact, Sherman can’t remember a time when she didn’t long to perform. But her ob-gyn father and psychoanalyst mother had other ambitions for the youngest of their four children. “They said, ‘Stick with academics. Acting is a nice hobby,’ ” she says.

Sherman graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan in 1987 and landed a spot in a D.C. law firm. But when the firm dissolved in 1993, Sherman took her cue. Supported by her husband, marketing consultant Neal Sherman, 36, she quit law and enrolled in a summer acting course. “There was no turning back,” she says, even after earning a meager $5,000 in her first year on the stage.

Now the mother of 2-year-old Zachary earns a steady income appearing in Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center and in the occasional TV series, where she doesn’t mind being typecast as an attorney. “Law financed my acting career,” she says. “And it beats waiting tables.”

An Ex-Newsman’s Vine New Career

After a tough day dodging snipers in Lebanon or avoiding the army at demonstrations in Iran as a CBS foreign correspondent, Doug Tunnell liked nothing better than to settle down for the evening with a glass of fine wine—when he could scare one up. These days the former newsman doesn’t have to look far: his 26-acre vineyard in Newberg, Ore., produces pinot noir, gamay noir and chardonnay, some of which have been served at White House luncheons. “In the morning I wake up and look out and see my grapes,” says Tunnell, 48, “and I’m so happy.”

That wasn’t so in 1989, when he returned after 17 years overseas to work in CBS’s Miami bureau. “CBS wanted me to cover tornadoes and shootings and drug trafficking,” recalls Tunnell. “I had no passion for that. I was a really unhappy guy”—a fact that didn’t escape his colleagues. “I don’t think it showed on air,” says CBS White House correspondent Bill Plant, “but Doug made it pretty clear that he wasn’t excited by the work anymore.”

Inspired by his last two postings, in wine-rich Germany and France, Tunnell bought the Newberg property for $180,000 in 1990. When his contract expired two years later, he left CBS and his $185,000 annual salary, sold his $900,000 home in Coconut Grove, Fla., and moved into the estate’s 70-year-old brick cottage. It took some toil, but today Tunnell’s 36,000 vines yield about 1,000 cases of Brick House label wines a year—almost enough to match his old income. “I don’t pretend to know all the answers,” says Tunnell, single since his 1996 divorce, “but I love that I am now able to share my passion for wine with people all over the world.”

Fed Up, She Went to the Movies

As a product manager for Chase Manhattan Bank, Pat Zdunowski not only circled the globe handling accounts worth billions, she had her own personal shopper. But no matter who chose her clothes, Zdunowski, 44, felt out of place. “There were people who would read The Wall Street Journal for fun,” she says, “and couldn’t stop talking about work.” Zdunowski, on the other hand, was always talking about movies. “She was my Siskel and Ebert,” says former coworker Ed Closson.

Growing up in Reading, Pa., “movies were our main entertainment,” says Zdunowski, daughter of a machinist and a homemaker. “I must have seen On the Waterfront at least 20 times.” But it was only after becoming disenchanted with her job that she considered a change. Then a childhood friend died of cancer at 40. “All her choices were gone,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this for the rest of my life.’ ” So in May 1996 she dumped her job and its generous benefits and launched New York Film Buffs, a group hosting biweekly screenings of independent films and after-show chats with directors. With just 100 members paying a $45 annual fee and an additional $20 per screening, Zdunowski does her own shopping now. “But,” she says, “I am being true to myself.”

Banker with a Big Band Beat

For years Bob Hardwick, vice president of New York City’s U.S. Trust, moonlighted as a pianist, rushing to gigs after work and returning red-eyed and weary the next day. Then in 1989, while playing a Kentucky Derby party in Louisville, Hardwick met film star Gregory Peck. “A career in the arts,” Peck told him, “is always preferable.”

And sometimes profitable. Playing a mix of Gershwin standards and Motown groove, Hardwick’s Manhattan-based band, the Bob Hardwick Sound, has entertained princes (Charles and Philip) and presidents (Carter, Reagan and Bush). Last year his band accompanied Aretha Franklin at the wedding of Vice President Gore’s daughter, Karenna. Since he quit banking in 1990 to play fulltime, Hardwick, 55, couldn’t be happier. “I’m making about four times what I made as a banker,” he says, “and I’m doing what I love.”

A pianist since age 4, Hardwick, son of a banker, was always torn between music and business. He chose the latter, but after he played at a high-society party for a friend in 1977, his after-hours job took off. In 1990, with the support of wife Beth, now 53, a marketing consultant, he took a sabbatical to play with the Louisville Orchestra and never returned. Beth is ecstatic. “I have the best of both worlds,” she says, “a businessman with creative talent.”

Who Says Cowgirls Get the Blues?

As a sales executive for an Idaho feed company, Sharon Glenn was on the road in 1984 when her dream rode by. “I was driving along in a company car, and there was a cowboy following cattle,” recalls Glenn, now 58. “It was sunset, and the dust was swirling around him and his horse. I almost got sick to my stomach, I wanted to be him so badly.”

Inspired, she quit her $50,000-a-year job that year and moved with her boyfriend and 81-year-old mother to a 150-acre ranch in eastern Washington State. Glenn now spends most days on horseback, driving cattle for local ranchers at $8 to $15 an hour. A cowhand’s daughter, Glenn worked alongside her dad as a child. “There wasn’t a distinction of age or sex,” she says. That came later. Divorced at 23, Glenn tried to rustle up ranch work to support herself and her little girl Kim, now 38 and an administrative assistant in Texas. “They told me a woman could never do that,” she says. So for 20 years, Glenn joined the corporate grind but never got over the feeling that something was missing. “Now I live hand-to-mouth,” she says. “But the way I feel almost every day, I can’t believe I get paid for this.”

June 01, 1998 | People