It was the merry-go-round that clinched it.
Austin attorney Mark Browning had taken a rare day off to celebrate his daughter's second birthday. Waiting for him back at the office was an important bankruptcy case about to go to trial in California - a complicated project with a maze of 350 exhibits.But for the moment he just watched Elyssa, long blond hair flying as she rocked up and down on a golden horse, begging to go around again and again and again.
``I remember sitting on that merry-go-round with her and thinking: 'How much money is it worth giving up times like this?' '
Soon after, Browning did something he'd been contemplating for a while. He quit his job. A job he liked. A job he made lots of money at. But a job that chomped 11 to 12 hours out of weekdays plus Saturday mornings, occasional slices of Sunday, and hunks of most holidays.
Instead, the father of two young daughters turned around and took a position with the state attorney general's office. In at 8 a.m. Out at 5 p.m. No weekend work. State holidays off.
His income was sliced by a hefty 75 percent, but that, he says, is just part of the trade-off.
``(Now), if I leave on time, I can catch that last 15 minutes of ``Sesame Street' every day,' he says.
Signs of a trend Is Browning part of any sort of trend? Is there, in a broad-brush-stroke sort of way, a new shift in American values? Is the workaholic generation starting to take a new look at what they are sacrificing for their careers and the Almighty Dollar?
Only a few days after he'd told his office he was going to pack up his files and leave, Browning remembers seeing an article in the Wall Street Journal that made him feel as if he had company.
The article - headlined ``Careers Start Giving In to Family Needs' - gave the results of a recent poll by an executive recruiting firm that showed that more than half of 500 men queried would cut their salaries as much as 25 percent to have more family or personal time. About 45 percent said they'd probably turn down a promotion if it cut into the time they spent with their families.
And Yankelovich Clancy Shulman, a research firm, reported a shift in a yearly survey it does on American values and lifestyles. Both men and women, it said, are beginning to ``reassess' the trade-offs between work and family.
Not everyone with more family time had to wrest it from busy work schedules.
Many have gotten it without asking as their regions or industries hit a dip in a roller-coaster economy.
But even a forced lull can help throw a new spotlight on the family.
Real estate developer John C. Smith, for example, found his Austin business in poor repair after the Texas bust. But rather than launch into a new career, he took the opportunity to become a Mr. Mom - taking care of the family's three children, one of whom was adopted this fall.
``It (the bust) did have a silver lining - to give me an opportunity to do something that I probably wouldn't have done if the situation had been different,' says Smith. ``The priority is on our family.'
But the Smiths also have the luxury of a healthy income stream; Smith's wife, Jean, is president and chief executive officer of Healthcare International Inc.
Costs as well as rewards
Indeed, money is often a pivotal factor in the decision to restructure careers. Just how much of a cut can a family afford to take?
``I've decided that just because you make a decision that money is less important, that doesn't make money become unimportant,' says Glenn Karisch, who recently quit a lucrative job with a corporate law firm in Houston.
``It's easier said than done, living on a smaller salary.'
A year ago, Karisch decided to move his wife and two children to Austin, where he now works as an attorney for the Texas Methodist Foundation - a job that pays a little more than half his former salary.
The change has meant some adjustments. The Karisches rent, rather than own their home. They've cut down on their clothes-buying. They've postponed purchasing a new car. They avoid going on expensive weekend trips.
The juggling is more difficult because they also are doing without a second income. Karisch's wife, Suzanne, a former nurse, quit work to raise the two children - Julie, 5, and Augustus, 21 months old. (She is now thinking about going back to work one day a week.)
But the new job pays Karisch in other ways. For one thing, he feels as if his job with the Methodist foundation is of more benefit to society than his work with a resource-rich law firm. His new, leaner hours also give him more time to spend with his family.
Leaving the corporate world has taught him that options are available - albeit with a financial price tag.
``It makes me realize I'm not trapped in anything, and that there are a lot of alternatives available to me. It's easy to feel, if you've been on a track to becoming a partner in a law firm, that ... you can't get off of it.'