Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pot of Gold

It was a momentous decision in early 1984 when I was presented with an opportunity to join a start up technology company in Oregon (Sequent Computer). I don't know which was harder--leaving a great job at a great company (HP), or leaving our home, friends, and ward, all of which we loved. But I had passed up a similar opportunity a couple of years earlier and it had nagged at me a bit. So, long story short, we packed up our young family of five and moved from Meridian, ID, to Beaverton, OR.

Besides the adventure and potential satisfaction of working at a startup, there is the chance to make a lot of money on stock and options. This is (or was) the most common way for normal engineers to strike it rich, so to speak. For example, upon joining the company I was able to buy 10,000 shares of company stock at 25 cents per share. I accumulated more shares and options to purchase shares as time went on.

Of course, two things need to happen to make money on the stock. First, the company needs to do well so the market gives the stock a good valuation, and the company needs to go public so you have liquidity and can sell the shares.

Those first several years I looked forward so much to the company going public. It was an exciting prospect. But a definite downside -- and this is the theme of this post -- is that there is risk of looking so much to future prospects that you forget to enjoy today. I would think "four years from now we will be rich, and can do and buy so many things--then I will be truly happy."

In spring 1987 we went public, got a good valuation, and there was a big company party to celebrate. But I couldn't "cash in and become happy" yet because there was a six month wait before restricted shares like mine could be sold. I worried and fretted about the stock market, and was disappointed when the market crashed in October that year, and our stock price plummeted. The next several years the stock price would fluctuate up and down, depending on company results and market conditions. And it seemed my spirits fluctuated right alongside.

I was at Sequent for 16 years, then another two years with IBM upon their purchase of the company. Things didn't work out so well and most people got laid off, including me, in 2002.

Looking back on all this I can say we were very fortunate to have made a good deal of money on Sequent stock over the years. We were able to pay off our house and diversify investments. We have gone on some nice trips as a couple and a family. But, for the most part, it didn't really change our lives all that much. So, a lot of hype and anticipation that was overblown a bit.

We did find our pot of gold, though. We love living where we do in the Pacific Northwest. We had two more wonderful children and raised all five kids here. We live in the best ward, have great schools, and have cultivated interests and hobbies, and given service. Our wealth is measured not by our bank and stock statements, but by our wonderful living circumstances and precious memories.

I try to catch myself when, in big or small ways, I think I'll be happier after such and such at some time in the future. I try to remember to count my blessings and enjoy each day.


  1. I agree. It is good to find "joy in the journey."

  2. That is something I wonder sometimes when I hear tales and even witness your frugality, to help "save for later," is if you are enjoying the now too, and not putting it all off until some future nonexistent time...

    But I've seen you enjoy life too, attending the tennis tournament in March, hiking, family events, travels. So I guess I have answered my own question.