Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The trajectory of our lives

The last couple of days has been interesting. It's made me think more about how our lives trajectory can be so varied, and so different, than we imagined.

I'm sitting here in the hotel that I first sat in back in 87 when I interviewed at Apple Computer, about a 1/2 block up the street. Back then I was full of fire and passion for Apple and for technology. I was hired and I had a great time.

Here I am, 18 years later. Many of the people I worked with back then have gone on to great financial and personal success. Many are independently wealthy (some at an extreme level). Many are still just regular joes working for 'the man'. Some are just scraping buy.

I had a chance to sit down with one of these folks for a quick bite and a chat. He's in his mid 40's. He and I worked together for, I don't know, 3 years (?) on eWorld at Apple. He went on to form a startup (internet bandwidth manipulation hardware) and cashed out just before the bubble burst (well, cashed out 'enough') and kept the company going (it was 'real'.. i.e. not a flaky concept company as many where back then). He's now semi-retired, altough still active in his company by being on the board.

He's clearly a happy guy. Married. 3 great kids. Wonderful wife (who I also know). By all measures, a very successful liffe.

Another guy who I worked with, in the same group at the same time, about my age, and who should have been the guy (out of all of us at Apple during that time) that went on to mega-billions and global fame sort of flamed out. Lives in a condo in the Valley here. Runs a small consulting firm. Divorced. Single. Doing ok, nothing special. His work is the same stuff he was doing10 years ago when he left Apple, just smaller in scale. Although I didn't talk to him personally, several others who know us both have told me pretty much the same story. He cheated, got caught, got divorced, got fleeced and is now 'a regular guy' just living a life like everyone else.

Not so bad, really, but far far less than the dreams he had.

I'm sort of inbetween these two. Also had the dreams, never cashed out for millions, but I'm OK moneywise. Can't retire, but can be picky about what I do and not work for long stretches if I want. Like my friend above, I divorce (although for different reasons... one was she had already spent everything we had before the divorce, after the divorce was done I was better off than when I was married). But similar.

I passed on several startup opportunities, and several bigger company but still higher risk jobs that all would have put me into the 'very wealthy' area if I'd taken them over the trajectory I chose.

So, who's really happier? My rich buddy or my working but single and somewhat happy buddy?

Is having a family vs. not having a family directly related, somehow, to this wealth and happiness thing?

The evidence says: yes. If you're married with kids, and you've got your timing down reasonably well, you're much more likely to be one of the guys who cashes out at the right time and does the early retirement thing (or goes on to do REALLY big stuff, like what Google's doing right now.. creating, in effect, a privately owned, publically available global internet subnet).

I guess I just wonder if my trajectory, considering I'm an undisciplined college dropout, is one I'm really happy with.


All things considered. Yes. I am happy with how things are and where they're going. I have a fun consulting gig that pays well and doesn't control all my time. I have a startup company that's building a great product that I think can change the face of audio and eventually, video media and I work with some really interesting and fun people.

I don't want for anything material, but, I do miss my son and that family thing that I had a taste of, but didn't really get to fully experience. Now, at 47, it's really too late to start that one again. Yea, I know, I could, but I also know I wouldn't be happy doing it from scratch. I really do enjoy the freedom of being single and doing and going where I want when I want now. It's a trade off, certainly, but one I think is the right choice.

So, I continue on my original mission I set for myself decades ago: The leave this world just a little better than it was when I came into it.

And with that said.. off to another day of doing my best to make the world 'just a little better'.



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An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.

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