Waiting, just waiting
Why life “on hold” doesn’t work for families
From the Mercury News Column Archives
by Alison van Diggelen, July 2000
I must be one of the few people in Silicon Valley who breathed a little sigh of relief when the stock market started to fall earlier this year. The good news is that a lot of Silicon Valley-ites may have got a sound reality check. Net worths are lower, but homes and families may be happier.
The “deferred life plan” may work well for the young and unattached. Their life is their work, and their work place an extension of college life, a social club. As Bill Gates said of his young software programmers, “if they want, we will give them a sleeping bag, but there is something romantic about sleeping under the desk. They want to do it.” For them, “all nighters” are a form of team bonding, something to brag about.
But for workers with partners and kids, trying out the same strategy may not work. They may wake up one day like Rip van Winkle not recognizing their kids, their partner or themselves. It’s hard for “deferred life planners” and happy families to co-exist in the new economy of Silicon Valley.
Sure we’d all love to share in the technology gold rush, but the problem is that all work and no play don’t mesh well with sound family life. You may be willing to put your life on hold for a few years, but kids are different, they won’t be put on hold. Like it or not, they grow up fast, arguably at a faster rate than it takes stock options to vest.
Up until recently there’s been the feeling that the market can’t wait, you must ride the wave today or it won’t be there tomorrow. But it’s only the stellar news you hear about, not the nineteen out of twenty startups that fail to scoop the jackpot.
I recently read one of my favorites Dr. Seuss books to my kids: “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” The double page “Waiting Place” stopped me in my tracks when I read it to my kids last week. To me, it sums up the lives of many of us in Silicon Valley.
“…You’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space
headed I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting..”
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting, perhaps for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break”
And for us in Silicon Valley, I could add,
for that first demo
or the big trade show,
or the I.P.O.
or the ratio
of the P to E to grow and grow.
Everyone is just waiting.”
I’m not suggesting people are sitting around waiting, on the contrary they are furiously pursuing some grand ambition, but are so blinded by the “gold”, the technology or their peers, that they neglect what’s going on at home. They are working and waiting.
In “The Monk and the Riddle”, a new book about entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, author Randy Komisar of Portola Valley, says that the passion for work is often missing, replaced by some monetary dream. He says of some entrepreneurs; “They see their enterprises the way an eight-year-old sees vegetables: you must eat your peas before getting your pie (i.e. the jackpot).”
Tiffany Carboni, an associate editor for a glossy Bay Area magazine resigned her position in February due the allure of stock options at a dot-com. When the market took a downturn in March, it made her do some soul-searching, “I decided that the goal of getting rich fast wasn’t as important as my happiness.” Her change of heart was quick enough that she came back to her old job, where her passion lay, and was welcomed back with a promotion.
So, if the market downturn hasn’t made you or your partner see the light and come home in the daylight, maybe it’s time to treat your family to a copy of Dr. Seuss’ classic, earmarked at the “Waiting Place” page and see if the Doctor’s timeless wisdom can permeate the thick Silicon Valley skin of stock-option-filled dreams.