137) Why Do This?

Welcome to my autobiography.

I’m happy you are here.

When I began writing my story on April 11th of this year, a little over 8 months ago, I wrote out of a sense of urgency that I would die without my life depicting a framework.

What do I mean?

Just this. With people like me who need to see how they THINK they fit into the universe – or big picture, seeing the last 63 years of my life through a haze as a series of unrelated events, people, ideas is nothing more than wandering around in a dark room in confusion.

So by constructing a mosaic of my life through a series of posts on a computer screen, I have placed all the pieces of the puzzle of my life on the table. In graduate school we called this a “theoretical framework”.

Whether puzzle or theoretical framework, it is a context for trying to understand  the forces and people who made me who am I, as well as what vibrational signature I send out here on earth.

Of course just posting my life, does not make the whole of my life any more clear. Just as pieces of a  puzzle on a table make a picture.

So for those interested in identifying a theme or meaning to their life, simply penning the events and people in their life means little. The hard work is seeing patterns, relationships, behaviors that form the picture.

Sometimes, as in the case of my own life, the picture depicts a lifelong struggle. My struggle has been to overcome an extremely difficult childhood and aspire to be a great dad, husband and provider for my family. In two of these three, I believe I have done well.

Later in my life beginning in about the year 2009 – after witnessing my son’s attempt to take his own life – I began to realize the scope of my struggle had grown larger. I began to care about the parents of children suffering with chronic  illness or pain. Still later, as I began my drive for financial independence, my vision increased again to reach out to those who hated their jobs and felt hopeless about changing their circumstances.

As I approach the end of this book, done here on a blog, I imagine many people think I’m a fool for spilling my guts here on a public forum. Many more will not care. Still more will never read these pages.

That’s okay, this book was never for anyone else anyway.

I suppose I expected to have put the puzzle together by now. But after such prolonged and intense introspection there are still aspects of my life as a man I do not understand. I am sure I never will.

Maybe the best a man can hope for is to have some goals and reach for them.

If there is something else, I haven’t yet learned what it is.

But I still have time.

131) The Greatest Feat of Work I’ve Ever Observed

Welcome to my story.

I am happy you are here.

In my previous post I provided an update on Jenna, our daughter.

In this post, I want to give you a snapshot of a period of 4 months during the summer of 2013 while Nadine and I were living in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Natives of Minnesota – the state where I was born – are known for certain things, one of them being their work ethic. And I suppose you could argue, Swedish pancakes, canoes and fishing but those are for another part of my story.

Speaking of work ethic, my wife Nadine, during the summer of 2013, demonstrated the greatest sustained period of work output I’ve witnessed in my sixty plus years of life.

Here was her daily routine – check it out:

Before I give you the hourly breakdown, let me tell you she carried this out for four months running from July through October, just after accepting her new position as a program director at the local university.

And here’s one other important distinction. Out of concern for learning her role, responsibilities and balancing her life/work balance, there were many nights – say 25-30% – of nights where she slept 4-5 hours and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Here was Nadine’s amazing and prodigious schedule (as best I can recall) during those four months:

Monday – Friday

4 am – get up and feed the dog

4:15 am – makes coffee

4:30 am – sit at her home/office desk

6:30 am – treadmill (runs 1-2 miles per morning)

6:45 am – 7:15 am – shower, breakfast, gets dressed

7:15 am – leave for work

7:30 am – arrives at work

6:00 pm – finishes up at work

6:30 pm – arrives home prepares quick dinner

7:30 pm – back to work at home/office desk, completing correspondence and preparing for next day

8:30 pm – goes to bed

If Nadine’s Monday through Friday schedule wasn’t impressive enough, she worked EVERY Saturday and EVERY Sunday except three or four during this four-month period.

Adding in these Saturdays and Sundays, Nadine worked, by my rough estimates, between 75 and 80 hours per week for four months!

Nadine’s work during the summer of 2013 stands as the greatest feat of work I have ever seen.

 

 

129) Jenna

Greetings – I am so glad you are here!

In my  last post I gave you an update on Nadine, my wife of over 30 years.

In this post, I provide a similar update for Jenna, our daughter, born in 1985.

Note: Posting activity has been spotty during the last two weeks. I took a nasty fall on my bike.

If Stevie was a nightmare child – due  mostly to chronic pancreatitis, which was beyond his control – our relationship with Jenna has been unbelievably easy.

Why?

Jenna has been healthy and worked hard to support some very good decisions she has made in her relationships and her career. Jenna has also been blessed with the gift of a very quick mind and effortlessly being  a person that people like and respect.

Jenna selected a brilliant and cordial man, named Timothy as her husband and is raising a small family and living nearby.

Jenna worried about Stevie but really had no  idea of what Nadine and I endured while Stevie was sick.

Jenna and Timothy helped Stevie with his rent during the period of January through July of 2010. Were it not for their financial contributions, Stevie’s road might have been far more difficult.

Like so many who make life look easy, there is more to Jenna than meets the eye.

Through her prodigious work ethic, she has assembled around her some of  life’s most wonderful gifts, including two healthy, radiant children, a solid, high character husband, great friendships, and a lovely home, all during her early twenties. Her accomplishments may not be unique but because of her hard work, she has won the sincere respect of everyone who knows her.

Like Nadine and Stevie, Jenna had grown-up watching me struggle with career. Although by the time she was born, I was just launching my mask designer job phase in Silicon Valley, by the time she was in her teens, my anxiety, and restlessness was on full display for our whole family.

I don’t know that she was sympathetic, but as my daughter, that wasn’t her role.

In later years she would confess to  me she didn’t want to get stuck the way she observed others getting stuck in their careers.

I knew who she was talking about.

Between Nadine, Stevie, Jenna and myself, Jenna and I have personalities that are the  most similar – amicable, yet on occasion, forceful and opinionated.

No one wanted to get on Jenna’s bad side – the way back, if one existed, was painful and uncertain.

128) Nadine

Greetings!

I  am glad you are here.

In the previous post you read about Stanley and Braun – my new internet marketing company.

In this I provide an update on Nadine’s activities.

On a dark day in February of 1978, a young lady approached the door of a grand but slightly worn out looking Victorian mansion high atop Nob Hill in San Francisco. She was greeted by a young man dressed in a gold, one-pieced jump suit, the kind a laborer might wear in a posh hotel. The young woman had only just arrived in the city and was in need of a room. Her looked was that of a fresh-scrubbed sorority girl, not so plain as to be from the farm but without a spec of makeup, not a city girl either. Straight nose, brown hair, freckles and bright smile, her health and gentle, yet dignified manner radiated throughout the entryway of the San Francisco Residence Club.

The young man who greeted her had been painting room 51B, the one with high ceilings and a view across Nob Hill to the China Basin.

“Nadine, I’d like you to meet Oliver Stanley, he is our manager,” Mrs. Williams said, as she introduced me to this person. This person who literally took my breath away.

As you might know, the description above tries to paint a picture of the first time I met Nadine in San Francisco.

Looking back, neither of us realized we were going to be spend the next 35 years together.

By the year 2009, Nadine had been working in her northern Colorado college teaching career for 13 years.

It is my belief that Nadine was still very much in love with me – there in our 29th year of marriage – but our two failed businesses had strained our relationship. I felt Nadine had lost faith in my ability to put us on a financial path to build a nest egg.

I still believed in myself.  And I was frustrated Nadine stubbornly clung to the mentality that, to get ahead, you took the best job you could find and held onto it – no matter what.

I had started my engineering career in 1985 but by 1995 I realized I had made a big mistake and wanted out. I turned to independent contracting in 1996, which had the effect of extending my career. But I discovered that I was essentially a family man and that no amount of money was worth being away from home.

If you are reading this blog for the first time, you may be thinking this poor SOB doesn’t realize how lucky he is; living in America, robust health and every chance to succeed. Relative to other people of the world, I was one of the luckier ones. But please  keep in mind however, I had already overcome considerably bad circumstances earlier in my life to make it to this point.

More to the point, my story is about persistence. Every story of achievement, however insignificant relative to the worlds more important issues, is rooted in persistence.

From Nadine’s point of view, remaining in our marriage for over 30 years, was also an exercise in persistence.

Nadine is a bookworm. Maybe she is able to escape her troubles through the worlds that are created within the books she reads.

During the year of 2009, she continued to work with students from all  over the world, teaching them English.

But during the year I  began to notice a change in Nadine. It was if a giant weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Except during social occaisions – mostly to put her guests at ease – she still didn’t laugh much. And if I am being honest, we had lost the intimacy in our marriage. I blame myself for that.

Her mood was lighter.

Our son Stevie was beginning to make a miraculous recovery from a dozen years of pain, self-pity and drug addiction.

Nadine, Stevie and I had each began our own personal journey through recovery.

Nadine and I began to sleep through the night.

We had worried night and day about Stevie from 1996 to 2009.

Here, only a few months into Stevie’s new life,  we began to feel  hope this  would last.

 

113) Merrill

Merrill was an ex-marine, who was one of the better salespeople I ever met. Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall with head shaved and twinkling blue eyes he knew how to use his physical presence to either intimidate or make you feel welcome. And if you were part of Merrill’s team – as Nadine and I were – he had a way of making you feel special and privileged. By the time we joined, in December of 2007, then met Merrill at a conference in Dallas in June of 2008, his downline numbered in the hundreds.

In the last post you read about our little home business company, Ocean View Marketing, a limited liability corporation and the way we were beginning to sign up a few members for our own downline (team of commissioned sales people). However, like other start-up network marketing companies, we had two serious problems; cash flow and lead conversion. In this post you will read how Merrill’s proposal offered a solution for the latter and how that proposal changed the direction of our life for the next several years.

The Bait

“Dude,” Merrill told me over the phone as he was making his pitch to me. “a couple of my top people are sending leads to me, and I am closing them.” “We split the commissions 50/50.” ” You would need a few thousand to get my campaigns started on pay-per-click, drive the leads to MY site and me and my sales team take over.”

“How much are we talking about?” I asked.

“We typically set the budget limit at $250 per day in adwords (pay-per-click),” Merrill said, “so this gives us coverage in all the time zones 24/7 without hitting our daily limit.” he explained.

“Oh man, that’s a lot of money,” I said. “Let me talk it over with Nadine.”

“Sure, I understand,” Merrill continued, “You would have full access to my back office sales page, where you could see for yourself that each lead you generate would contain a code, so that when we close the sale there would be no question that it be 50/50 split.” he concluded.

After I got off the phone with Merrill, my sponsor, I remember being so excited I could hardly think of anything else; not my new house, not Stevie’s drug addiction, not sex, not even the stock market.

But taking pride in being accountable, I also realized there was something I wasn’t doing that was dragging Ocean View Marketing down. Nobody was telling me this but nevertheless it is something, as a new network marketer, I knew I should be doing. But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t calling folks that had signed up on our website to get more information about joining our team. I wasn’t following up with them on the phone. This was one of the guiding principles of network marketing. A principle I had learned in every book I had read by master MLM practitioners.

This was an “automated marketing system”, I reasoned. No selling, telling or showing. Prospects found the opportunity on the internet, watched a video, then signed-up. This was the theory behind the automated marketing system and it was one of the big reasons I chose this network marketing opportunity.

What had become clear to Nadine and I in early 2008, was that the system wasn’t working the way we expected it to work. We were near our spending limit on Google driving traffic to our website and producing leads but the people were not signing up for the program.

If we could teach others to do what we were doing, the theory went, we could create residual income.

Something was broken.

Since I had no intention of calling people to sell them on a marketing concept I now knew was badly broken, I began to realize we had wasted thousands of dollars driving traffic to our sales funnel that was anything but automated and required someone to call them and sell them.

There was one way out.

If I accepted Merrill’s offer and funded several large pay-per-click campaigns to drive folks to his website, he would then follow-up with them on the phone – an activity I later learned he relished – and give Ocean View Marketing 50% of the commissions.

Since he was closing about 50% of the folks he personally spoke with over the phone, we couldn’t lose!

It was a rescue plan that would cost me about $7,500 per month for at least 3 months.

Inside of Wealth Miners/Carbon Copy Pro Merrill was a superstar. Still ascending in sales during January of 2008, he was one of the top three highest paid sponsors in the opportunity, was winning awards for having the highest volume month and had chosen me to work closely with him and his team to make us both a lot of money.

In one of the biggest decisions of my life, and after hardly sleeping the night before, I left Merrill a voice mail the next day.

“Hey Merrill, lets get started.”

Next – Setting the Hook

102) Bottle of Vodka and a Knife

“Hey Stevie, what’s up?” I said as I entered the enormous kitchen of our new house in Loveland, Colorado.

But Stevie wasn’t answering because something was very wrong. As wrong as things can be between a father and his son.

In an instant, my sense of dread was electric. The kind that makes every pour on your body quiver.

Why was I even calling Stevie’s name?

I knew he had killed himself right there in the kitchen as I walked across the foyer and saw him lying face-up on the floor.

“Dude, what happened?” I asked, not wanting to give in to my fear, but yet caught up in the perverse excitement of what I might be witnessing, right in our own house.

Next to his lanky, sweat-soaked, ashen-colored, six-foot frame were two objects. I shall not forget them as long as I live; a bottle of vodka and a knife.

Next – The Darkness of Shock and Indecision

 

96) Crevasse

“A crevasse is a deep crack in an ice sheet or glacier.” Source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crevasse

In 1994,  about 9 years into my career in integrated circuit layout ( which, for simplicity, I have called chip design throughout this essay) I decided it very important to me to earn $100K per year.

I had beaten a rotten childhood in North Minneapolis, moved to California, dumped a speed addicted girlfriend, escaped the  U.S. Air Force and married a wonderful woman. But earning six-figures would demonstrate attainment of a goal that someone who grew up in my circumstances wasn’t supposed to think was possible – career mastery.

$100K came rather easily in 1997, then a few more times during the next few years while working as a mask design contractor.

Authors note – As you are no doubt aware, $100K does not go as far as it used to. As for me, in 1997, this compensation was a significant achievement.

But far from becoming masterful in the craft of my career, I had instead become very good at promoting my services, saying yes to technical challenges (sometimes without regard for how I would resolve them), to work until exhaustion and excelling as a road warrior in the  states of Colorado, Arizona, California, Idaho and Minnesota for months at a time.

I had become masterful in adapting to various contracting situations; masterful at the art of diplomacy, masterful at accepting every challenge, masterful at learning design software, at setting up temporary housing, at finding the local gym, bookstore, coffee shop and week-end get away.

Most of all, I used quiet time in my cool, sunlit living spaces to obsess about how I could find meaning in my work again. Or the joy of releasing the unrelenting pressure to perform a contract.

Still very grateful for the opportunities entrusted to me by the firms that hired me to draw computer chips, I wanted more control over my work, how I spent my time, how I helped and encouraged people. And I wanted to be around people who thought like me, who felt empowered, purposeful, unafraid and lived their lives without seeing limits.

But I was wedged very deeply in a crevasse whose sides were steep and slippery.

Next – The Beginning of My Quest for True Financial Independence

93) Some Context for My Story – 2004

At 54 years old, what had I become?

And where was I going?

Welcome to my autobiography.

I am glad you are here!

In the last post you read about another contract assignment I accepted with Intel of Fort Collins, Colorado. In this post I try to paint a picture of where, at age 54 I found myself in life, and events taking place the year of 2004.

Top 5 News Stories of 2004

5. Remember the Gipper

FOX News’ fifth top story of the year was the death of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan (search), at the age of 93 on June 5 at his home in California.

4. Massacre at Beslan

Parents, children and teachers gathered outside School No. 1 in Beslan (search), Russia, in September to hear the usual welcoming speeches from the principal. But what was supposed to be a happy day turned into a nightmare after dozens of terrorists wearing ski masks and explosive belts began firing weapons into the school yard and herded everyone into the gymnasium.

3. Oil-for-Food Scandal Rattles U.N.

FOX News’ third biggest story of the year is one in which we took the lead in uncovering a story of scandal, money and international intrigue.

What was supposed to be a program to help the Iraqi people ended up hurting the reputation of the United Nations and proving even further that former dictator Saddam Hussein was one of history’s most corrupt leaders.

The Oil-for-Food program (search) — initiated and monitored by the U.N. Security Council and run by the U.N. secretariat, which Kofi Annan heads — allowed Iraq to sell unlimited amounts of oil provided the money went primarily for humanitarian goods and reparations for victims of the 1991 Gulf War. It was discovered that Saddam scammed $21.3 billion in illegal revenue from the system, leaving thousands of Iraqis without much-needed food.

2. Iraq and the War on Terror

This year began the way 2003 ended — with a focus on Iraq and a hope for stability. But the reality of a growing threat from foreign terrorists and former regime elements organizing and adapting to their new fighting environment was taking a toll.

“You’re dealing not with a static situation, you’re dealing with an enemy with a brain,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. “They get up every morning, go to school on what we’re doing, and change what they’re doing to advantage themselves.”

A barrage of homicide car bombings this year was deadly; 14 in the first three months of 2004 alone killed more than 530. In March, four U.S. security contractors were killed in Fallujah — their charred bodies dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge. As U.S.-led forces tried to wrest Fallujah from the insurgents’ control, militant anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) rallied followers to rise up against the coalition.

1. W for President

And the top story of 2004 is the presidential election that pitted the incumbent George W. Bush (search) against his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (search) — the first race for the White House since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Despite a sluggish economy, a controversial and difficult war in Iraq, slow going in Afghanistan, and the War on Terror, Bush won a clear victory over Kerry in what both called the most important election in decades. 1

According to Reuters, the expansion that followed the mild downturn of 2001 was calculated to average of 3.2% during 2004, 2005 and 2006.

“For the three-year period, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, or 0.3 percentage points less than the earlier estimate.” 2

Reasons for Personal Optimism

With a new mask design contract in my hand, Nadine and Jenna doing well in Fort Collins, Stevie’s chronic pancreatitis held at bay with pain medications and the U.S. economy beginning to show signs of growth, I had every reason to be optimistic about positioning myself for early retirement.

While you may think it is crazy to hold out hope to find “passion” in your work at age 54 –  especially at the risk of losing everything – as an optimistic baby boomer, I continued  to believe in a purposeful life. And it wasn’t working on a job that I hated and that made me hate my life.

But in a practical sense, I realized, in spite of the fact I was no longer passionate about my work as a mask designer, contract work offered the best opportunity to meet my financial obligations and make some small investments while I continued the search for work that stirred something within me and gave meaning to my life.

At age 54, looking like a man of 43 and in robust health, I still felt there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish, once I set out to do it.

Was I fooling myself?

Little did I know at that time, many failures were ahead.

What can go wrong with overconfidence?

Sources –

1 Fox News, Rewind 2004, The Years Top News  Stories, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2004/12/30/rewind-2004-year-top-news-stories/#ixzz2brGML0nq

2 Joanne Morrison, U.S. Economic Growth Revised Down for 2004-2006, http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/07/27/usa-economy-growth-revisions-idUSN2646636520070727

Next – How I Allowed Extreme Overconfidence to Make Me Numb

92) Flying High Again in 2004

 

Hi and welcome to my life’s story.

I am glad you are here!

In the previous post, I shared with you my invitation for a one-year mask design contract assignment with Intel of Fort Collins, Colorado. In this post I will share a little with you about my mindset before giving my answer to the offer of work, and what implications a contract might have for Nadine, Jenna, Stevie and myself.

Over Confident?

Full of confidence from my previous one-year contract with Intel in Arizona, I eagerly accepted another one-year assignment with Intel in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Why not have self-confidence? In my mask design career of 20 years, I had extracted myself from bitter childhood circumstances in Minneapolis, achieved some professional success in San Francisco, worked with some of the top semiconductor design teams in the industry, authored The ADXL50 – an airbag on a chip – and just completed my work at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.

I was not a real engineer (my undergraduate degree was in business) but technically during that 20 years I had seen a lot of challenges as a mask designer – the one who draws transistors and wires of electrical circuits – and overcome them all. I felt like there was no software, semiconductor process technology or schedule I couldn’t conquer.  Thinking nothing of working week-ends, early morning hours, swing-shifts, being away from home for months at a time, or even putting myself on call (Sun  Microsystems), as a mask design contractor, there was virtually nothing I wouldn’t do to finish the job.

New Assignment

My new assignment at Intel was  right up the street from my own bed where I could sleep every night and be with Nadine, Jenna and Stevie, my family in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Yep, even though my career in mask design was wearing thin – in part due to the many times I had sabotaged it – my CONTRACTING career was flourishing, and I was supremely confident.

Stevie was in deep addiction to pain meds but I had learned to put his circumstances in a box. As of 2004, I had not yet lost all hope we could save his life.

Importance of Timing

I was well positioned, it was my belief, in the right part of the economic boom that was still taking place to capture the momentum of the real estate market and possibly even indulge in my passion for stock market investment.

In  short, our  personal financial circumstances were lining up in 2004 for our best year ever!

Our need was great, since I had saved very little for retirement.

91) An Offer from Intel, Fort Collins, Colorado

“The best time to be a mask design contractor is just after you’ve accepted a contract but just before you report for work,” David once told me. 

Often this is a period of two weeks or more.

Plans for

  • living arrangements,
  • gym memberships,
  • last-minute vacations,
  • new t-shirts,
  • and sometimes new toys

can be put in place.

Loved ones gain peace of mind. Debt pay-off can be accelerated. You can call people who doubted you and let them know what an obvious mistake they have made.

Linked-In and Facebook account profiles can be updated.

New home improvement projects can be re-imagined. And you can go to Home Depot again and actually look at the price of all the great stuff.

You can start looking at your stock portfolio again, or really build one on Foliofn – using whole shares instead of fractions of shares.

Old semiconductor technology books can be located and surveyed again. Even if nearly all of Maxwell’s equations still don’t make sense. Ditto for old sticky notes containing scribbles of Ohm’s Law.

As time grows shorter before you report for your contract assignment, you begin to cherish each moment of freedom; balancing each against the materialization of your new plans.

You visualize in your mind a balancing scale, each side hanging from a shiny, brass chain,  on one side your new contract assignment opportunity, the other spending your days on your bike, in Starbucks and with your dog.

What if, instead of always saying yes, no matter how “appealing”, you declined the contract opportunity.

Next – What if.