In mid-July, Sue Shellenbarger devoted her "Work & Family" column in The Wall Street Journal to those Type-A workers who just can't leave the office behind when they go on vacation.
It reminded me of the time many years ago when my husband and I were packing up to take our two young children to Cape Cod, Mass., for a week. This was before the days of laptops (or at least, it was for us), and I was alarmed to see my husband packing his PC and loading it, along with the printer and fax machine, into the trunk of our rental car.
I used to be like that myself, calling my answering machine for messages every day, sometimes twice a day. My work wasn't all that important. More likely, there was nothing important or interesting about me except my work. After you took the job away, I was sort of a blank.
What Shellenbarger's column made me think about, though, was investors on vacation. I wonder how many of you take laptop and cell phone along to watch your portfolios and make trades? How many of you, really, are sort of a blank if you're not an investor?
On Hold Through the Holiday
I'm going to argue here for leaving the technical stuff at home. I'm taking just a short vacation this year at the end of August and I won't even call in for messages. My vacation is short because I'm working on a master's degree in fiction and I spent 10 days at a residency program in Vermont at the end of June, which used up most of my "away" time.
In Vermont, we were kept so busy with lectures, workshops, readings and the like that I couldn't have traded during the day if I wanted to. But I didn't even bring the phone hookup for my Sony laptop. I used it only for storage -- not for communication.
As I was driving home the first week in July, I heard a stock market report for the first time in 10 days, on Bloomberg radio. The term "Nasdaq" even sounded strange, and reminded me of something my 10-year-old son, Thomas, said a couple of weeks ago.
We couldn't find my husband, and someone suggested maybe he was out in the barn (our office) talking on the phone to his girlfriend. This was a joke, as my husband is very shy. I asked my son what he thought Dad might say to a girlfriend. Thomas replied: "Hey, baby, how's the Nasdaq?"
So as you can see, there's already too much market talk in our house. Besides, leaving it behind when you go away gives you a fresh approach once you're back. I'll give you an example -- even at the risk of appearing a bit wishy-washy.
Last summer, my family took a real vacation, spending nearly three weeks at Yosemite, in the Northern California redwoods, at Lake Tahoe and in San Francisco. I didn't read a scrap of business news or watch any business programs.
I knew that when I came home I'd be looking for a stock to add to my portfolio. I'd been thinking about
because I liked the company's Internet promise balanced with its stability and strength, and I welcomed the balance it would add to my small-cap technology stocks. When I returned, I read a column by colleague
about why he liked IBM, and decided to buy.
The stock was trading at $128, and I knew I could get a better price. I did. I bought 100 shares at $105 in mid-October and another 100 shares the next week at $92 when IBM reported disappointing earnings.
I bought IBM as a long-term investment, believing that it would become a solid player in the Internet business. The company has such clout and credibility among big corporations, I figured it would work like this: A company would decide it had to have business-to-business or some other Internet service and call IBM. The Fortune 1000 has looked to IBM for computer equipment and services for decades. So it seemed logical that the same companies would look to IBM for e-commerce solutions.
But over the 10 months since I bought the stock, that doesn't seem to be happening. I try to be patient with a stock or a mutual fund. But IBM's revenue growth has slowed to single digits. Despite all the action online, IBM still seems to be dependent on the mainframe computer and related services.
One of the real mysteries is why IBM's experience in wiring corporations hasn't resulted in more revenue growth. The company has been pulling rabbits out of a hat to show revenue growth and it's running out of rabbits.
When I returned from Vermont on July 7 this year, I took a look at my portfolio for the first time in 10 days. The vague misgivings I'd felt about IBM all spring had crystallized: IBM looked like a sell.
looked like a buy, but that's another story. I sold all 200 shares of IBM at $104.50 on July 7.
Now, if you look at this in terms of performance, as my colleagues at
"MoneyCentral" are always urging me to do, you could argue that I should just forget about vacations, since they're not adding anything to my portfolio's performance.
New View on Stocks
But I disagree. We all make mistakes. We don't always recognize them. Just because IBM didn't pan out doesn't erase the lesson. I look at the fact that I bought IBM after one vacation and sold it after another as a coincidence. The point is that I saw things differently after taking some time out as an investor.
The same thing happens with your job, of course. I remember interviewing another colleague, "MoneyCentral" personal finance columnist Ginger Applegarth, some years ago about her vacation, and she said she'd made her most important career decisions at such times because she got a clearer perspective on where she was and where she wanted to go.
So let's hear it for the vacation like the one my "Start Investing" partner and "MoneyCentral" mutual fund columnist, Tim Middleton, took in the Dominican Republic with no laptop, no phones, no television and no stock trading. When you come back, you'll be recharged and ready to make those tough buy/sell decisions.
Mary Rowland is the Start Investing columnist for MSN MoneyCentral. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. She welcomes your feedback at
At the time of publication, Mary Rowland owned or controlled shares of the following equities mentioned in this column: Qualcomm.
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