My Most Important Lesson from the Financial Crisis
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction.” Abraham Lincoln
I’ve been blessed to have a variety of jobs in the financial world. I’ve worked with folks on tricky money questions who had a modest balance all the way up to folks whose names you would recognize. One of my many jobs was the one I had during what most now call “The Great Financial Crisis” or GFC. It was a job where we traded stocks when the stock market had some of the wildest and most volatile days that have ever occurred. It’s not the story you might think.
If you speak with anyone who was in the financial world during this period, you’ll hear even to this day some difficult stories. It didn’t matter what walk of life folks were from, it was tough to hear their tears, stress, and concerns as they watched financial markets suffer. People felt like what they had worked so hard to save and put away was vanishing day by day.
I had been promoted just before the turmoil started in 2008. It was my first-time leading colleagues in the financial world. I was also at least 10 years younger than the closest person in age to me in a manager role. My team looked to me for guidance and relief after increasingly longer and longer days (and many Saturdays). It was difficult, but we persevered. Still, each day we would speak to clients about their investments and watch their balances continue to plummet.
When the first week of September came, the situation worsened. Major and longstanding financial institutions either failed or were rumored to fail. The volume of phone calls we were receiving every hour outpaced our number of team members by many multiples. One day that week, the markets had another big decline and the headlines became even more grim. One thing that was true then and now, is that a typical day on the stock market ends at 4 PM. If you’ve ever seen the clips on TV of “the closing bell”, that happens at 4 to stop trading for the day. Market close came that day just like any other. In the fervent paced environment, it was a relief, but not a stop to the workday.
During that time, we had gotten used to ad hoc unscheduled meetings called with managers to go over new game plans or directives we needed to pass on to our teams. When 4 PM came that day, everyone with my same job was summoned to a conference room as we had been so often during the previous weeks. This time was different.
We barely sat down before “the big boss” walked in and gave us the news. Everyone in the US that had my middle management job would need to find a new job. That job was being eliminated to “streamline operations.” The combination of a soon to be non-existent job paired with working in finance during a financial crisis was grim news. I worried about my team. I worried about my family. I worried about everything.
I left the room and went back to take care of my team well past dark as I had done so often in the preceding months. When you’re busy, you can keep your mind off worry to some extent. I was able to stave off the negative thoughts until finally, after dark, I got in the car to go home. Then it started to hit me. All the chaos and bleak prospects on the job front weighed on me. Another thing weighed heavily, though.
At home, I had a small little girl along with my wife who depended on me. Also pressing, was daughter number two whose due date and expected arrival had already come and gone. When I went home that night, my daughter was asleep in her crib. I sat down at the kitchen table to eat. My wife, with child for over 41 weeks, joined me. We talked for a while and went to bed. Sleep came for my wife, but not for me. I laid awake that night with worry and trepidation.
Before the sun rose, I received a tap on the shoulder. It was time to go to the hospital. Our plan to have our daughter down the hall cared for sprung into place and we hopped in the car. We arrived at the hospital as the faintest streaks of sunlight began to creep through the clouds.
Over the next few hours, I went from being the father of a child to be the father of children. The father of a daughter to be the father of daughters. We were no longer a family of three. We were a family of four. Mother and daughter were healthy. Close family stopped in for a quick peek at the young lady.
Much later, long after nurses, doctors, and family had left, my wife finally fell asleep. It’s a sleep no man will ever know, but all mothers know. In that quiet moment it was my new daughter and myself in the stillness. Stillness was something I had not known for a long time.
In that newfound stillness, that worry I had felt about my job and all the turmoil went away. All I thought about was my beautiful little girl. I prayed and thanked God for all of it. The name we chose for her means peace. Peace was what I needed, and it was delivered via the smallest hand.
I took three days to be with my family. When I returned to work, chaos reigned around me, but I had peace within. The financial markets, my team, and the clients we served all continued to see turmoil, but I still had peace. My job did indeed disappear some time later, but a new opportunity eventually revealed itself. Those days were difficult, but they did pass. My employment stabilized, the markets calmed, and business improved.
Turmoil is part of our life on this earth. Turbulence can come from the news, finance, or any number of sources. The form changes, but the return of turmoil is assured. The knowledge of this does not make watching bad headlines or a declining retirement account any easier. Whenever turmoil happens, we can be assured of two things. First, it is a temporary state that will pass. Second, it won’t be the last time.
In my private moment with my daughter, I could have dwelt on turmoil and wallowed in it for days. Peace prevailed, but only because I let it in.
One of the most challenging parts about what our firm does is to shepherd folks through times that seem out of their control. Turbulent financial markets certain count as one of these times. It is difficult for them and difficult for us, but it is those days that define why we take on the incredible responsibility of helping our clients use their financial life to take care of their family and fulfill God’s purpose for them.
There was a financial panic when Jesus walked this Earth. That passed just like many challenging times since then. If you’re in the middle of it, it can seem like it never will. It will, in time, pass. When turmoil comes to you, will you let peace prevail?
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV
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