We celebrated our daughter’s 1st birthday on the 1st of September 2008 and deeply appreciated how well we had embraced her into our lives. My wife had quit her consulting job to be a stay-at-home mom and I was entrenched in an exciting, high- prospect, software business. I was heading a small sales team, had an equity deal penned and successfully transitioned from therapist to ‘businessperson’.
Then, two weeks into September, the Lehman Brothers of New York evaporated into a bubble of invisible money they had burst. In a further two weeks, my business partner disappeared and all access to my daily work was blocked. By early October it was clear that he had engineered an elaborate 18-month heist of my time, IP, and a years’ worth of income that I had used to pay for my shares in the business.
The joy of my daughter’s first birthday was stolen by a sudden, overnight betrayal and the scary prospect of having no work nor financial means to get through the next round of debit orders. The global economy began crumbling, our families were too strained to help, and the southern hemisphere, summer break was closing in. I had 50 days to find some income before most businesses wound down for the year-end holidays. I could not wait for the crisis to pass, or just ride it out – I had to take a series of urgent and decisive steps. To be honest, I have never felt as terrified.
Now, 12 years later, another massive crisis has crushed many of our hopes, dreams, and assumptions. This time around we will not descend into the family hardship of 2008 and will weather this all quite well, but it took us over 10 years to overcome the last crisis (and to build the resilience and means to ensure we were prepared for this one). We have been on a long journey, that has shaped a solid and secure foundation in the way that I think about my career, and how we approach money. In fact, we have learnt so much from the hard, slog back that I am sometimes grateful for what happened.
As we spiraled into a financial mess in 2008 it was clear that some drastic and long-lasting household budget cuts were essential. Inevitably we spiraled into debt quickly, but had our eyes wide open to the long-term, stifling impact of that debt on our recovery. So, when income began trickling in, we paid off the debt as quickly as possible. Then we began to build an emergency fund, the kind of savings that would help us survive for between 3-6 months if we ever lost it all again. We decided that once the bad debt was eliminated (which took three years), we would invest all excess money into only appreciating assets. Every luxury was off limits for several years, and I drove a cheap, entry level car until just last year. It was tough, at times grudgingly tiresome, but in relative terms to so many others, we lived with enough. Today, 12 years later we still live by the same, simple financial rules and now have our sights set on financial independence.
While we were clawing back from financial distress, I was also attempting to redefine and recraft my career. I embarked on a humbling tour of relationships which elevated my thinking and excited my network to back me and find ways to support me.
So if you have lost your job, or this lock down has finally given you a sabbatical from your frenetic life, and you are seeking a new way to live, I would suggest you try the following steps to find new momentum and more opportunity (and hopefully some cash in your pocket too).
This entire process rests on three key steps, which I advise you follow diligently for maximum results.
Step 1: Write down a list of your 10 most trusted colleagues, mentors, sages, wise people, and friends. These are people who you respect and admire, and who will give you their time and thinking with grace and authenticity.
Step 2: Contact each of them and ask them for a coffee (or a virtual cuppa given current circumstances) – you will need up to 90-min with each of them. I was clear with everyone that I needed their wise counsel and help.
Step 3: Meet them and explain to them in detail what has happened to you, or what you are considering as a new set of life choices (it helps to be as honest and transparent as possible). Be sure to ask them the following three questions:
Question 1: Given the story I have shared with you to this point, what do you think I should do next? What advice would you give me?
Question 2: In what ways could you help me in this difficult time?
Question 3: Who in your network do you think I should speak to, and how will you introduce me to them?
I suggest you buy a large journal and keep detailed notes of each conversation, because if your network starts to activate you could have up to 30 chats very quickly. The power of this process is the variety and depth of the inputs you receive. The journey will be rough at times, even confusing, but I can assure you that when you have excited your network, and breathed life into new relationships, there will be shifts both internal and external to you.
If this crisis has rocked your foundations and sent your financial circumstances to the brink; and if your career has been derailed, then get bold and decisive about your financial position, and put your arms around an invisible army of goodwill and faith that may be the catapult towards greater things ahead.
My journey was non-linear, expansive, and deeply humbling. I learnt to be vulnerable, to listen and take very robust feedback. I also quickly realised that without a sense of vision for my own life, I would perpetually be at the mercy of other people’s motives, agendas, and desires. I know that 2008, and the relative collapse of my life, was a defining moment that has shaped the best of who I am today.
I hope that you can emerge with similar gratitude beyond this crisis too.