LinkedIn is asking “Where were you in September 2008 [when Lehman Brothers went under this week that year]?” I was in Christchurch, New Zealand and had taken some kind of cappuccino with a lingzhi mushroom powder from a cafe that proclaimed it had curative powers but it made me sort of strung out. This was still the internet cafe days and I had stopped in an internet cafe to check email and Facebook. All of the headlines were very adamant that this was the start of a very excruciating and dangerous financial period.
I had taken pre-emptive steps in the previous years. While doing a research paper two years earlier, for sociology of all subjects, I had come across some data and commentary that there was a 75% probability that a major, devastating correction would come between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009. Somehow this statement resonated as true and I decided to go ride it out by teaching English in South Korea for a year as soon as I graduated in the summer of 2007. The markets did start to unravel with the subprime mortgage crisis at about that time and while in Ireland in the summer of 2007, a financial analyst operating out of London told me on a bus ride that the epicenter of devastation would be Ireland, then the US, and then have a global impact. Meanwhile, others in Ireland were manically saying to buy property immediately before it would go up in value any further. It took a full year of a tremendous run up in commodities prices before everything started to unravel. It seems like an almost alien time that this coincided with the US presidential elections and if you hear speeches from around that campaign time, they did not really address the severity of this backdrop. I remember just a week or two prior to this ten-year anniversary being on an airplane from South Korea to Australia and the TVs inside the plane showed John McCain presenting Sarah Palin as his running-mate, and before she began speaking, there was a brief period where people had some high expectations and suspense about her potential.
Where were you? Did you know how bad it would become? Did it touch you? Strangely enough in terms of net after taxes, 2009 was my best year ever even though it was the worst of the recession (a second teaching tour of South Korea did that). I can say that what “saved” me was to listen to people that were not super flashy or mainstream commentators – the talking heads, so to speak – but those who were a bit discreet and projected quiet confidence in what they were saying. Ten years later, I am not hearing consistent voices of this kind but the general message would be to not get overextended and to diversify so that you don’t sink when the unexpected happens.