My Biggest Lesson from the 2008 Financial Crash

Can you believe that the 2008 Financial Crash, Housing Crisis, Great Recession, whatever you want to call it... was nearly nine years ago? I cannot. Americans lost around $16 trillion of net worth.

It feels so far away now, as we've regained most of the wealth, and the crises du jour have moved into the social arena: climate, politics, etc.

In 2008 I worked for AIG in New York City. It was the beginning of my love affair with work: I reveled being in the city, producing revenue, and working alongside the people I did. This was my first post-college job, and it was a huge part of my identity. While many damn the idea of working for a huge corporation, that was my ambition. I loved this identity and the imagery of being a business woman in a huge company filled with powerful people.

Even if you're totally uninterested in finance, you probably remember what living in late 2008 felt like. People were panicking; unknowing citizens suddenly understood that they couldn't afford their houses; and news headlines flashed over and over again negative press about Lehman, Bear Stearns, and AIG. I couldn't go anywhere - not professionally nor personally, without experiencing some effect of Jim Cramer's advice to the public:

“We should hound them [AIG employees] in the supermarket, we should hound them in the ball park, we should hound them everywhere they are.”

(Ugh, this guy still makes my stomach turn).

Besides the fact that friends, family, and strangers constantly bringing up "AIG... the crash... your company's fault..." was just plain annoying, their remarks were objectively untrue, which was the part that actually bothered me. 

This came at a point in my life when I was much more serious, especially at work (AKA low fun factor). Also, I saw things in a fairly black and white way, operating on facts alone. And the facts were: the AIG crash did not come from problems in my division. I later learned that it didn't even come from the company's problems in my own country.

However, a business partner said something to me that opened my eyes. I've thought this phrase and repeated to others, countless times over the past nine years. 

 

Perception is reality.

 

It's an idea that can be frustrating because perception is not necessarily based on hard facts. It's marketinghow the message is communicated, the environment in which it's communicated, and perhaps most importantly, what's going on inside the receiver's world at the moment.

This partner went on to explain, 

 

"When something like this [crisis] is happening, your 'facts' don't matter. All that matters is the other person's reality - what she chooses to believe. Her perception is her reality and what she believes to be true."

 

It's an interesting conundrum for someone like me. I have a marketing background but an engineering-mindset (thanks, Dad!) that always makes me lean to the more cerebral side of things. And if I don't consciously challenge myself on this, I mistakenly assume assume that other people see the world through the same lens (spoiler alert: they don't).

This advice from nine years ago has been a career saver. Heck, it's probably been a life saver. It continuously prompts me to pause and consider,

"What are the optics of my words, decision, or action? How will the other person perceive it, and what will be the effect of her perception?"

 

 Photo from IVN

Posted on July 17, 2017 and filed under Tips & Tools.