It was 2001 and I was working at Lucent (Bell Labs) here in Raleigh, NC. In their Optical Networking group.

In September of that year, the attacks on NYC, Pentagon, and Pittsburg occurred. I was working when it happened and I remember with dread watching both of the World Trade Center towers topple in succession. It was terrible and I’ll never forget it.

I’d moved to North Carolina from the Northeast where I’d spent ~10 years of my life working with FinTech clients in NYC. For example, I’d worked with Cantor Fitzgerald folks for years and lost quite a few friends and colleagues there on 9/11.

A few months later, in November, the Telecomm bubble burst. Which meant firms like Alcatel, Nortel, and Lucent laid off thousands of workers. I was but one of those on the list.

Closing Crew

Because I was a senior leader at the Raleigh Lucent facility, I drew the short straw and became a part of the “close-down crew”. Meaning I helped ~5-10 folks pack up their offices each day, helped them pack their cars and turn in all of their company property.

It was one of the most stressful roles in my entire career. Local news reporters would occasionally come by as we packed up cars, often with employees’ entire families inside crying (wives, kids, and the employee) as they drove away from the building for the last time.

Rising from the Ashes

Within three months I had two terrible occurrences that significantly impacted my life. I was in mourning/shock on the one hand and then unemployed with oodles of time on my hands.

And while I didn’t plan it, looking back I realize that the actions I took during this time would shape the next 20 years of my career. For example—

  • I started writing my first book during this time

  • I incorporated my consulting practice

  • I began to build my brand by public speaking

  • I started contributing articles to various industry magazines

  • I began actively establishing my business network

Most importantly, I flipped my focus to begin to seriously invest in myself, first. Realizing that I had to create a value proposition, brand, and skill-set that would allow me to weather ANY future storm.

And, while the rest is, as they say, history, I’ve achieved the goals I set for myself.  

Why

Why am I sharing this story? And why now?

Because the world is probably facing an equal to greater threat than I did in 2001. What I realize now in hindsight is that I was at a crossroads back then. A defining moment if you will.

I could have frozen in despair. Doing what I’d always done. Being defined as I’d always been defined. Succumbing to all of the depression and stress around me.

Or, as I did do, mostly by happenstance. I moved. I pivoted. I strategized. I wrote. I planned. And I came out of the other side of things differently. Today, I envision myself as a phoenix rising from the ashes. A different thing. A new thing. A better thing.

And the journey since then has been a wild, unpredictable, fulfilling, and fun ride.

I’m hoping that everyone reading this, who is at the crossroads of THIS defining moment, that you pick the phoenix journey. And I’m looking forward to seeing what “new thing” you become.

Rise, everyone. Move. And Fly!

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.