Updated: Jan 31, 2021
As a card carrying member of Generation X I have vivid memories of the dot.com bubble burst in the early 2000s. It was a gnarly time. All of these high flying companies from the late 90s were turned into a pile of ash seemingly overnight. The promise of the internet seemed to be the Fake News of the time.
A fantastic book to read to feel the experience of the dot.com burst is Dot.Bomb: My Days and Nights at an Internet Goliath. I highly recommend it, extremely entertaining and educational.
My (very brief) Story
In 2000 I was working in technology. Not directly for an internet company, but for a company that was a vital provider for internet companies. I thought I was going to be RICH! Filthy rich. Lambo rich. I had stock options and a clear path towards wealth beyond my wildest imagination. Recruiters were contacting me constantly for job opportunities - my skills were in high demand. There was nothing that was going to stop me...the world was my oyster!
Unfortunately that delusion didn't last long.
When the internet bubble burst was fully underway the company I was working for called us all into a conference room for an urgent announcement. They were shutting down the office. Everyone in the conference room was going to be laid off. We would be paid for the next two weeks, which is when our benefits would end as well. Good luck and Godspeed, don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.
I was crushed. Absolutely crushed. Shitting bricks. I had hardly any money saved and a mortgage to pay. What the fuck was I going to do!
My resume was being slung around the internet like George Washingtons at a strip club. It took me a couple months to find any company to hire me, and that was only as a temporary contractor at a fraction of what I was making before. I was thankful for the job but the world had changed for me in dramatic ways.
My career was a pile of rubble in that moment.
Looking back I realize that a lot of who I am today was a byproduct of the lessons learned in that moment though. Easy to say now but I'm thankful that it happened! Here are the 7 lessons I took from that time that changed who I am now.
Top 7 Lessons Learned
1) The Future Cannot be Predicted: You know that crystal ball you're staring at right now? It's fucked. Outside of extremely high probability predictions like the sun will rise tomorrow (although not sure if that can be taken for granted anymore), you are almost certainly wrong. How many times have you been convinced that something was going to happen, yet it didn't? For me it's all the time. The best I can do is live in the moment, make decisions in the present that I believe will help me in the future. Tried and true decisions like eat healthy, exercise, get good sleep, save for a rainy day, invest in total stock market indexes. But I do not look at future outcomes with any level of certainty anymore.
2) Your Job Is Not Your Identity: Your job is mostly just a paycheck. Your job is temporary. Even if you work there for the next couple of decades at some point it comes to and end. Does your identity come to an end at that point? Are you nothing greater than simply an employee at a company? I'd venture to say your character is much deeper and richer than that. Don't let a company define who you are. Be you. The company is a just a place you go and give your time in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Make the best of it, but don't let it define who you are.
3) There's No Such Thing as Job Security: Jobs end. Companies end. Sometimes overnight. If you think your company can resist changes in consumer behaviors, governmental regulations, upstart competition, macro economic headwinds...you are wrong. No company is immune to this. All companies will be impacted by these forces in time. All companies come to and end. Period.
4) Echo Chambers are Dangerous: You know what's worse than believing your own bullshit predictions for the future? Surrounding yourself with others who share your same bullshit predictions. This happens often in a company where everyone is depending on the same future. These feedback loops between colleagues end up reinforcing your own bad predictions.
5) Companies Lie: No company is going to tell you the truth about their situation until the last minute. I did not know for sure that the company I was working for was in real trouble until we were called into the conference room to learn we had been laid off. Companies need their employees to be focused on the mission and highly productive until the moment they no longer need them. They are not going to disrupt that by being too transparent in their challenges. Everything is fine until the second it isn't, then it's too late for you.
6) Most People are Ill Prepared for Rainy Days: When the shit hits the fan (which it always does at some point), most people are caught off guard. Most people have not saved and invested in preparation for these moments in life. These moments are predictable surprises. In that conference room when I lost my job there were tears and looks of panic. Not because the vision of the company came to and end, but because people were concerned about their ability to provide for their families. The Physiological needs in Maslow's Hieracrch of Needs had come into question.
7) Cashflow is King: Cashflow for both business as well as personally is the most important metric. Is the company you're working for bringing in more cash than they are spending? If they are not - be weary of the hype they are spewing of future cash flows. Not to say that all companies not making cash are in trouble, most companies don't have positive cash flow when they start. Just know that the bigger the negative cash flow, the greater the risk.
The bigger question is are you bringing in more cash than you're spending? Just like a business, it's vital to your future financial success that you have a positive cash flow rate - and work hard to increase that rate constantly.
At the end of the day the internet bubble bursting changed my life for the better. It was not the first bubble to burst, nor will it be the last. The best I can do, the best we all can do, is to make the decisions today...in this momement...to best prepare us for the next bubble burst. It will happen. My crystal ball told me so.
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