Twenty Lessons Learned Twenty Years After 9/11
It’s now twenty years since 9/11. Twenty years ago on this date we witnessed pure evil. The U.S. experienced the single largest loss of life from a terrorist attack on American soil. Four coordinated attacks—committed by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001—resulted in the brutal, tragic and untimely deaths of 2,996 innocent people and over 6,000 sustained serious injuries.
We don’t know how many people will lose their lives due to 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases. Many have been emotionally scarred. As a nation, we were shaken, afraid, horrified, grieved and hardened. In the face of danger, we valiantly returned to our daily lives. It was a demonstration to prove we will never forget or lose faith in our country and future. The longest war in American history soon started, and is now just ending.
At the time of the attack I was at my desk in New York city, recruiting on behalf of investment banks, brokerage firms, asset management companies and other financial services firms. My colleague, Michael Tuller, called me from home saying that he heard something on the radio about a plane. Before smartphones and social media, news didn’t flow as quickly as it does now. Some of the people I called about job opportunities asked if I knew what was going on.
Not knowing what was happening, a group of us went to the bar on the ground floor of the building. We watched in horror and disbelief as one of the Twin Towers fell. It looked like other buildings were collapsing too. Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, I could clearly see the towers, even though they were miles away. It was incomprehensible to believe that they would be gone.
Getting concerned, I left the building and walked through Central Park across town to see my wife, two year old son and one month old daughter. It was a surreal experience. There were people roller skating, relaxing on the lawn and enjoying the beautiful summer-like weather, blissfully unaware of what’s happening.
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Making my way through the streets, I noticed that people were covered with what looked like white or grey ashes and soot. It didn’t make sense to me. It was quiet and eerie. People moved in slow motion. Everyone was polite and courteous as they tried to get on buses or find taxi cabs.
At my apartment on the upper west side, far from downtown where the towers were, we could smell an awful toxic mixture of burnt metal and plastic. Without social media, we turned on the TV and saw more buildings collapse or ruined. We ultimately learned the painful reality of what had occurred.
It was initially presumed that the employees working in the buildings that were hit by the planes or nearby were safely escorted out. Posters were placed around the city by worried families looking for a loved one who didn’t come home. For days, it seemed that they would be found safely at a hospital or a friend’s place. Then we learned the tragic fate of the people trapped in the buildings.
About seven plus years later, New York City and the rest of the country was hit with the financial crisis. Major New York-based investment banks closed or were forced to be acquired by their rivals. There were massive layoffs. The economy was thrown into a recession and unemployment hit record high levels.
After a number of years passed, the economy gradually improved. People found jobs and things looked better. About a decade after the financial crisis, the U.S. and world faced the Covid-19 outbreak. New York City was the epicenter and hot spot for pandemic during the early dark days. It’s almost two years later and we’re still trying to get out of this morass.
Here are twenty lessons that I’ve taken away from the horrific tragedy of 9/11, the financial crisis and Covid-19 pandemic.
Life is fragile, fleeting and could be lost at any moment.
Cherish the short amount of time we have here on earth.
The world is still a beautiful place with wonderful people.
We always need to be vigilant, aware and on the lookout for danger.
Do what you love since we have only one chance at it.
As a nearly lifelong New Yorker, I have never witnessed the compassion, empathy and solidarity that I saw on 9/11 and the days afterward. It would be amazing for us to treat each other with the same kindness without a tragedy.
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things when needed most.
We shouldn’t give up our liberties out of fear
Instead of anger, redirect the energy into positive actions.
The stark reality is that there will always be those who wish us harm.
Never appease or ignore them, as they will never stop.
Treat others as if it is the last time you will ever see them.
Treasure your loved ones.
Live each day as it’s your last.
Bad things happen to good people. But you still need to lead your best life.
Don’t place all your trust and faith in the government, banks, so-called experts and corporations.
Avoid following the herd.
Find a job that has meaning, offers fulfilment and a sense of purpose.
You shouldn’t spend your life doing a job and living a life you hate.
Always be prepared for a black swan event.