9/11: Intersection of the Personal, Purposeful, and Paradigmatic
A reflection on an American tragedy, a market reset, and a career pivot
For me and millions of other Americans, 2001 was a year that encompassed a full spectrum of emotions, milestones, and opportunities.
The morning of September 11, 2001 is one that most Americans who are today at least 30 years old will indelibly recall. I, like most of us, remember exactly where I was that Tuesday morning, when the news of a plane ✈️ and then a second plane hitting the World Trade Center enveloped all American media channels and our perspectives on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness 🇺🇸 were forever altered.
“Life happens at intersections.” — Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, philanthropist
Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the late summer weather availed a picturesque blue sky morning on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It became a stark backdrop to the horrors that began at approximately 8.45am ET.
“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” — Anne Frank
Tragedy is often where the everyday hero steps into to the light. We later learned of firefighter Welles Crowther (The Man in the Red Bandana) who saved numerous South Tower workers by guiding them to safety. We learned of the impromptu heroics aboard Flight 93 as passengers and crew brought down a hijacked plane bound for the nation’s capitol.
My personal backdrop at this horrific time was that a few months before 9/11 I had taken the professional leap from a more than decade-long role as middle school teacher and coach into the unknown on a journey bound to impact education and workforce innovation. I said goodbye to a career chapter and profession I loved, where I had a calling, and had thrust myself into the unknown. I wrote in more detail about all this in a previous post here.
That fateful September morning, I was headlong in an apprenticeship researching the education industry and prospective venture investments out of Bonsal Capital, tutoring a couple of middle school students, applying to a few MBA programs, and evolving my role as husband and father of two children under two. As misfortune would have it on that day, my wife of four years and her mother were visiting New York City in somewhat of an annual trek to enjoy urban sights and sounds; these were the moments where a young, spirited full-time mother could and should get a break from the rigors of two small children and a husband in a career pivot. I also had a sister who was in her first few years of teaching elementary school on the Upper East Side.
The precise details of that morning are a bit of a blur but, from our Baltimore metro home, I recall my two daughters were taking in a session of either Teletubbies or Blue’s Clues when the episode and their fragile innocence were interrupted to show the horrible scenes from the south side of Manhattan and later Washington, DC and southwestern Pennsylvania. Eldest daughter Virginia was at 20 months, Lizzie at 16 months; I was 37. The impact of the tragedy is ageless but fortunately my daughters were too young to discern the import of the events, except that their mother was not at home, nor was she reachable through any form of communication. That Tuesday and the ensuing days until she and her Mom returned home were difficult. The good news is that they were located in upper Manhattan when this all transpired, and we believed that they were safe. Not knowing is always the hardest to endure.
At this time, the world also watched in disbelief the Dot-Com Bubble rise and fall, a time period that induced countless money, jobs, and even lives lost. This period was all the more personal as I have a father who was winding down a twenty-five year journey as cofounder of one of the country’s more successful venture firms. In the end of the 1990s and at the turn of the millennium, he and myriads of others in venture capital and associated investment asset classes gained and lost more in as short a period of time than ever before.
While 2001 and the months and years to follow the tragedy of 9/11 often felt like a pile-on, they were also a time for unity, more emphatically for unity of purpose, a time to focus on if not recalibrate the more important things. America is hard. Tragedy is hard. Career shifts are hard. Family is hard. However, these paradigmatic events can also be indelibly meaningful and transformative if allowed to yield truth and opportunity. Some times you are forced to find a higher tent pole under which you must work. Or, to paraphrase the indomitable Aretha Franklin, you, we, and I must climb higher mountains.
I am an educator, investor, and startup ecosystem leader focused on the future of learning and work with purposeful goals of improved impact, efficacy, and economic upside. From Baltimore, via Bonsal Capital and associated networks, I support National Capital Region, North American, and increasingly global entrepreneurs find the next level with solutions to some of education’s and workforce’s more intractable problems.