As I began writing my final column for Investment Advisor, I flashed back to the year I was born: 1952. The U.S. was experiencing a rampant polio virus. Sixty thousand people including my brother and several eventual classmates were infected, many suffering permanent crippling damage.
Three thousand people died from the epidemic that year, including my mother who was just age 30. I was six months old. My brothers were three and five years old.
My father was left to raise us alone with the help of his immigrant parents and aunts, and a retired Catholic missionary. My dad was just a few years removed from the jungles of New Guinea where he was wounded in war and almost died from malaria.
While the loss was real and the damage was permanent, those who survived this time continued living their lives. Some remained scarred and wary, others used their grief as a catalyst to do better and help others.
I am in awe of how people in the financial services industry are performing during this current time of great stress and distress. I am also conscious of the great suffering that many are about to endure.
Most of us have no first-hand experience with war or pestilence or famine, or even the death of someone close to us under these circumstances. However, we may know someone who has had this experience.
Friends, relatives and colleagues will experience anguish as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant economic pain. Perhaps by remembering different periods of trauma in history, we can remind ourselves to look outward towards those who likely will suffer the most.
Times like this provide an opportunity to understand our reactions and to overcome our tendency to blame others. Being around the same people every hour of every day is both comforting and unsettling.
Having our larder stocked for a prolonged shelter-in-place order is both reassuring and frightening. Then factor in myriad other concerns such as the safety of elderly loved ones, anxiety over contracting the virus if you have pre-existing health conditions and worry about the availability of adequate doctors and treatments.
Deep breaths, meditation, music, laughter, a walk around the block, giving a hand to those truly in need: these actions help put everything into perspective.
No matter how shocking the pandemic feels to my wife and me as it expands in the two cities where we have homes, our attention has shifted to the dire impact on people who need jobs to feed their families, need access to healthcare to tend to survivors or need hope that a brighter day lies ahead.
The crisis calls us to consider what we can do to make the circumstances better now, and what we can change to improve how we respond to such threats in the future. Many among us will be scarred by fear or inspired by opportunity.
When I was active in the Seattle Rotary Club — at the time, the largest Rotary Club in the world — I was struck by the words of one incoming president, Phil Smart. “My life is divided in thirds: Learning, Earning and Returning,” he said.
Mr. Smart would have turned 100 this year but that would not have stopped him from making an impact at everything he did.
I invoke Phil Smart’s name in my final column because in many ways he embodied what I aspire to. Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to work in a business alongside people like Phil who also have spent their lives learning, earning and returning.
I am so proud to have been part of a profession in which so many demonstrate passion and compassion, calm in the face of fear, innovation in the face of challenge and courage in the face of threat.
What we know from being present on this earth is that good things do not necessarily “come to those who wait,” a saying often attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Rather, this parable suggests that persistence and patience are required to achieve goals.
Many financial advisors impart this philosophy to their clients. Save, invest, manage expenses, set reasonable targets, make good choices, enjoy your money, don’t obsess.
We also know that events such as those we have experienced since the turn of the century — the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Great Recession, the COVID-19 pandemic — do change our approach to doing business.
How will the industry adapt in response to the current crisis? How will your firm support the changing needs of clients and staff? I have faith that leaders in our business will rise to the challenges ahead.
I feel this way because I have benefited by being in and around our field for as long as I have. I am grateful. It has been emotionally fulfilling, financially rewarding, intellectually stimulating and the source of many enduring friendships.
Perhaps as I turn the page on this chapter and think about my next book or my next speech or my next role helping other business people to fulfill their dreams, I can find joy in knowing that all history is filled with suspense, satisfaction, tender moments, helpful hands and wonderful surprises.
See more: Final Thoughts for the Final Column
Mark Tibergien is CEO of Advisor Solutions at BNY Mellon Pershing through May 31, 2020. The editors of this publication thank him for his support, insights and contributions over the years. Like many of our readers, we also wish him all the best in his future pursuits.