The Google search “How to get in shape under a rational approach” that I did almost 3 years ago brought back disappointing results. I remember exactly when and where I was when I typed that search: September 15, 2008, on the trading floor at Lehman Brothers, my former employer. The bank had collapsed, and financial markets all over the world were in turmoil. I remember exactly what I was doing: I had returned to my desk after a meeting with Jami Miscik, the former CIA Intelligence Chief during the George W. Bush administration. Jami and her team had completed an extremely good research report which I had requested a couple of weeks earlier. I wanted to thank her personally, and as it turned out, this was the first time that fit both our schedules.
Coming back from the meeting with Jami and getting ready to leave Lehman’s offices for the last time, the simultaneous ringing of phones in the practically empty High Yield trading floor was surreal. I was one of three executives still there, and I decided to answer some of those calls. They were from clients and journalists, and I gave them whatever public information I could pass along.
There was one client in particular who was desperate for information about some of Lehman’s CLNs/Venezuela that we had sold. I remember checking on my Bloomberg terminal for quotes and was shocked to see that at some point that day Venezuela was considered less risky than Goldman Sachs. It almost looked like our friends at Goldman would be next. (Talk about things that swing!)
Anyway, this client casually told me that she had joined a gym that day and that she was seriously considering the option of moving to Miami, since the financial brokerage & banking business in Venezuela had been seriously impaired due to Hugo Chavez’ intervention policies. She also mentioned that she was starting a new diet. After talking to that client for a while, I noticed that the phones had stopped ringing.
I was in shock. Many shareholders who believed in Lehman had lost a lot of money. My colleagues had lost a lot of money. I lost a lot of money. A lot of good people lost their jobs, not only at Lehman, but all over this country, and in every industry. Massive layoffs everywhere, history in the making, and you know the rest of the story.
I thought that at 43, and in my field of work, it was going to be difficult to find another job. I could visualize what some people in the media were going to say about the crisis: “Blame the Quants for all that is wrong on Wall Street!” And some did just that. In my particular case, to make matters worse, I was obese, in the worst shape of my life, getting tired by the most minimal effort, and always coming down with something. That day, I was very sad leaving the trading floor for the last time. I put those last moments in a YouTube video, if you want to check it out.
I developed my own quantitative approach to regain my health because the markets were in a meltdown, because Lehman had collapsed, because I had stayed late for a meeting with an ex-CIA analyst, because I answered a random phone call, because a client overseas joined a gym and complained about Chavez, because I had an unfulfilled goal of getting in shape, because my Google search showed no substantial results.
All those random events had to happen for me to get serious about my health and fitness. As a matter of fact, randomness has always played an important role in my life. For example, how I ended up getting a Harvard Laspau scholarship to do my MBA at The American University in DC back in 1990. A random event was responsible for me switching careers from engineering to finance and putting my life on a totally different track.
Life keeps going, and if we don’t do anything about our goals right now, the only sure thing is that life will not stand still and wait for us to get ready. The financial crisis might have looked like the end of the world to many people, whose jobs, savings, relationships, and self-esteem were affected. My case was no exception. But on the positive side, it marked the beginning of a healthier lifestyle, the acquisition of new and fascinating sources of knowledge that I hadn’t paid attention to before (fitness, blogs, social networking, coding gadgets, etc.), and that ultimately are helping me improve physically and intellectually.
Statistically speaking, if you are an American reading this, there is a high probability (over 50%) that you are overweight or obese. If that’s the case, I hope this and future posts, and the knowledge I acquired in my transformation from fat to fit (which I will share with you) will inspire you to do the same.