Monday, November 26, 2007

After a Devastating Trading Loss

The year was 1982. I had been short most the year and was doing quite nicely in this, my fourth year as a trader of U.S. stocks. For the first time I allowed myself to think about trading as more than an avocation: as a potential source of ongoing income that could help free me to do the writing that I loved best.

Then we hit mid-August. A ferocious rally drove prices sharply higher and left me in the red. I decided to hold and wait for a pullback, but the pullback was mild. We moved sharply higher again in the fall and I was forced to take losses that consumed not only most my profits, but all my dreams of supplemental income.

I'd have to say it was the most depressing period of my life overall. I was questioning the work I was doing in community mental health--a great learning experience, but not a viable career path--and I was not happy in my personal relationships. The trading losses were the icing on a not so delectable cake. The bottom came in a bar in Homer, NY after too much to drink and a smoke that I discovered too late to be adulterated. It was not a happy time.

I'm convinced that the most successful people are not those who avoid those ruts in life, but the ones who use those to turn themselves around. I discontinued trading and embarked on research regarding market timing that, I vowed, would enable me to never make the same mistake. Out of that research came the work on new highs and lows and sector lead/lag relationships that I draw upon to this day.

I also turned it around socially. After consuming a full bottle of scotch at a New Year's party at the end of 1983, I found myself too inebriated to ask the pertinent questions of the woman I had met. Had I asked the questions, I would have found out that she was not yet divorced, had three children, and was nine years my senior--not at all what I was looking for. Today, after 24 years, she remains my wife and the best decision I ever made.

With the marriage in 1984, I inherited shared responsibility for three children. The steps I didn't take for myself I had to take for the new family. Gone were the drinking and partying. I parlayed my community mental health experience into a student counseling position at Cornell University, taking a 33% pay cut in the process. One year later, impressed by the Cornell experience, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse hired me and I joined a medical school faculty.

At Upstate, I realized that my counseling skills were not ideally suited for the medical school environment. I undertook a lengthy review of the research and practice literatures and taught myself the fundamentals of an emerging approach to helping called "brief therapy". Shortly thereafter, I began teaching brief therapy in the psychology and psychiatry programs. In 1990, I published my first review paper in the field, then another in 1992. I had found my niche: one that would lead to over 50 published papers and book chapters, two books in psychology and psychiatry, and two books combining my trading and psychology loves--and, of course, this daily blog.

I look back on that trading loss in 1982 and now see it as the beginning of a turnaround, not as the ending of a dream. But it took an unflinching and unforgiving look in the mirror to make that turnaround. It also took relationships with people I loved enough to want to make more of myself.

I've received several emails and blog comments from traders who have been through devastating trading losses. This post is for you. What doesn't kill you *can* make you stronger, if only you can sustain that hard look in the mirror.


Resilience and the Courage of Your Convictions

Blueprint for an Uncompromised Life