Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Doll Face Trader

Doll Face seeks the image of perfection. She remakes herself...the image recedes...but she pushes toward that image...and pushes...and pushes, until...

There are many Doll Face traders. They're mesmerized by the images of success, trading for a living, trading to win, wealth, freedom...the images recede, but they push toward those images...and they push...and they push, until...

The great traders express themselves through their trading as artists express themselves through painting or dance. They are immersed in markets, statistics, patterns, information; figuring things out is who they are. They'd be doing it if they were rich or poor, young or old.

The Doll Face traders are smitten with an image; there's no substance, no immersion. They trade, not as an expression of who they are, but in the vain hope of remaking themselves and their lives.

I'm occasionally asked to endorse books, products, or services that promise great trading riches. Always a new image for traders to latch onto. Sometimes I'm even promised rewards for those endorsements: money, "exposure", contacts, marketing opportunities: Images to capitvate me.

And then I think of Doll Face at the end of the video and everything becomes clear:

Pursue your life with integrity. Find what you're good at: that which so fits your values and interests that it expresses the depths of who you are. Out of that you'll find a career and a calling--whether it's trading or something else.

Everything else is illusion.


Note: This post was written following a phone call requesting me to endorse and market a curve-fit trading system. I was to receive a portion of profits. Life's just too short, too precious to join the market idiots.


Saul said...

Hi Brett,

too true - the day we open Traderfeed to find "Holy Grail" marketing will be a sad day ;-)

All the best,


niklaskoehler said...

Great post Brett!

Adapted opinions and people are oftentimes disgusting.


ainkurn said...

this is a great post, and a very interesting video. i think it really does ring true in the trading world where most everyone is out to promote self, usually to make a buck off of other traders selling their crap. i'm glad that you look over the endorsements and sincerely try to help traders like me become successful through your experience in psychology and trading.


BirdMan said...

An excellent and haunting post... with a touch of Dorian Gray. You really do a great job of delivering the message in nunerous ways... Thanks!

Anatrader said...


Your Doll Face video reminds me of the fragility of the snake oil salesman.

An entertaining parallel on how to detect the slick marketing of suspect trading strategies.

It is the unwary who will be taken in and will not withstand the force of integrity.

Jeff Pietsch CFA, Esq said...

You are an officer and a gentleman, Brett. Your having a job outside of the business undoubtedly gives you a special sense of perspective. Thanks for keeping it real for the rest of us, Jeff

Brandon Wilhite said...

After contemplating this today, it has just struck me again how much trading is a 'glamour profession' like that talked about in Freakonomics. Low barriers to entry, great rewards for those at the very top, but also very very competitive.

I don't think a lot of people really realize how competitive it is, at least not when they first get started. I certainly didn't. But I do love it :) (Not saying I'm one of the artists...time will have to tell as far as that goes.)


dafa said...

Kudo to you. I wish there were more people like you.


Keith Shepard said...

That's depressing.

Adam said...

My first post on this site after reading everything on it of interest to me in reverse chronology.

Brett, you've created a uniquely valuable resource, not only for traders but for everyone interested in bettering their life condition by looking into a mirror.

This post, among a few others, affected me deeply, as it speaks directly to the temptations we all face to leave the path we've chosen and complicate our lives with temporary distractions that on their face seem appealing. I'm anything but immune.

It's no secret that the distribution of returns among traders closely resembles a Pareto curve, and this may well reflect that it's only a small minority of traders able to stay true to their "heroic calling," and thus receive the boons promised by the journey.

Thank you for all the meaningful insights you share with us.

Ofir Amitai said...

Thank you for staying true to your beliefs and us, your faithful readers.


KN said...

I have found this article very interesting and struck a cord:

E. Raymond Rock "How do we go about understanding ourselves? This is a very important question because if we don't understand ourselves, how are we going to change? Do we wait for divine intervention to create our pure hearts, or do we do something proactive? If we are not sure, then why not try both ways and see which works best. We could spend some time praying for our worry and our frustrations to change, or we could spend some time working on ourselves in a proactive way. Then we could see what works best. Or maybe we could pray and work on ourselves at the same time!

If we decide to work on ourselves proactively, the first thing we have to do is understand what it is we are working on. This is where contemplative prayer or meditation plays such an important role; it helps us to observe ourselves objectively.

You can understand yourself at many levels. You can observe how you relate to other people, to yourself; do you like to be alone or with others; are you confident or unsure of yourself; are you ambitious or laid back. There are many ways to examine your particular idiosyncrasies.

These idiosyncrasies, however, are merely your particular reaction to the world based on your individual tendencies and experiences, and since you are different from everyone else regarding you background and your genes, you need something more fundamental than background and genes to understand yourself essentially.

All human beings are born alive into the world, this you know. You aren't hatched from an egg, born from moisture, or appear mystically; you go through the experience of birth. As soon as you are born, you feel things and react; perhaps you cry or move your arms and legs. Then you begin to hear, see, taste, smell, and eventually you remember the images that your senses discover and put two and two together, and begin to think. So we all have six senses; seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling, and mind, which includes memory and thought.

These six senses are the bases of all of your understanding of yourself. It all begins here, so if you can get a handle on this part of yourself, you can understand all aspects of yourself. It all begins with a sight, a smell, a taste, a feeling, a sound, or a thought. This is not rocket science.

What happens when we see something? The first thing that happens, and this happens faster than you can catch it, is that you become conscious of what you are seeing! It's possible to see things and not be conscious of them, for example, when you are on a cell phone while driving and have no idea what's going on around you. When someone jumps out in front of you car, however, the consciousness shifts from the phone call to the pedestrian, and you lose consciousness of what the caller is saying. Only one consciousness can arise at one time, but they are so fast that it appears that you can become conscious of two things at once. If you observe carefully, however, you will see that this is not possible.

The next thing that happens is that you are attracted to whatever you see, are neutral toward it, or repulsed by it. For example, if you open your mailbox and there is a rattlesnake inside, before you even recognize that is a rattlesnake, something instinctively pulls your hand out of the box!

The third thing that happens is recognition, or labeling. We remember what we are seeing based on memory, or if it is something that we have never seen before, we examine it and then file it away in our memory. So it goes like this; out of the corner of your eye, you see something in your mailbox. Then, before you even recognize that it is a snake, your hand is out of the box! Then, a billionth of a second later, you perceive from memory that it is a rattlesnake.

The three steps above have made us conscious of something that has stimulated one or more of our sense organs. So what do we do now? What we do is begin thinking about the object of our consciousness, or the rattlesnake, "How did it get in there? Who is out to get me?" We either grasp at the object, are neutral toward it, or are repulsed by it.

This is where our emotions are born. If we are attracted to something, then strong attachment, sexual love, desire, jealousy, etc., all come up. If we are repulsed by something, then anger, hatred, animosity, etc., come up.

All of this leads to strong attachment and strong aversion. Once we find something we like, something we find pleasure in, we tend to attach ourselves to it. Why not, we want constant pleasure, so we attempt to hold on to whatever it is that makes us happy. Conversely, if something makes us unhappy, we push it away and try to get rid of it. We either make love or make war!

Strong attachment is based on dependency, while strong aversion is based on fear. If you look at your life, you can see what you depend upon, and usually you will say that you love these things. However, when we are dependent on anything, there is an underlying fear that we could lose it, and therefore since fear is the basis of anger, the love we think that we feel toward the things we are attached to is not love at all, but rather attachment.

We can see from all of this that life is merely a series of attractions and aversions as we constantly figure out how to get what we want or get rid of what we hate. This pretty much sums up our life. And since everything is in a constant state of flux, anything that we obtain is sure to slip out of our fingers in time, and anything that we get rid of will just return to haunt us in a different form. So the question is, if we weren't preoccupied with all of this attachment and aversion, what would we be doing? Now we are delving into humanity's next level of consciousness.

Attachment and aversion involves nothing but heartaches. Look back on your life and see whether this is true or not. When we neither hate nor love, a peace prevails and our consciousness shifts. This shift in consciousness is an amazing thing, because it no longer requires sense stimulation. This means that the consciousness, when it leaves our body at the end of its natural life, will not seek a physical body again, because it doesn't need the stimulation that a physical body provides. Then, you will live with (as a Christian might say) the angels, and not have to worry again about maintaining physical existence.

This article, as many of my articles, are much easier to understand when the reader is a meditator. For some mysterious reason, a calm mind resulting from meditation, or contemplative prayer, can easily read complicated metaphysical articles, or the bible, and understand them at very deep levels.

Meditation also increases one's awareness so that attachments and aversions become clear, and once our attachments and aversions can be seen objectively, they are more easily handled without the emotional upheavals that we normally associate with life.

So . . . now you understand yourself (Right?)"

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

I want to thank everyone for their comments on the Doll Face post. I did intend for the post to hit hard: many traders have no sense of building a career and developing skills whatsoever. They pursue illusions and, yes, their crashing and burning is depressing--particularly for those family members that might depend on them.

Adam, I want to particularly thank you for your note. I do think that trading--like any profession--can provide that heroic calling, as we face internal and external demons and return from our struggles with a mighty boon. There are many Sirens to lure us from the quest; many attachments to keep us suffering. For some traders, cultivating their craft and developing themselves are one and the same, as it is for the finest artists and athletes. Such nobility is rare, but then again so are all things precious.