Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Greatness in Life and Trading

A while back I wrote several perspectives on achieving greatness as a trader. There are many traders who want to do well, and many who want to make money. Few of us, however, think of ourselves greatly. That, we're told, is boasting. Pride goeth before the fall. We shouldn't think that we're better than others. No one likes an egotist.

Abraham Maslow, the humanistic psychologist, recounted how he would ask the students in his classes to raise their hands if they expected to achieve greatness in their professions. Inevitably, no hands raised. "If not you, then who?" he asked.

When people perform their work greatly--when they pour themselves into what they love and work at it because that's their enjoyment and they couldn't possibly settle for less--they develop a level of mastery that is uncommon. They begin to experience themselves uncommonly: at a deep level, they feel that they *deserve* success. They know they're special.

When people perform their work routinely--when they do what's expected of them, but never are wholly absorbed in what they're doing--no mastery develops. The common level of effort leads people to experience themselves commonly. They want success, but at that deep level, they don't feel that they've *earned* it. They've done nothing special.

How can people experience themselves greatly if there's no single thing during the day that they undertake in an exemplary way? Good enough *is* good enough, but it's not good enough for greatness. In life as in bodybuilding, if you don't go beyond yourself and set the bar just beyond your comfort level, you never grow and develop. You never become more than who you are.

We internalize greatness by doing things greatly; by making those extra, exemplary efforts that take us to a new place, where we *see* that we are more than we thought we could ever be.


The Financial Philosopher said...

This is another great post...

I believe that, if we were to choose one word that best defines "the self," it would be "potential."

We can not go beyond our potential but our potential (our self) extends beyond our understanding, which is why our "possibilities" are almost limitless and it is why we "surprise" ourselves from time to time...

To seek your self is to continuously move toward your potential (your self)...

"One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities." ~ Abraham Maslow

Thanks for the post, Dr. Brett...

Kent (The Financial Philosopher)

Bill aka NO DooDahs! said...

One builds self-esteem by doing esteemable things.

Charles said...

Doc, perhaps it is that the good traders have decided, whether consciously or not, to ascend Abraham Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs' to the 5th level: Self Actualization, i.e. deeply committing oneself to the maximum fulfillment of one's potential, and finding anything less than that to be unacceptable.

dgoverde said...

Great post, Brett. Charles and Kent, your comments are right-on.

Maslow's hierarchy is crucial to this discussion. Trading isn't about profit and loss. It's about self-actualization. There are many ways to fulfill your potential. We happen to choose trading. And that's not a small thing. Success and failure in this arena is beyond our control, and what's more, it can be objectively measured, and I think that is why trading failures cause so much cognitive dissonance. We suffer so much when we lose not because we can't handle being wrong, but because every defeat moves us one step farther away from self-actualization.

There are many pursuits that don't offer this obstacle. If you want to become well-read, for instance, all you have to do is read, and with every book you read, you are more well-read than you were before. Not so with trading. All of the hard work might amount to nothing. Who knows? Being able to handle this uncertainty is perhaps the most important part of the process. And to me, it's the thing that makes our pursuit worthwhile.

Uncertainty is a proxy for death, and if we can learn to embrace it, then perhaps we can learn to accept our own mortality, to accept that all of the hard work will necessarily amount to nothing. If we can smile in the face of this fact, then we will have reached our full potential, and it will have been our trading that enabled us to get there.

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AlvaroF said...

Hello Brett, I enjoy very much the spirit and main message of this post, but am not convinced about the sentence "They begin to experience themselves uncommonly: at a deep level, they feel that they *deserve* success. They know they're special."

Let me explain. I aspire to have a major impact in the fields of health, education and training (see, even beyond the narrow limits of my "profession"). I sincerely expect that, circumstances allowing, I will.

Yet, I don't feel special, or feel I "deserve" success. I mainly feel fortunate to be alive and to spend my days building a platform to add value to society while continually learning and challenging my brain.

The spirit of books like The Alchemist or A Man In Search of Meaning reflects better what motivates me: doing my best continually, while not being attached to specific outcomes (or feeling I deserve them). This, I know, translates into improving my brain machinery.

Thank you for your always amazing blog!