Friday, January 30, 2009

A Life Lesson From Trading

One of the things I love about trading is how it teaches many worthwhile life lessons. For some of the lessons I've learned over the past, check out this post; this post and its links also highlight some lessons from family. It's those lessons that are the rewards of a lifetime, enduring long after the glow of a day's profits has dimmed.

Today's lesson was a bit of the market, a bit of family. I was short the S&P 500 Index in the afternoon, holding a moderate-sized profit in my position. The trade was choppy as we got down to the low 820 range in the ES contract, and I went back and forth in my head as to whether to take the profit and call it a week. I wasn't in a particular mood to turn a winning trade into a loser to finish the week, but my research told me that, given the weakness of the NYSE TICK and Dow TICK, we had a good shot at heading lower and hitting the S1 price target. So, back and forth the market traded, and back and forth I debated the position.

Then a phone call came. It was from our son Macrae's high school. Crae was pretty broken up emotionally because he found out that one of his high school friends had died just a little while before. I knew it had to have hit Crae hard; he's not the kind of guy to show his feelings. We talked over the phone and just shared the sadness of the moment. I misted up just thinking of what it must be like for his friend's family and how I would feel if I were to lose one of our children. I wanted to make Crae feel better, but there wasn't much of consolation I could say, other than, "I love you, and I'm sorry this happened."

Of course, the market didn't stop trading simply because I had a family crisis. But it was as if something snapped in me. I suddenly didn't care whether the position reversed or hit its target. I kept it in place and just let it go. There were more important things to think about. No sooner did I reach that point than the market continued its leg down, taking me out at my target. It didn't really matter. My mind was on other things.

The irony, of course, is that I traded well--followed my plan and escaped my uneasiness about the position--once I hit the emotional realization that there was something much more important happening than my trade. It wasn't caring about my trading that made me trade better; it was not caring too much. When trading is front and center in our lives, it is all to easy to slip from wanting to make money to needing to make money. At that point, the trade control us. It took an emotional crisis to detach my ego from the market and focus on the really important things in life.

It's a lesson I know well, but sometimes lose sight of: the best way to take the pressure off your trading is to stay focused on all the things in life that are more important than the day's profits. Trading success follows from the fullness of your life; it cannot fill life's voids.


zircon-212 said...

Thank you for the honest and from the heart post.

Jorge said...

Dr. Steenbarger,

Sorry about Macrae's friend. I lost a couple of friends in HS to drunk drivers and leukemia, and although no loss of a friend is ever easy, it seems that the younger and more full of life you are, the harder it hits you.

I'm glad he has a family with its priorities straight and I'm sure that after some mourning he will be fine, best wishes to him and condolences to the kid's family.

All the best,


Toby said...

Quality post. I may not be what you'd expect a visitor to your blog to reresent, but your insight is sound and makes a lot of sense in my world of professional gambling. You deserve one of my rare comments.


Mark said...

Dr. Bett

Thank you for the best post I had read in months. Will also remember, as you had said: ..that trading should not take centre place in our lives.

Warmest regards,

Marc said...

Tough story, sorry.

I think the more important lesson was that you had a plan and obviously had well thought out stops in place.

The same thing could happen to anyone if there was a natural disaster and it became impossible to place a trade instantly as we are so accustomed to doing.


Jaroslaw said...

Dr. Steebarger,

thank you for great post!
Your blog is exeptional also because you are more of a human than of a guru.

My personal experience from a highly leveraged SPX500 trading is that you may double your money in a week but if you are glued to the screen too much, you may lose all your money in hours. Too much involvement plus small losses bring oversize and oversize kills at least in 50% cases.

My best results (back in 2007) were in the period where I was highly engaged in other activities than trading and therefore away from the screen for most of a day.

In highly trading markets it doesn't make sense to fallow every market move.

Greetings from Poland,

CoG said...

Good to hear you have your head on right. We all need to get a call like this once in a while to let us know of the importance of why we are here - to give comfort and to bring peace. God Bless you and Good Trading.

Now I need to know - ANY of your books on Audiobook? I desparately want to listen while on my commute.

jroy at is my e-mail

Brett Steenbarger, Ph.D. said...

Many thanks for the comments and feedback; it's those life lessons that keep us growing and keep life interesting--