Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding Your Niche in Life and Trading

An important premise of this series of posts is that elite levels of performance and success can be modeled. Greatness is a manner of approaching life, not simply a trait that is present from birth. I recently flew to London to work with traders. Across the aisle from me was a mother traveling with her 2-year old son. Throughout the flight she read to him, played with him, and kept him stimulated and engaged. And you could tell that she genuinely enjoyed and relished the interactions.

Other single mothers would have been burdened by the task of traveling with a young one for 8 hours. This mother was absolutely in her element. There was no doubt in my mind that she was a great mom. It wasn't just that she was skilled at the tasks of parenting. It was the manner in which she approached parenting. She loved it and put her all into it.

A key idea from my research into performance is
the concept of niches. A niche is a domain of endeavor that not only captures our talents and skills, but also our deepest values and interests. When we are in a niche, we identify wholeheartedly with our work: it becomes central to our identity. Genuine artists may work at other jobs for financial support, but they experience themselves as artists: they view life through aesthetic eyes. Psychologists operating within a niche doesn't just turn on and off an interest in people when the work day begins and ends: it's how they approach the world.

This sense of identification is crucial to performance niches: at some point the performer goes from being successful at art to
being an artist. The distinction between work time and play time breaks down: that mom is a mom 24 hours a day. The psychologist is interacting sensitively with people at the grocery store when looking for an item.

Such an absorption can only occur when native abilities (talents) fuel interest; interest fuels skill-building; and skill-building fuels further interest. The result of this intersection of talent, skill, and passionate interest is a quantum leap forward in the development of expertise and performance. The great individual is on a much faster learning curve than peers, because they are immersed in the doing--and they are continuously doing.

I have long maintained that traders experience a high failure rate, not just because of the difficulty of the work, but because they place their capital at risk before they find a true niche within the trading world. I meet with portfolio managers, flow traders at banks, prop traders making markets, developers of trading systems, and traders of complex options positions. They are as different in their skill sets and temperaments as surgeons, psychiatrists, and radiologists. In the medical world, students sample various specialties and choose the one that best fits their interests and skills. Rarely does this occur in the trading world.

This is where the solution-focused approach can be so valuable. By focusing on what we love doing and what we are doing well, we can discover who we are at our best. And who we are at our best is central to defining our niches in life. If you consult your experience and think of when you felt most happy, most fulfilled, most alive, and most productive, the odds are good that you've identified your path toward excellence.

The solution focus is evolution in real time. We are selecting the strongest of our behavior patterns and allowing the weakest to become extinct. Over time, our own guided natural selection enables us to become learning machines, capable of superior adaptation.

Think about how a solution focus could guide your trading development, your career development, and your relationships. Think of yourself as an engine of continuous evolution. How far we could go if we provided every facet of life with an emotional P/L statement and just focused on doing more of what makes us happy, fulfilled, and successful!