Saturday, September 08, 2007

When the Trading Dream Dies

This post, like the one previous, was inspired by a reader comment. Responding to my column on creating change through powerful emotional experiences, the reader indicated that his dreams of trading riches had died and that he had to "just be happy with the person I am". He then referred to this perspective as "depressive".

I have so many responses to this comment that it's hard for me to know where to begin.

So let me start by saying that I have felt much the same feeling. There's a part of me that would love to be a super-successful trader, even as I know deep within myself that this is neither where my greatest talents nor passions lie. In recent years, I've been what I consider to be a competent trader--I've made money after costs--but I haven't traded the size or achieved the returns that would assure me (and my family) of the lifestyle we now enjoy.

It must be how many decent college basketball and football players feel. They've excelled in high school and made it to their university teams, but they never quite make it to the pros. They're good--but they're not among the elite. Those dreams of success in the "big leagues" can be difficult to put aside.

Some of those competent college players--Bob Knight, Dean Smith, and Jim Boeheim in the basketball ranks come to mind--end up becoming superlative at coaching. Others find their success in another life arena, apart from sports. They've made the transition from mourning the loss of a dream to crafting a new one. Most important, they've brought something from their first, sports endeavors (discipline, competitive drive, self-development) to their new pursuits.

So, hopefully, it can be with trading. For me, trading has been life-in-miniature: a crucible in which I've learned to deal with risk, reward, uncertainty, fear, greed, overconfidence--just about all the emotions that affect what we do and how we do it. I'm a better psychologist for having had trading experiences, and I'm certainly better equipped to understand the challenges specific to traders.

When the trading dream dies, it is a loss and that can feel depressing. The challenge is to figure out how that trading experience is going to equip you for the next dream, the next pursuit that may be better suited to you and your talents and interests.

Now a separate response, apart from the reader's comment:

My experience, particularly with young traders, is that trading often doesn't express a dream. A dream is what motivates an entrepreneur: someone who founds their own business, develops their own products, and spends long hours refining those, marketing them, and finding financing for growth. For many young traders, however, trading is a fantasy. It is not connected to a concrete business plan, and it certainly is not accompanied by long hours of dedicated effort. What makes it a fantasy is that it is an effort to achieve success without such effort.

When that fantasy dies, it opens the door to reality. That is sobering, to be sure. But it is also the first step in finding oneself: discovering a career and calling that are so meaningful and stimulating that the real work necessary for success won't feel like work at all.


Four Overlooked Qualities of Successful Traders

Resilience and the Courage of Your Convictions