I once attended a university class where each week, a well-known CEO was invited down to speak with the students.
This was one of my favorite classes, because unlike the usual lectures held by university professors, these sessions were led by people with real industry experience.
There was one particular CEO I looked up to, who runs a well-known international hotel and resort business. Official estimates peg his net worth to more than a quarter billion dollars. Let’s call him Mr X.
During the Q&A session of the class, one student put up her hand.
“Mr X, you must be a very busy man. How do you manage work-life balance?” she asked.
He paused for a bit, as though he had difficulty answering the question.
But then he said something that I’ll never forget.
Mr X looked at her, and said:
“In my experience, there is no such thing. You either work, or you have a life. You can’t have both at the same time.”
The room became quiet.
“My first love is my work. My wife knows it, and my children know it… and they’ve come to accept it.
Barring any emergencies, my first priority is work.”
You could almost hear a collective gasp in the audience.
His blunt reply surprised me.
I half expected some politically correct answer, like: “if you manage your time properly, you can accomplish a lot at work and still have time with family.”
But here was a centa-millionaire telling us, that in reality, you can’t have the best of both worlds.
And as I looked around the room, it was clear that most people did not like hearing this.
At the end of the class, I overheard a few people calling him insane, a workaholic, or that he loves money too much.
Personally though, I now respected him even more.
I may not want to live like him, but I certainly appreciated his honest opinion.
Success is by definition unconventional
Mr X is a busy man.
And by “busy”, I don’t mean “busy” like how your best friend is “busy” playing Candy Crush or like how your colleague is “busy” moving into a new apartment.
Every day, Mr X spends his time running an organization that affects the livelihoods of thousands of people.
If your friend screws up on Candy Crush, he can simply try again. If Mr X screws up, hundreds of people lose their jobs. When the stakes are this high, there is no ‘try again’ option.
Thus, in a way, Mr X gets paid to make hard decisions.
And in order to do that well, one must have a keen grasp of reality.
People hate seeing how the sausage is made
Most aspiring traders want the freedom of trading for a living, but they hate the process of getting there.
They hate being told that it takes years of diligent study and repeated failure before they can get a hang of things. They hate the learning process and they hate going through long periods of drawdown.
They just want more money, and they want it now.
They want the sausage but they don’t want to know how it’s made.
Where were you on New Years Eve?
Since that day in class many years ago, I never forgot Mr X’s words.
No matter how much I felt like quitting, I studied the markets every day. No matter how frustrated I felt about my losses, I always showed up.
During those times, quitting would have been the rational thing to do. After all, I was bleeding capital all the way.
But I never took a break. Not even on holidays when the markets were closed.
On Christmas and New Years Eve when everyone was out partying, I’d be looking at charts, reviewing my past trades, or doing research.
Because the reality is that I have no talent as a trader. I love the game, but I have no natural talent for it.
So I have to make up for it with hard work.
The ugly choice I made
Like the nerd who sits in front of class, does all the homework and looks up all the textbook appendices, I’m the guy who’s spent more time studying the market than I do sleeping.
I wish I could say that I was born to be a trader, but the truth is that trading is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.
I’ve lost more money to trading mistakes than some people earn from their jobs. I’ve started so many new accounts that my broker support team knows me by name.
I’ve been beaten up by the market so many times that I’m embarrassed to talk about it.
But the thing is, I didn’t quit.
So the ugly choice I made was to be willing to crawl through sewage if that’s what it took. Even if there was no guarantee that I’d ever make it.
Of course, there’s a difference between being committed and being dumb. I knew that I was fully capable of doing irreparable damage to my bank account, so I never traded with money I couldn’t afford to lose.
Was it painful to lose money? Of course. There’s nothing like losing sleep over a $11,000 trading loss in one day.
The smart thing to do after that would be to just quit. Most people do that. And that’s okay. That’s arguably the rational thing to do.
But I’m not smart. I’m persistent.
I decided that even if I had to flip burgers for the next 6 months to survive, I wasn’t going to quit.
That was a choice I made years ago. And it certainly wasn’t a pretty one.
If you truly want the sausage, you need to learn how it’s made.