I imagine it’s not uncommon for people to realize sooner or later that the person they thought they were is not at all who they really are. Perhaps not even close.
Are you being yourself?
Think hard about this. And be careful. Because your conclusion might have important ramifications beyond your day-to-day daydreaming through life. It will also likely have significant impacts on who you are as a trader and how you approach your relationship with risk – even your courtship of success (or lack thereof).
Everyone’s path to personal discovery will have its own speed limit, hills and valleys, and complements of sharp turns and extreme weather conditions.
The visibility isn’t always clear. For me, the wiper-fluid that cleaned my windows and sharpened my vision was my elimination of alcohol from my routine.
I’d like to think I wasn’t a “problem” drinker. But I certainly invited my share of problems over the years into my life with alcohol. If I’m being honest with myself and with you, dear reader, I can probably draw direct and indirect lines from all of my worst life decisions, experiences, and mistakes to alcohol. In fact, I have no question that alcohol in some way played a part in nearly everything bad or sub-optimal that has happened to me in my adult life.
It’s easy to get upset about that and fret about all the lost time and wasted opportunities.
I try not to dwell on it.
The amateur Zen Practitioner in me likes to remind myself that I cannot change the past, and any attempt to do so is taking my mind and body out of the present, which prevents me from moving into the future in the direction I know is right.
And so I practice. Daily meditation and walks with my dog or hikes in nature help me in impactful ways.
This brings me to last week. I traveled to Manhattan to hang with JC and the All Star Charts team at the Chartered Market Technicians’ 50th Annual Symposium. I learned from (and in some cases, hanging out with) legends like Jerry Parker, Ralph Acampora, Barry Ritholtz, Larry Williams, John Bollinger, and many more professional colleagues and friends who inspire me.
As is often the case at industry gatherings, the content on stage is good, but the banter at dinners, happy hours, and late nights is where the real magic happens. That’s when the professionals untuck their shirts, ditch the ties, and speak more freely and candidly about what’s really on their minds.
I’m paraphrasing JC here, but I overheard him telling someone last week that he’s learned more after midnight in a bar about markets and life than he ever has at any other time of the day. As I rarely stay up past 11 pm these days, the “after midnight” part tires me out just thinking about it. But the point he’s making stands firm. Those are the hours when people “get real.”
An interesting phenomenon on this particular trip was when people noticed I wasn’t drinking. Someone would offer to buy me a drink and I politely declined. In many cases, that was the end of it. But on five or six occasions, it led to very interesting conversations with others who have also recently quit drinking, have dramatically curtailed it, or desperately wish to.
And it further led to people opening up to me in ways that were pretty intense, vulnerable, and heartwarming. It was as if “non-drinkers” were all walking around with a secret. When they found someone else who was in on it, they couldn’t wait to unload.
This caught me off guard.
Hearing other people’s stories, struggles, and triumphs was inspiring. Empowering, even.
One common refrain is that alcohol propelled them (usually unknowingly) into being one kind of person — perhaps a person they thought they were “supposed” to be (whatever that means) — instead of being the person they truly are.
That hit home.
I grew up a pretty shy kid. Sean 1.0 was painfully shy, in fact. But starting in college and continuing through my 20’s and 30’s, I thought I had transformed into an extrovert. A social butterfly. The life of the party. And I did my best to act the part. In many ways, this was beneficial to me. It helped me build a network of some really great friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, the recent realization I had is that it was alcohol in social settings that powered this version of Sean 2.0.
I didn’t find this clarity the day I decided to stop enjoying beers with my boys. In fact, I wasn’t even looking for it. I just wanted to be healthier. The benefits weren’t immediately obvious. But once the ball got rolling, positive momentum fed on itself. Before I knew it, the sky was the limit. And the ball keeps rolling in my favor.
Coming to grips with the fact that I’m truly an introvert has been an awakening of sorts. It took me 45 years to begin scratching the surface of who I truly am. And I still have plenty of discoveries to make. I’m gleaning newer, and more surprising insights at an ever-increasing pace.
I’ve now spent nearly 4 years abstaining from alcohol. This is Sean 3.0. And having this realization that I’m an introvert seems to have opened up so many hidden doors in my psyche. It has freed up so much energy that was previously exhausted by trying to play the part of a person who isn’t the real me.
There is no doubt in my mind that this inner struggle played out in my trading. My streaky, 25-year trading career featured long slogs of sideways to slightly down PnL, punctuated by the occasional short-lived hot streak that always tricked me into believing “I’m back, baby!” As if I ever was anywhere to begin with. LOL.
Is it any coincidence that it’s only now that I’m starting to feel like the trader I was always meant to be? 25 years into the game! Are you kidding me?
A 25-year overnight success story.
If that doesn’t humble a man, I don’t know what will.
Chief Options Strategist
All Star Charts, Technical Analysis Research
PSA: I’ve come to believe that problem drinking and problem trading are not mutually exclusive. Each one is either a symptom or a cause of the other. If you think any of this applies to you, I encourage you to find others near you who might be going through something similar and talk it through with them. You’d be surprised at how willing others will be to support you. And if you have nobody else to turn to, drop me an email. I’m happy to chat.