I received an email recently from a newish trader who was asking for some trading career advice. I thought I’d turn my response to him into a blog post because there are probably many out there with the same or similar questions.
And considering my trading career has been anything but a smooth upward assent, I feel like I can empathetically relate to the urgency of his questions because I have some serious misgivings about where I spent energies early in my career, and more importantly where I did not.
Here are his two questions:
- If you had to start all over again, what would be the 20% you would focus on in order to make up for 80% of your results?
- What are the things you’d absolutely avoid being a beginner in swing trading?
My answer to both might surprise you because it actually has nothing to do (directly) with trading. But it sets up the mental framework for greater success.
If I could go back in time to 1998 when I began trading — one year removed from college graduation — 20% of my time would be focused on trading, execution, and money management strategies, while the remaining 80% of my focus would be squarely on getting my personal financial house in order.
I would live more frugally and aggressively pay down my (and my wife’s) student loan debt to zero, I would avoid credit card debt at ALL COST, I would pay cash for used cars, and I would get myself on a budget and live by it. (I wish YNAB.com was around in my 20’s).
Additionally, I would get a part time job until all of my debts were paid off. No question about it. And once debts are paid off, I’d vow to never assume another debt (exceptions being a mortgage or to start a business, each only entered into very carefully and reluctantly).
The single greatest hindrances to my trading success early in my career were due to the fact that I was living above my means and falling deeper into debt. I spent too much time living in the future, under a false assumption of how much money I was “sure” to make, and sweeping all money worries away believing that some day I’ll make a huge score and then everything will be good. This led me to be more aggressive that I should have been in a number of situations and I paid the price each time.
If, instead, I operated under the reality of the situation — only spending money I had — and diligently socking away a bare minimum of 10% of any and all earnings — no matter what — each month, I’d be in a dramatically different position today.
Is this trading advice? No. But I can tell you with absolute certainly I would’ve been able to think much more clearly about improving my trading skills if I didn’t have my mind cluttered with so much financial struggle. I’d be 10x the trader I am now if had a better base to build from.
Alas, I cannot change the past nor do I harbor any ill will about past decisions. Each decision was mine and mine alone. There is nobody to blame for my past situations. I fully accept and embrace the blame. That said, each triumph and tragedy formed the trader and man I am today and I am grateful for that. What matters now is where I am today, and what steps I’m taking today to ensure a better tomorrow. What am I doing today to make me a better trader, personal financial planner, father, and husband tomorrow? This is all I can control.
The silver lining for me personally is my past pains will be my five year-old Son’s gains. I will be on him to set the groundwork for financial success early in his career, perhaps annoyingly so. This will set him up to be able to focus on being the best _______ (fill in the blank) he can possibly be. He’ll probably be frustrated with me at times in his early 20’s. But I know he’ll thank me for it in his 40’s.
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