In 2006, a dear friend of mine died in a car accident. A few days after that tragic event, I submitted my resignation letter to quit my job.
I don’t know! I really don’t know what happened on that fine winter morning of December 24th. I had what could be considered a good job. The pay was not extraordinary but decent. Yet, I felt deeply unfulfilled. And, I guess, my friend’s passing away reminded me of that and made the urge to quit even more pressing – and I finally acted upon it.
I had the crazy desire to be self-employed and travel the world (Oh the confused 23-year-old me!), and since I had been interested in trading since my teenage years, I thought this was the right time to go full-time.
Now, self-employed I became; travel the world I did. Trading gave me those opportunities, but not without its fair share of struggles.
You see, prior to taking the leap of faith, I had done all the necessary technical preparations – saved enough money for a decent trading account, came up with a viable trading system, read the most important books in the trading world (Market Wizards Series, Trade Your Way To Financial Freedom, Trading For A Living, and so on). Yet, I soon found out that that wasn’t enough.
I nearly blew my account over the course of 5 years. The problem was my overall mindset – I was highly emotional, and compulsions ruled my trading. I knew how to trade but my ignorance of what it meant to trade for a living — its psychological implications – made consistent profitability an impossible feat to achieve.
Now, do I regret quitting my “normal” job and plunging into full-time trading? Hell no! Despite the struggles (if you want the full extent of it, read my book Zero To Hero) this was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life!
For me, quitting that day job gave me the kick in the butt I needed to get moving and change my life. It’s scarier this way because the falling can be disastrous, but there’s no better motivator.
So, without knowing anything about you, what you’re going through, what your job conditions are like, and so on, if you were to ask me if you should quit your job and trade full time, I’d ask you to consider answering these few questions first:
1. Do you prioritize education over entertainment?
Learning is always an ongoing quest for good traders. So if you’re the kind of guy or gal who prioritizes entertainment over education, then you might not be ready yet to be a full-time self-directed trader.
2. What is your perspective on mistakes and failures?
Good traders have an empowering perspective of mistakes and failures. They don’t see it as the end of the road. Instead, they use potential failures as opportunities to refocus and gain new knowledge and adopt new behaviors that will increase their chances of success in the future.
3. Do you take responsibility for your actions?
Often, people’s response towards a problem is “It’s not my fault.” A self-directed trader’s response is: “it is my fault, and I will correct it.”
4. What is your attitude towards money?
Most people simply want to make money, which they spend on new gadgets and futile things. Traders, on the other hand, are in the business of building wealth. They earn money and invest it to make more money. They have a thorough understanding of risk and they make it their ally instead of fearing it.
5. Do you need to make money every month?
Even though you might have a system that has been proven to make money, because of the probabilistic distribution of your trade outcomes, you might not make money every single month. Over a significant number of trades, yes, but in the short-term, you just can’t predict that with accuracy. So in order to absorb losing months (sometimes a string of them), you will have to:
- Get into the habit of living below your means — unless of course, you have a big enough account and significant money at your disposal, in which case I don’t understand why you would go through the hassle of actively trading the markets. In that instance, long-term investing would be a better strategy. Less of a headache.
- Develop a parallel stream of income that is not dependant upon market fluctuation. You do that so that you can make money every single month, no matter what the market does. We go through that here.
6. Successful trading is about working smart, not working hard. Can you do that?
I’ve said it many times before on this blog: Your goal as a trader is to make as much money as possible when it’s E A S Y to make money so that you can sit on your hands when it’s H A R D to make money. That’s the perk of being a trader: the markets are not always tradable, and that’s really cool because you get lots of free time to do other things. Yet, many traders think they have to trade all the time. They think they have to be there in front of their screen, obsess over every price movement and every fluctuation in their PnL.
7. Just like one might work out to stay physically fit and healthy, can you train your brain on an ongoing basis to stay mentally healthy?
Good traders understand how the content of their thoughts and their relationship with their emotions can influence their trading performance. To make the best decisions possible and to be always on top of their game, they make it a priority to work on their mindset day after day.
8. Do you feel confident in your ability to adapt to change?
Change is all around us, not just in the markets; it’s always happening, and there’s no controlling it. Good traders know that, and they focus on getting better at adapting to change, rather than resisting it.
9. Can you practice delayed gratification?
Can you view your trading goals as a marathon and not a sprint? Are you willing to tolerate short-term pain when it can provide long-term gain?
The reason these questions are important is that they let you know if you’re ready or if you need some additional time to get your expectations straight and refine specific skills before you decide to take the leap.
Now, here’s one additional thing you need to know before you make a decision: you will fail.
At first, you will fail.
You’ll fall right on your face. It will hurt.
Because you can prepare as best as you can but, in my opinion, trading for a living is one of these endeavors that can only be learned via skin in the game. You can’t just read about it; you have to live it and learn on the field.
After all is said and done, trading for a living is mostly a mental game and the mental skills required to thrive as a trader have to be learned and practice in the arena.
So, yes, until you develop such skills through practice, and until you practice them in the arena, you will make mistakes. But make them. Yes, make them. Fail. You won’t die. You will learn things about the market, about the endeavor of trading for a living, and more importantly, you’ll learn things you didn’t know about yourself. Important things!
Don’t expect success right from the get-go. Instead, expect failure, mistakes, struggles… it is all part of the journey. You will get challenged; pushed around… you’ll fail. You’ll even cry.(Maybe.) But if you can manage to remain in the game, you’ll learn. And eventually, you’ll master.
Last few words…
The only way to build the confidence that is required to succeed in life is by taking risks. When you take risks, whether the immediate outcome is “good” or “bad,” it will result in a learning experience. You will learn what works; you will learn what doesn’t work.
Risks that result in a “good” outcome will confirm some of your ideas, positive habits and qualities and help you build confidence. Risks that result in a “bad” outcome will get you wisdom and help you make smarter future decisions.
When you take risks, you will learn that failure is not so scary. You will learn that success is not always your best teacher. Most of all, you will learn how to always work towards a better version of yourself.