Defining Success

Defining Success

What is it about being a professional trader that so fascinates society in general? I am sure most of you reading this have experienced this intrigue in a social setting, when you tell people you trade the markets for a living. Furthermore what defines success if you are a trader, is it the amount of money you have made or the size of your assets under management or is it your statistical track record? Can you consider yourself successful as a trader after a 30yr career while still shouldering the burden of a mortgage on your family home?

These are existential questions we are regularly confronted with as a trader, and how many of us are equipped to honestly answer these questions? I was brought up on my mothers side with the cultural imprint that success was defined by the amount of money you made, plain and simple no fluff required. On my fathers side success was more about prestige and honour. Clearly this was only one dimension of my upbringing as I was taught through example about ethics, morality and all the deeper value systems that are integral to a wholesome life.

But the question remains what is success as a trader, what if you are struggling along financially where does that place you on the value chain of successful traders? As a scout for trading talent this is something I am required to evaluate on a daily basis. If someone is not yet financially secure as a trader despite a successful 5yr track record am I to discount the traders unique journey and judge their success on the single factor of how rich they are? Maybe!

At its core there is an archetypal narrative that governs the “hunter” in society. In days gone by the success of the hunter was a matter of life and death; failure at his job not only sentenced the hunter to a death of starvation, but his family and tribe were also dependent on his hunting success. The trader is governed to a large degree by these same primal forces driving him to succeed; from the beginning of time the hunter has always been a hero to his people. The hunter/trader displays huge courage and skill to overcome the odds, it is these very qualities along with the envy of his double edged freedom that draws the attention and focus of society at large.

Coming back to the question of defining success. Society definitely defines success with some sort of financial reward; however, it is certainly a mistake to apply a one size fits all which we commonly do. It is important to realize there are only very few George Soros’s and Bill Ackman’s out there, in most cases we should never be comparing ourselves to them. Yes these are the guys that we read about in the paper and see on the TV, they are the super hero’s of our industry, they should serve as inspiration, however applying the same measurements of success ($’s) is to ignore a whole level of humanity that we are all aiming to reach on some level. Society places too little value on the “successful” trader who finishes a 30yr career with a mortgage on his home; despite educating 3 kids, 10 grandchildren all valuable contributing members  of society. So yes money will always be one of the major criteria in defining a trader’s success but each trader comes with his own story, and the true definition of success in my opinion remains an open ended one relative to each traders journey.

If there was one word of advice I could give traders as a capital allocator. Tell us your story, presenting one dimensional trading results is only part of the story, if you want people to judge you on the whole, then it is encumbent on you to present the whole you. Don’t shrink away from this responsibility. If you believe you are successful then share it in all its glory.

These letters are personal reflections as I feel them, I don’t work to any agenda; on a Sunday afternoon I sit down with a blank canvass and write what I feel, I hope these reflections inspire you in some small way to reflect on your unique journey.

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