Trade Like A Pro – Part 3: What I Want Is Not Always What I Get

5 min read
Part 3 excerpted from lesson 4.3 of the upcoming Trade Like a Pro ver.10 course
“Some things are up to us and some are not up to us.” – Epictetus
I like to think I am in control of my life and that the things I desire I can have by working hard. A positive attitude and focused effort often lead to an outcome that is pleasing. Yet there are many things I want to be different and all my desire and effort at times seem to have little or no impact.
I spent my early years trying to control my environment and the people I worked with. I bought all the tools and technology that I felt would give me an advantage. I used to say, “good tools help fill the gap,” thinking if I purchased the best it would make up for any skill I lacked. Like many I tried to fix the people in my life. I hired the best, paid well, then tried to micro-manage them. It did not take long to realize having the best tools was not going to achieve my desired results.
After six months of increasing assets, Harry, the branch manager gave me a private office. He left with a word of advice, “Don’t change what you’re doing.” I had an office with a view of the Atlanta skyline, and an assistant I shared with another broker. My chest almost popped the buttons on my Brooks Brothers shirt. I had arrived, one of the youngest rookie brokers with an office. I read about a computer program call Compu-trac that would allow me to create my own stock charts. I would no longer have to wait for the chart books to arrive in the mail. I had a Apple Macintosh at home I bought earlier in 1984, but I bought the new IBM PC-AT and a dot-matrix printer. I setup the new computer at home and installed everything. Typed in all the client information from my rolodex and added all the stocks that interested me. After subscribing to an end-of-day data service, I woke the next morning to forty-eight pages of printed charts. It was the first morning I was ever late to the office. But I had my stack of charts all annotated. Harry caught me as I slipped into my office and asked slyly, “Sleep in late?”
That weekend I brought the computer into the office and set it up on my desk. When I arrived at 6:00am Monday morning the printouts lay folded on the floor. I ripped off the perforated edges and annotated the stack of charts. At 7:00 am I felt prepared for the day. I made a few early morning calls proud of my new analysis, but made no sales. Harry walked by as he did each morning, and stopped to ask, “What’s that?” I spent the next five minutes explaining how this new computer was going to help me. I now had daily chart updates, I could take notes on client calls and print labels for mailings in house. Harry listened while I explained about all the attributes of the new computer. Then said, “Don’t let it affect your production.” I replied, “No worries.”
For six consecutive months I added new assets and increased revenue every month. That month, my seventh, I made 15% less than the previous month. Friday, Harry walked in after the final numbers posted and said, “Take the computer home, and move back to the pit.”
No one in the branch had ever moved back to the pit from an office. I was so embarrassed I did not return after lunch. Saturday, I removed the computer and moved a few books and personal items back to my old cubical in the Pit. I was the only one in the office that morning. I sat there staring at the forest green carpet on the partition before me. I swore I would never let this happen again.
I spent the rest of the day making a list of all the mistakes I had made. What I changed and what it cost me. I opened a few of my favourite books at the time and started reading highlighted passages.
A single line changed my life, “Some things you control, most things you don’t.”
Things You Can Control
I made two columns in my DayTimer and labelled one, “Things I Control” and the other “Things I Do Not Control.” I spent the next several hours and several pages looking at my life with a new lens. In the end, I realized only the internal aspects of my life were under my control. Almost everything external was out of my control. But I had focused all my attention on trying to control the externals, and little on what I could control.

Dichotomy of Control

I came to realize later:
There are things over which we have complete control and things over which we don’t have complete control.” – William B. Irvine – A Guide to the Good Life
I had no control over the direction of the markets, the behaviour of others, the weather, or the events in the world. Yet these thing preoccupied my thoughts and worries. What I did have complete control over were my values and behaviour, the actions I took and the decisions I made. These occupied little of my thoughts or worries. I soon realized that the only impact I could have on the external world was to change me. I needed to become the best version of myself.
“…recognize, and take seriously, the difference between what we can and cannot master.” – Massimo Pigliucci
Most of investing and trading, like life, is external and out of our control. But what we control is internal to us. We can stop worrying and fretting over things external. We can be true to our values, respect those we work with, avoid judging others, and make good decisions. We can review our actions and improve on what can be better and remove what is not our best. By repeating this process daily we change inside and the change influences our actions.
Over the next five months of my rookie year, I opened more new accounts and raised more assets than my peers. I won “Rookie of the Year” and was a member to the firm’s President’s Club. But the proudest moment was moving to a larger office, with my own assistant, and starting fresh. By understanding what I controlled I was able to change. By changing I was able to succeed.

Next Week

The Importance of Hypotheticals

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