Trading and Freedom

There are many professions that can ultimately lead to financial freedom in the future. Very few, however, allow for freedom along the journey to this goal as well. Many times, professionals find themselves beholden to a boss, a client, or someone else that controls the power to sign paychecks and affect general well-being. Even though bank accounts may grow, professionals may see their real freedom of thought and action slowly erode as they become more adapted to the culture that sustains them.

Trading is a different way to make a living. Traders define the game they wish to play and share many things in common with entrepreneurs. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: traders need to treat their operations like a business and focus on the bottom line.

This intellectual freedom can come at a burden, however; the shrewd market operator must have the intellectual flexibility to abandon an idea that doesn’t work anymore, regardless of how well it has performed in the past or the personal effort already expended supporting the idea. Stubbornness should never be confused with discipline: sticking to an idea who’s time has come and gone is tantamount to being out of control.

This isn’t to say a trader is an island, entire of itself. Far from it, traders are free because they are beholden to everyone else in the market. An Exchange organization provides a bridge to connect all market participants via the act of trading. In being dependent on everyone else in the market in a small way, traders gain an ironic sort of freedom of thought and action.

This has the effect of sterilizing some of the need for interpersonal communication. Even if you hate the trader standing across the pit, you can still trade with him, or you can trade with other people around him. In an electronic market you don’t even see who you’re trading against. This can create the illusion that the trader is indeed an island. It has the everyday effect of allowing a speculator an unparalleled freedom of thought and the ability to take large intellectual risks without much personal or career risk.

This contrasts heavily with other professions. In the extreme case, a worker’s paycheck could be at the discretion of one individual. In this instance, interpersonal communication probably matters more than actual performance. Many workers must actively manage the expectations of a group of taskmasters who control the feeding tubes.

In many firms there is a mismatch between time cycles: e.g. a worker might see a boss everyday but get a yearly performance review. Bullshit can exist for much, much longer in this kind of environment than in the trading floor; PnL is the ultimate clarification and is computed in real-time for traders. This, as it turns out, provides a luxury of certainty that is very rare in this world.

Categories: Psychology, Trading

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