Editor's Note: “Memoirs of a Minyan” is a first-person account that follows Minyanville founder Todd Harrison as he weaves his way through Wall Street and beyond. This e-Book will publish each Wednesday over 18 weeks. Click here to read previous Memoirs chapters.
Chapter 18: Lessons Learned
I’ve long offered that the definition of professional nirvana is to do what you love with people you respect while serving the greater good.
Kevin and I raised money at the beginning of 2005, setting the stage for the next phase of Minyanville growth. Hoofy and Boo staked their claim as the Wall Street bull and bear, our loyal community manifested in size and scope, my best friend and college roommate was president and The Ruby Peck Foundation was on its way to raising seven-figure size for children’s education.
Life was good, which isn’t to say it was easy. Building a business always takes longer, is much costlier and consumes more energy than originally anticipated, particularly when swimming against the steady stream of the conventional wisdom that financial intelligence must be dry, homogeneous and void of humor or humanity.
I won’t spend much time discussing the Minyanville life-cycle. During our first two years, we rebuilt the platform, established a credible voice and solidified strategic partnerships. Once we hit those milestones, we again tapped the market and paved the way for the next stage of evolution, including hiring the human capital necessary to build out the entire wagon wheel.
We remained true to our mission of effecting positive change through financial understanding. In the years preceding the financial crisis, we warned of the cumulative imbalances percolating under the seemingly calm surface. That’s not as easy as it sounds with the Dow Jones at all-time highs but our editorial mandate of truth and trust persevered. That philosophy, coupled with a forward-looking lens that marries news and opinion, continues to this day.
There are now Minyans in 122 countries that drive upwards of 10 million page views each month. Minyanland, our massive multi-player online game that teaches children the basic building blocks of earning, spending, saving, and giving has almost 600,000 registered kids and parents. Hoofy and Boo sprung to life through the magic of animation and won the 2008 Emmy Award for New Approaches to Business and Financial Reporting.
I don’t make the type of money I did on Wall Street but the psychic income has never been higher. As the ramifications of our societal largess and the implications of public policy manifest, we continue to help millions of Minyans shape their perceptions, priorities and principles of financial awareness, from the ABC’s to the 401(k)’s.
While giving a speech last year, someone asked which professional accomplishment I was most proud of. I wasn’t prepared for the question but the answer left my lips before I realized it.
“My failures, for they tested my resolve and capacity. While I once measured myself by a bank account and business card, I discovered real success is staying true to who you are in the face of adversity.”
I’m a different man than when I chased the cash register, which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy money. I’ve simply found that what you do pales in comparison to how you do it regardless of what it is you choose to do.
The false idolatry of money is a sexy siren indeed; the grass may be greener and the wine might taste sweeter but be careful for what you wish. It took a round trip for me to see it but I’m a better man for it.
If I were to sum up some of the things I’ve learned through the years, the list might look a bit like this:
- All you have is your name and your word.
- Honesty, trust and respect are the foundational constructs of any successful endeavor.
- Time is the most precious commodity.
- The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.
- What goes around comes around.
- The greatest wisdom is bred as a function of pain.
- Bad times define good friends just as bad seasons define good fans.
- Be good to others and better to yourself.
- A random act of kindness is a positive pebble that ripples through the proverbial pond of life.
- Work to live; don’t live to work.
- Time is the arbiter of fate.
- Free will is God’s greatest gift.
- Experience is a close second.
- Opportunities are made up easier than losses.
- Profitability begins within.
- One hand washes the other.
- Just because one yells doesn’t make the message more important.
- Where you stand is a function of where you sit.
- Life is the cumulative sum of your decisions.
- The only difference between genius and madness is acceptance.
- The only difference between intervention and manipulation is communication.
- The only difference between a lesson and a mistake is the ability to learn from it.
- Negative energy is wasted energy.
- Adapt; don’t conform.
- Take the high road; it’s less crowded and has a better view.
- Stay out of debt.
- Be thankful for what you have rather than pine for what you don’t.
- The definition of an investment should never be a trade gone awry.
- To appreciate where we are, we must understand how we got here.
- Drugs that mask symptoms aren’t the same as medicine that cures the disease.
- The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s apathy.
- The friction between opinions is where true education resides.
- A dream is only as powerful as those who believe in it.
- Money comes and goes.
- The reaction to news is more important than the news itself.
- Trading Gods have a vicious sense of humor.
- Tomorrow is promised to nobody.
- If you do the right thing long enough, someone will eventually take notice.
- Good traders know how to make money; great traders know how to take a loss.
- Seeing old friends is good for the soul.
- Some of the wealthiest people I know don’t have two dimes to rub together.
- By the time you get to where you want to be, the journey will have already ended.
- Emotion is the enemy when trading.
- When in doubt, sit it out.
- The only difference between being early and being wrong is if you’re there to collect your chips.
- Build a growth company by surrounding yourself with people who can themselves grow.
- Tenacity, resolve and perseverance are the hallmarks of success.
- Hope isn’t a viable investment vehicle.
- Stay humble or the market will do it for you.
- Be careful with people who don’t love pets.
- The ability not to trade is as important as trading ability.
- The Crash didn’t cause The Great Depression; The Great Depression caused the crash.
- Social mood and risk appetites shape financial markets.
- The leaders coming out of a crisis are never the same as those that enter it.
- The ability to add capacity into a downturn defines the winners on the other side.
- Discipline trumps conviction.
- There is a difference between having fun and being happy.
- Gratitude is latitude.
- There’s no shame in admitting it’s hard; there’s only shame in pretending it’s not.
- If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
- Society is a sum of the parts.
- View obstacles as opportunities.
- The air of integrity gets thinner with age.
- The meaning of life is a life of meaning.
- Think positive!
One Step in Front of the Other...
We live in one of the most interesting junctures in world history, a period that will shape the pathway for generations to come. There are two ways to approach these challenging times. We can hide our heads in the sand and hope for the best or proactively prepare and do our part to affect a positive outcome.
Financial literacy is a cornerstone of our societal evolution. That won’t be found in a sound bite or a lightening round, it’s a lifelong process that requires time, patience, humility, and an ability to surround yourself with people you trust who have skill-sets that complement your own.
That's the calling card of the Minyanville community. We don’t claim to have all the answers but we pride ourselves on asking questions that provoke thought. And while we won’t give advice -- that would be misguided given the unknown risk profiles and time horizons of an unknown audience -- we’ll share what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how it’s being done in real-time
My most lucid thought with regards to the market is that we’re witnessing a cyclical bull nestled within a secular bear. The financial crisis hasn’t disappeared; it’s simply changed shape as it migrates from the financial to economic to social sphere. That can manifest in many ways and it’s a multi-linear dynamic, meaning the script can change at any time and the ramifications will arrive in waves.
Capital preservation, debt reduction and financial intelligence are the hallmarks of any successful strategy; at least until such time that the cumulative imbalances are alleviated from the system. That doesn’t preclude further upside but it’s most certainly something to keep in mind as we together find our way.
We’ll chew through our market view in the weeks and years to come. In the meantime, it’s my sincere hope that by sharing some of my missteps, be them life lessons or market mistakes, others will have the foresight to avoid them altogether.
It’s never too late to start, entirely alright to dream and perfectly normal to stumble. Just remember to enjoy the journey; for by the time you arrive at where you want to be, the trip will have already ended.
May peace be with you.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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