Sometimes the best trades don't require anyone else
I sat down last night to scribe this vibe and found myself at a bit of a loss. It wasn't for a lack of dialogue--that I can assure you--but rather a function of transparency. I sometimes struggle with what is "appropriate" for the 'Ville as I know that most are looking for "meat and potatoes" financial content. While I strive to stay true to that mission, the ability for us to effectively operate is contingent on an assimilation of the world through our own reality. Subjective perception has a profound effect on how we operate as professionals and, more importantly, as human beings.
The last ten days have been enlightening and I want to share the experience with my fellow Minyans. I'm not sure what the takeaway is but perhaps there is common ground or a mutual benefit. Standard operating procedure for traders is to expect success and beat ourselves up over the losses. There's no justification for the self-loathing process but our subconscious has been conditioned to accept it without question. Indeed, for someone who preaches the importance of balance and perspective, the dichotomy between my words and life sometimes drip with hypocrisy.
My stage was set in April of 2001 when my grandfather Ruby passed. In his own words, "I'm not sure that I taught him a lot, but I sure hope he learned a lot." I did, Ruby, but saying goodbye was still a painful and prolonged process. Just as the grieving subsided and I realized that we would never be apart, the towers fell and a new hole opened in my soul. I didn't understand it at the time but the genesis of a dream was born on that fateful day. As the ashes smoldered and we together mourned, Minyanville rose like a phoenix from the scorched earth and rescued me.
I often tell those I trust that Minyanville saved my life. Some people turned to drugs, others married (or divorced) and many just ran away. Me? I buried myself in work so I wouldn't have to digest the horror or relive the experience. I've shared much of this over the last three years but today's column has a different twist. You see, in my quest to succeed, I often forgot that the purpose of the journey is the journey itself. And in doing so, I misplaced that truth that we define our reality more than reality defines us.
Last year was a success by conventional measures as I rebounded from a horrific 2003 and steadied the ship. Yet, despite a powerful and positive evolution, I was trapped by my own unattainable expectations. There was always something more to do, a better way to do it or more people to do it with. I pushed myself and my team to extremes, constantly resetting the bar so that it was just out of reach. As Festivus 2004 approached, I think it's fair to say that we were all at the tag ends of our collective resolve.
I don't often discuss certain aspects of my personal life as there are self-imposed boundaries that I've set. However, as it is pertinent to this discussion, I will share that I ended a year-long relationship and was balancing family matters coincident to the end of last year. There is no shame in acknowledging our lives outside the flickering ticks--somewhere along the line, we were taught that allowing ourselves to "feel" was a weakness if it competed with our attention. Be that as it may, work and life aren't mutually exclusive endeavors and the ability to balance the two is often the difference between success and failure.
The morning after our annual holiday gig, I boarded a flight to Phoenix to "fly by" my friends at MS Howells & Co. It was the first time in three years that I traveled without my laptop and I must admit feeling liberated. The 'Ville was in the capable hands of Collins and my fellow professors, I had ten days to unwind and I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass. Indeed, after the requisite bonding (and a quick jaunt to Vegas!), I focused my sights on Miraval. While I've been to this spiritual retreat numerous times, something told me that this trip would be unique.
It wasn't the first time that I've traveled alone but I immediately felt alone. The spa was littered with couples and groups and, while I'm typically social, I kept to myself and did my own thing. Over the next five days, I peeled away the protective layers that serve as my self-defense mechanism and took a good, hard look within. From the moment I opened my eyes to the last conscious thought each day, I wrestled with who I was, how I was living and what my purpose was in life. I'm not going to say that it was fun (and it was far from easy) but I'm certainly a better man for it.
There are certain instances in each of our lives that produce clarity and definition. For me, such a moment arrived last Tuesday when I rose from my perch and began walking through the desert towards a distant mountain. I was so engrossed in thought and introspection that I honestly don't recall why or how the wander began. But an hour later, there I was--in the middle of nowhere and very alone. I was talking to my grandfather and sorting out the disparate aspects of my existence when a sudden clarity emerged. As I let go of the pain and strain of everyday life, the skies opened up and cried alongside me.
Something very powerful shifted within me that day and I'm not sure words can adequately describe it. When I walked into the desert, I was operating from a position of finality. At 35, I saw where I've been, what I've made and who I've been with. There is a certain comfort in being able to define our experiences but that safety comes with a cost. By the time I arrived back in my room, there was a tangible sense of release, almost as if I shed the weight of the world and arrived at a new beginning. I'm not sure if you know what I'm talking about but I sincerely hope that you one day will.
I promise to focus my attention on the financial landscape, competing forces and constant struggle that is our daily routine. But as this is a new year with a fresh slate, I will ask each of you to self-check your perception and adjust your perspective. A wise man once said that "once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right." Whether that illumination comes from within or is a function of your environment, taking the time to focus on where you want to go may be the best trade of all.
Good luck today.
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 email@example.com.
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