Listening to Yourself

“Man, sometimes, it takes you a long time to sound like yourself” – Miles Davis

The most prolific musicians in the world weren’t born with some innate ability to create music. Sure, they had proclivities for musical expression and harmony. But the true skill they all share is the unique and masterful talent for blending ideas, across disciplines and styles, from the many talented musicians who preceded them.

In a 1996 interview, Steve Jobs, another “artist” of technical sorts, commented: “Picasso had a saying – ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’ and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” In the years that followed, Jobs would transform an almost bankrupt Apple into the most valuable company in America.

Traders, too, are the forgotten artists of modern time. Replaced mostly by algorithmic trading and computers, we persist in an increasingly crowded market space. And, much like the musicians who weren’t born with innate music-making abilities, we also weren’t born with some God-given gift to reap profit and mitigate risk. Instead, we are nothing more than an amalgamation of thousands of pieces of information, taught unto us by other great traders and learned painfully through years of our own trial and error.

No two traders are exactly alike; they can’t be, and they shouldn’t be. In free markets, someone’s oversight today can become your edge tomorrow, so long as you are keen to it. Conversely, another’s due-diligence to avoid a looming crisis can also threaten to damage you, unless you take similar measures to protect yourself. Like it or not, the market is always fair, and equally fair to the endless number of trading strategies that exist.

And so, as I continue in my trading career, I realize that my ultimate success had little to do with actual trading, or even trading well. Instead, it had to do with making trades according to the best version of myself. Given all the trading strategies that I have learned, the patterns I’ve studied, the indicators I’ve assembled, the risk models I’ve crunched, my success now ultimately depends on whether or not I can listen to myself.

For example, when I can see that the market is choppy and provides no edge, can I listen to the voice inside me saying “Don’t trade”? When I can observe an opportunity to exploit my edge in the market, can I listen to the same voice that says “Take the trade”?

The voice isn’t me, really. It’s just a mixed-tape of advice that I clumsily and painstakingly wove for myself throughout the years. But the moment I finally trust that voice, that becomes the moment I succeed.

Trading always was, is and will ever be a game against yourself. Nobody can make it happen for you, and there’s nobody to even beat. Your only chance of winning is to practice being a better version of yourself today than you were yesterday.

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April 16, 2019

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