Dr. Doug's Blog

Size Does Matter (On Wall Street)

Dec. 19, 2011 Comments

Two friends are invited to a super wealthy man’s house. As the two friends walk up to the mansion, one friend says to the other:

This is the most incredible house I have ever seen!

Look at the size of the yard!

Look at the spectacular landscaping!

Look at the custom stone carved architecture!

Look at how many rooms this place has!

The other friend, taking all of this in, turns to his buddy and says,

I see it all; but I have one thing the owner of this house will never have.

The dumbfounded friend stares back at him and says,

Oh yeah, what?

To which he calmly responds,

Enough.

Size does matter. At least it does for traders and tens of thousands of others who work in the financial industry. The reason is not about greed; but rather insecurity. Money is essentially the only measuring stick traders have to quantify their success and accomplishments for the year. The more you earn, the more respect you get from your peers. It is never a question of Is 3 Million a lot or little amount of money to make in a year? – of course that is a lot of money, to ANYONE.

The issue is not about the amount of money, it is about their self worth. It is about how much they are valued by the bank or by their peers. In the end, it is about their self-esteem.

Instead of judging these people, how about we try to understand their world, from their perspective, especially this time of year since this is when they are being told how much their efforts for 2011 are or are not being rewarded.

What do you think it would be like to live in a world where the number of zeroes on your W2 defines your value as a person? I am not saying it is right or even healthy. I am just saying that is the reality in which traders exist.

If you are reading this thinking that you could find 3 million reasons to muscle throughout it and buy happiness and self-worth with that kind of scratch in your bank account, then you have just taken a step inside the shoes of many of these wall-street warriors. They think the same way. The more sacrifices they make, the more painful the grueling 24/7/365 stress imposing job gets, the more money it takes to fill that void.

The problem is that it is a void – an infinite, emotional void that will never be satisfied by cash.

Trust me, the grass isn’t any greener on their side of the fence. The lucky ones love the fast paced, stressed filled life and quickly burn out. The rest of the bunch endures it as long as they can, oftentimes doing it just to maintain their family’s lifestyle, ruining their marriage along the way, until they finally burnout.

In my coaching, I have rarely seen a trader who is successfully able to separate who he is from what he does. Just like a professional athlete, their identity is tied to their occupation.

Is that sad? Good? Bad?

Seriously, I don’t know and the truth is, who am I to judge anyone. Who are any of us to pass judgment for that matter? Is engaging in an occupation that has short-term rewards but in the long run probably burns years off your life worth it?

A recent Sports Illustrated article profiled the 1986 Bengals NFL team and looked at the long-term physical and sometimes mental injuries most of these players are dealing with now in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s as a result of their years of playing professional football. The shocking part is that 37 of the 39 players (94.8%) said, it was worth it and they would do it again, even knowing the long-term damage it has done to their bodies.

That is crazy! Right?

No it’s not.

To these elite performers, the brief moment to be able to live their dream was worth the damage it caused. For traders, it is the same.

I am not suggesting that makes sense to most people because it doesn’t. I am just saying that for some people, enough is not an option.

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