The Dark Side Of Freedom

Zeke’s face was bright red. He seemed to be holding his breath.

Beads  of sweat covered his brow and collected on his eyebrows. His keyboard  looked moist. In fact, it seemed humid and wet all around him, as if he  had created his own weather system. Dark clouds hovered. A large purple  vein, not a normal feature of his appearance, was prominent on his neck  and looked like a well-fed earthworm. His hair was pulled back, very  tightly, into a ponytail.

From  his lips sprang the same word, over and over again. “FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!…” Moments later it morphed into, “They’re fucking me.”  He was staring straight at his screen with his hand glued to his mouse.  He was motionless. It was like he was bracing himself.

They  sat me next to Zeke so I could learn from him. Zeke didn’t talk much,  but I did learn from him. I casually looked over at his monitor. He was  holding a couple thousand shares of VOD which in 1999 (before it split 5  for 1) was very volatile and trading over 200 dollars a share. He was  down over 6 thousand dollars in the stock.

His phone rang.

He  tried to sound calm as he spat into the receiver “It’s just this guy,  he’s fucking fucking me.” He hung up and doubled his position. In a few  minutes he was down over 10 grand in the stock and the risk manager of  the firm, a large man who looked more like a bouncer than a man who was  crunching numbers in a back office, paid him a personal visit.

Zeke knew his time was up.

A  short conversation between Zeke and the risk manager, a man who  everyone simply called “Mr. Bill”, ensued and then Mr. Bill watched as  Zeke closed out his position. Moments later Zeke put his very expensive  headphones over his ears, gathered up his very expensive coat and his  desk belongings and silently left the room.

It  was the first blow-up I had witnessed at close quarters. I had been  trading for only 3 weeks. I looked at my position monitor. I was down  $6.25 in my one position, 100 shares long of AVY. At that moment, I felt  incredibly “light”.

The  next day, Zeke’s desk was filled by some hotshot trader “from upstairs”  who didn’t say much and watched porn in a small video player that he  strategically positioned in a corner of one of his screens. This is a  small example of what the environment was like at my first firm, where I  traded for my first few years. I paid exorbitantly high commission  rates and was yelled at whenever I tried to get those rates cut.

But I have a certain nostalgia for those days. It seemed anything was possible.

Recently  I tried to get away from trading. I applied for other work and tried to  imagine myself at a “real job” with a steady check and a boss. Nothing  worked out and I find myself trading again. I revisited this post to try  to remember what it was that trading once represented to me, to try to  remember those early feelings.

I  traded because it represented a certain kind of freedom. Of course,  back then I only understood freedom as a good thing. You were free to  wear whatever you wanted to work and office politics didn’t exist. The  only thing that mattered to anybody was, “How much you up?” Thinking  like that seems very simplistic now and after 12 years I have a more  nuanced view of freedom.

Freedom  can be a good thing, yes, but it can also be a very horrifying thing.  In short, you are free to work hard and succeed and you are free to ruin  yourself. Worse yet, you can work very hard and still ruin yourself. Or  you can be like Zeke, you’re free to just throw it all away, easily.

There are no safety nets and you make the rules.

A  few years back the book “The Secret” was a big deal. People were all  about your thoughts creating your reality. I tend to scoff at that stuff  and when my mother gave me the book to read I just handed it back to  her, “No thanks, Mom.”

But  maybe there is something about understanding too much about the dark  side of freedom. And maybe for us traders it’s be better to pretend  it doesn’t exist, or even, remain completely ignorant of it.

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2 responses

  1. Good post. Freedom does have a dark side to it – being free to fall/fail. The thing is, the truly special thing about the freedom of running your own business is the right to tale the helm at controlling your destiny. In this age of increasing layoffs and downsizings, countless individuals have followed the rules and did all they were told slaving away at their respective offices only to find their services no longer desired by corporate forces that now seek to hire cheaper employees overseas.

    These people are tossed into the sea of uncertainty and turmoil as they have no innate skills for generating income other than to work for someone else, and when fewer and fewer are hiring in a shrinking jobs environment, this is a deadly serious problem to have. This is the dark side of getting that standard steady paycheck – your destiny is in the hands of others who more than likely do not have your best interests in mind.

  2. Very dark indeed. Both my mother and father in law were laid off late in their careers as the result of downsizing. Neither of them able to find jobs these past few years. Tough to be laid off when you’re 58-62.


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