Pros and Cons of the Trading Lifestyle

08/20/2010 12:01 am EST


As someone who has worked independently for most of my professional career, you can say I place a tremendous value on "Doing my own thing." As I've often said, at least for me, it has been a combination of personal choice (what I want in both life and career) and necessity (as I don't play well with others). Indeed, there are some tremendous positives for trading independently. After all, I wouldn't be doing this if there were not some significant advantages to doing so!

Here are a few things that first come to mind:

• As an independent trader, I set my goals and I'm in charge of my own destiny. I don't rely on any other person for how much money I make or how I make it. Other people's opinions of me are irrelevant to my own destiny. At the end of the day, bottom-line trading results (not office politics) are all that matter.

• Most people in "normal jobs" don't have the opportunity to set out on their own and do something they really want and love to do and also make plenty of money doing it.

• I spend most of my time every day doing things I really like to do (trading, reading, researching, running screens, and mentoring others). These are things I would do even if I were not paid to do them because it is what I like to do the most! Every day, I plan my work on things I want to work on, not what others want me to work on. That level of professional autonomy is rare.

• The sense of accomplishment when you achieve success in the markets independently is unparalleled. There's nothing like finding and taking a good trade that produces lots of upside gain. This is especially true when that trade is unpopular and unforeseen by the herd.

• Through my research, I've been able to learn about many things, industries, countries, and people. At this point, I can have a conversation with just about anyone, no matter what they do for a living or where they live, because I know something we can probably talk about based on what I've learned and know about others.

• It is always interesting and I'm never bored. It is so true there is no better drama on Earth than following and being a participant in the markets daily.

• There are no meetings. People, often in corporate America, but in many walks of professional life, waste so much time on so many irrelevant things like business meetings. At least if I'm going to waste time, it will be something worth wasting it on!

• There is no commute or dress code. I fall out of bed at 5:00 am and go to work in shorts and a tee shirt. I don't have to dress up or even take a shower. In fact, I only own one dress suit, and that's because I may have to go to an occasional funeral or wedding. Finally, I don't have to spend an hour or more in the car every day just going to and from work. That's a good way to live and work!

• I can live and trade from just about anywhere in the world. Although we have found a little slice of heaven living here in southern Utah (Cedar City), where the people are nice, the weather is great, housing costs are low, there are plenty of excellent golf courses nearby, we have dozens of national parks for hiking within a day's drive, Vegas is not too far away, and so on; if and when we tire of it, we can move anywhere we want to and I can still earn a good living.

• Trading independently offers a level of personal freedom that isn't present in most jobs. If I want a day off to play golf, help a friend, visit with family, I do it. I don't have to ask anyone for permission! (But offering a membership site places some severe limitations on that freedom!)

So, now I've talked about the positives; what are the downsides to trading independently?

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While many people think I have a dream job—and in many ways I do—there's no career choice that doesn't also have its own set of unique negatives. Frankly, if most of you actually had to do what I do every day to reach your financial and career goals, I think quite a few of you would begin to question whether trading for a living is really the right way to go.

There are many misconceptions about trading out there, primarily due to shady marketing practices by those who sell investment services and trading products. Many in this business unfortunately propagate to their own benefit the view that trading for a living is an easy way to get rich without any time or effort. The truth is that it can often be—and has been—a challenging career choice and one that frankly is less-than-ideal for many people I encounter.

As for the downsides, here are a few you should be familiar with if trading for a living is a career you seek:

• You've got to bring your “A game” to the table each and every day. There is no sitting in a cubicle playing solitaire, visiting with Facebook friends, talking with others in the break room about fantasy football, etc. that is going to get the job done for you. Your efforts, whatever they may be, will be directly related to your bottom-line returns!

• Past success means absolutely nothing. You are only as good as your next trade, your next week, your next quarter, etc. In addition, what you do next always has the potential to unravel whatever success you've acquired previously. Few careers offer you the potential for self-destruction so quickly the way trading for a living does.

• The pressure to perform will create unbelievable amounts of negative stress and energy you'll have to deal with daily. Most people don't have to worry or fear that being wrong will cost them their paycheck. After all, just look at economists, bankers, and politicians!

• There will be little to no respect or understanding for what you do for a living. People will assume you're a "daytrading gambler." Or, in my view, which is even worse, many idiots will express the view that they could also trade for a living if they decided to. This is true even in by those who've shown no consistent success in the markets on a part-time basis.

• Working in isolation, you'll often miss close human interaction and the lack of a competitive, team-like atmosphere. Also, building and holding outside friendships, especially for men later on in life, are often very difficult for those who don't meet a lot of people through their jobs.

• Sitting 12 hours a day every day at the computer will wreak havoc on your overall health and fitness. Many traders are overweight, have back issues, eyesight problems, etc.

• Like many highly skilled professions, it requires constant education and learning. In many, but not all careers, once you've acquired a certain amount of skills and knowledge, little more is expected of you. In trading, you've got to always be in learning mode. In addition, what you think you know right now and what is working for you will not someday in the future. That's the way of constant evolutionary state of the marketplace.

• You've got to be a jack-of-all-trades. I've often said that if trading were the only thing I had to do, my life would be a whole lot easier. Instead, independent traders must spend time serving as their very own tax accountant and tech support guru. In my view, there's nothing worse than a hardware or software issue that takes you away from concentrating on the markets.

• There will be very long workdays and workweeks. Those who say you can trade successfully in ten minutes a week are liars and charlatans. Most independent traders put in 50- to 60-hour workweeks and are considered "grinders," rather than trading "wizards." Remember, there are no holidays or weekends for professional independent traders; only more time to devote to charts, scans, research, and strategies!

• You've got to have money to make money. There are very high capital requirements involved in being an independent trader, as it takes a lot of money set aside from your personal assets to produce a living wage for yourself and your family.

• Your "salary" will vary considerably based on things outside of your control like overall market conditions and how your strategy is in sync with the market. It is true that you'll make 90% of your income in 10% of your time. However, overhead costs will remain constant and there's nothing worse than having to grind out trades in an unreceptive market to make the mortgage.

• Even when you make a lot of money and have experienced tremendous success, you've got to still live like a pauper. There are no golden parachutes, annual bonuses, etc. that are going to save you when you screw up in the future. And, trust me, you will screw up. You will make bad decisions. You will be on the wrong side of a trending market. It happens to everyone and it is never fun or profitable! That is why when the sun is shining, we've got to always prepare for those future rainy days.

• Personal and family relationships can be difficult. Like most people, when things aren't going well, many will look for others to blame and take it out on their spouses and family members. Divorce rates are high among independent traders. The only way around that is to find endeavors that release this negative energy (like golf, hiking, and daily exercise). In addition, I seldom see successful independent traders who don't also have a very strong family support structure in place. If your life is a mess, your trading will often be as well.

• Distractions at home will be both numerous and frequent. As independent traders who work from home, everyone else will think you can spare time for doing other things during the normal work day (i.e. like going to the grocery store, getting the house worked on, taking the cars in for repair, mowing the grass, taking kids to the doctor, doing laundry, etc.) In addition, there are things you'll want to do as well (like playing golf) when you should be looking through charts that are going to distract you constantly from achieving the results you desire.

• As an independent trader working a "zero-sum game," nothing you do every day as a trader other than making money will be a benefit to others or society in general. While you will have plenty of opportunities to donate to charity in order to give back something, independent traders must work really hard at finding good and effective ways to make a real difference for other people. My late father once said to me, "When you die, the good Lord will ask you who on Earth you really helped freely and without personal gain. You better have a lot of names to give to him or you're going to be in big trouble son!" It is true. We all get caught up in our crazy game of beating the markets that we forget how others have to really struggle to work for a living. Also, even the best of us fail to do enough to make a true, positive, and lasting difference in other people's lives beyond just donating some of our profits to charity.

While I know I've missed a few of the negatives and positives, I think this at least offers some perspective on what it means to trade independently, as I have all of these years.

All in all, I have no regrets and I'm happy today as I've been in the past to do what I do for a living. Whatever you do, I hope you feel the exact same way, and if you don't, you have both the courage and conviction to make a real change for the better. Life is far too short for anything less than that!

By Charles Kirk, trader and blogger,

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