It was Socrates who said, “My only regret is that I have no regrets.”
No, it wasn’t really Socrates, it was me who said that. Why do we have to reference some ancient Greek guy who has been dead for over 2000 years and probably anally raped more young boys than Jerry Sandusky just to give a saying gravitas?
Look, I really don’t like to dwell on the negative, but not unlike in trading, you learn more from the negative events than the positive ones.
So as I reach the middle of my life (I am forty-five and plan to live until at least ninety), I figure it is the right time to take inventory of the ten biggest regrets of my life in order to learn from them, and perhaps prevent others for making the same mistakes.
Anyway, here they are;
1. Spending too much time in book stores in my youth looking for ANSWERS instead of INSPIRATION.
2. Shorting $KBH going into the summer of 2005. I had the right idea, but the wrong timing,
3. Arguing with my father that there was no way that the cowbell part on “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater was done live, and HAD to be an overdubed. It turned out that I was wrong. My father died two months later. I was twenty years old.
4. Spending so much time in my 20’s and 30’s pretending how much I didn’t care what people thought about me, when I really did.
5. One of the few things in my life that has come “naturally” to me was parenting. With one exception. My daughter was having problems getting “calendar marks” on her daily reports in Kindergarten. Nothing we did could stop her from getting them. One night I decided I would pretend that if she got enough calendar marks she would have to go to a different school. Here is how the conversation went….
Me: So if you keep getting calendar marks, they may make you go to another school.
Daughter: But where would the school be?
(At this point I thought if I “casually” said, “oh, it would probably be a school far away, where mommy and daddy would have to come and visit you” that I would get the reaction of, “oh don’t worry, I will make sure I never get anymore calendar marks.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it went.)
Daughter: But….but…..*sniff* *sniff*….then I would be…..*sniff* *tears* *lip* *sniff* *big tears*…so lonely without you *HUGE lip* *sniff* *tears*…and mommy.
At this point I had a choice. Stay the course, and drive the point home, or fold like a fuckin’ Pick ‘n Save tent in a hurricane. Call me Mister tent.
But I still regret making my little daughter ever think that there was a scenario where she would be without her family.
6. After vacationing for six weeks in Australia, at the tender age of eighteen, my Aunt who lived there said I could stay as long as I wanted. On the plane ride back I remember looking out the window thinking that I wanted to stay. I should have stayed. I wanted to stay. But I was too scared. Who knows, I could have been Mr. @RogueTraderette if I had.
7. Wasting the years I had with my grandparents. There was so much love and knowledge that they wanted to share with me, but I couldn’t wait to get out of the various Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Birthday celebrations to join my random friends, most of whom I am no longer in touch with anymore, at the bar.
8. Turning down the “Blake” role, ultimately played by Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” I had the part locked up but thought it would pigeonhole me as a “tough, pretty boy” in Hollywood going forward.
By the way, my reading of the line was, “See this watch? Do you see this watch? It’s pretty isn’t it? I bet you wish you had one you stupid jerky guy.”
I think that version played better.
9. Not selling my business ten years earlier than I did. That company sucked a decade of my youth away from me, stuck doing what I hated, what I loathed, all in the guise of taking the “responsible” and “prudent” route. Fuck responsible prudent people in the ass!
My offices recently moved to downtown Los Angeles from Century City. I liked Century City, but come lunch time there was a serve lack of places to eat. There were only three places within walking distance and it didn’t take more than a month from when I first got there until I was burned out on all of them.
Now I literally have over a hundred different places to choose from.
Tex-Mex. Gourmet burgers. New York style pizza. Pan-Asian fusion kitchens. Trendy foodie cafes. Gastro pubs. Retarded vegan wraps shops. Oh, we got em all in Downtown.
And I fucking hate it.
Yeah, I like good food and I like choice, but too much choice just makes my head spin. And the thing is, every one of these food places has like a hundred more options to sift through once you get inside the door.
Yesterday I was looking for a sandwich. You know, a “Sand-Witch?” Maybe you’ve heard of them? Bread, meat, some necessary veggies, a little mayo, and *BOOM* you’re good to go.
But when I wandered into the tragically hip Mendocino Farms restaurant next to my building, here’s just a small sample of the choices I had to wade through on their menu. It’s was a cryptographers wet dream.
Korean Short Rib Sandwich. Singaporean Dosa Wrap. Spicy Chipotle Turkey Meatball. A Sandwich Study Of Heart. Spicy Lemongrass Steak BanhMi. Vegan Shawarma. The Drunken Goat on Highway 128!
The “Drunken Goat”? Seriously? (It’s Herbs de Provence marinated Drake Family Farm’s goat cheese, French brie, cranberry chutney, green apple, Scarborough Farm’s greens on cranberry walnut bread in case your were curious. AND you can add shaved, roasted free range chicken breast for only $1 more).
Even if I could figure out which one of these alleged sandwiches I might find appetizing, I still had to make it past the “bread choice” part of the competition.
Anyone ever heard of sourdough break for Christ’ sake?
At that point I just said “screw it,” and went next door to Mickey D’s for a comfortingly ubiquitous Quarter Pounder w/cheese combo.
I have the same disdain these days for the sprawling and unwieldingly large watchlists that I often see newer traders maintain.
Let’s face it, there is a fascination among some traders to be the “Indiana Joneses” of the markets. Finding and filling their watchlists to the brim with all sorts of exotic and unusual stocks. Being the first to discover that Peruvian tech start-up that is going to knock $AAPL on its ass as soon as it launches it’s new biodegradable smartphones made out of coca leaves.
I get emails all the time from traders asking me what I think of this penny stock, that microcap pharmaceutical, or some random illiquid ADR they are sure is their ticket to riches. These stocks are the equivalent of that “Drunken Goat” sandwich. Obtuse. Hard to understand. Purposely inaccessible and frankly unnecessary.
The question I ask them is “why do you have to find and trade the next $AAPL killer when you have $AAPL?”
Mind you, I am not saying to turn a blind eye to up and coming stocks or sectors, like the 3D space for example. There are real companies in that sector like $DDD and $SSYS that have liquid and tradable stocks.
What I am saying is that you should always have a stable of tried and true stocks that you know and understand on your “go to” list to trade. There are no bonus points in the market for making money off of a Bolivian mining stock instead of $GOOG.
My watch list tops out at 350 stocks max, filtered by a number of factors, two of the most important being liquidity and sector “hotness.” My goal is to find reasons to cut stocks from that list so that I can keep it manageable and leave room for any worthy additions.
From that list I distill out 10-15 stocks each Sunday that I think may be in play for the coming week. Normally a few will drop off the list and few might come on over the course of the week, but once again, the goal is to figure out which stocks don’t need to be on that list so that you are left with only the best candidates to trade.
I know traders who can trade almost any type of stock and have watchlists that number in the thousands, but these are people who have been in the markets for years. Their methods for building and using watchlists have evolved with time and experience, and even then, they are the exceptions to the rule.
If you are new to trading, or having a hard time keeping an eye on everything in your watchlist, think about limiting it with some simple criteria that makes your job as a trader simpler, easier, and more profitable. Let someone else find the next “Drunken Goat,” because most of the time a good “ham on rye” will do the job just fine.
A veteran trader recently reached out to me. Twenty years ago he started out as a lowly floor runner, but through sheer guts and determination worked his way up to being a “local” in the pits. After a number of years of success there, he was able to make the transition to trading from home, which he has been doing for the last ten years.
In 2008 he had it all, the house, the fancy cars, and the addition of his first-born child. Then he had a spectacular suicide trade and just like that, all the “stuff” his twenty years of successful trading had brought him was gone.
In his own words he told me that he is “still trading on an intravenous drip, but have done nothing for 4 years but run from the ghost of 2008.”
What he wanted to know from me was if I had any advice on how to exercise those “ghosts” and get back to the business of being a successful trader. Here is an expanded version of what I told him, and it goes for anyone that is currently having a tough time in the markets.
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, I would start to get involved in helping/mentoring new traders, and here’s why….
First off, it’s a good thing to do. It makes you feel good about yourself when you are helping others. I bet you have a ton of knowledge that beginning traders would love to have access to.
The other great thing about helping mentor others to trade is it forces you to repeatedly talk about and illustrate what the most important things are for successful trading. Chances are you may have forgotten some of those things and this process will help reinforce and re-internalize them yourself. See my post “Stops And Smiles Should Be Automatic.”
Next, start a blog. Crazy huh? What sort of friggin’ idiot blogs about the markets, right?
But writing stuff down is cathartic. It allows you to crystallize what went wrong (or is still going wrong) with your trading, identify it, and then leave it behind. You don’t even have to have to make your blog public, it can just be an online journal if you want. It’s the process that matters.
Next, give yourself a break. Everybody screws up. Take some time each day to enjoy the little pleasures of life. A nice beer, good food, a cigar, a cool breeze on a beautiful day, etc.
Sounds simplistic but I can tell you from experience, when traders are having a losing streak, especially an extended losing streak, their world tends to become ONLY about the markets. That is a great way to lose perspective and without perspective in your trading you are more apt to continue your money losing ways.
Next, if you aren’t currently doing something physical everyday, then start. Go to the gym. Rollerblade at the park. Ride your bike around the block 10 times. You are starting the process of mentally getting back in “fighting shape,” make sure your body is in that same shape as well.
Finally, look at your child. He/she doesn’t care if you are a good trader or bad. Rich or poor. Cool or a nerd. Your kid just needs you to be the best dad you can be. That is THE MOST IMPORTANT job you will ever have. Get into it. Have fun with it. Trust me, it will be the best thing you ever do.
It’s hard to take a knock down like you had, but you’ve stayed in the game for this long which means that it isn’t your track record of winning that is the outlier, it’s your recent losses that are. Learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat them, and re-build. If you do, it will get better.
Hope this helps.
What do I know about giving advice? A lot of people have told me they have learned from things I have written on this blog, and if that is the case, then I am happy about it, but I don’t consider this a “self-improvement” blog. There are others who do that.
I generally think that the advice we give to people is the same advice we would give ourselves. So this is in fact what I would tell myself if I was in the same situation. Hope it helps.
Thanksgiving is about reminding ourselves how we lucky we are to have the important things in life like good health, good friends, and good family.
So what do Thanksgiving and trading have to with each other? I mean the market isn’t even open on turkey day right? But if you think about it, there is a real and meaningful connection between the two if you are a successful trader.
Being a successful trader means you are not working on a rooftop in the middle of summer laying down asphalt or digging out busted sewer lines in the dead of winter.
It means not having to deal with overbearing bosses, gossipy co-workers, or three hour “planning” meetings on a daily basis.
While the vast majority of the populace looks at the machinations of politics, the ambiguity of economic policy, and the plotting of central banks with an overwhelming sense of helplessness, successful traders find ways to extract wealth from how they affect the markets.
Rising gas prices don’t bother them because they can go long USO. A faltering housing market can be negated by shorting XHB. There is no adverse economic scenario that can be thrown at a successful trader that they don’t have a reasonable shot at profiting from.
Being a successful trader gives you power. Which gives you independence. Which gives you freedom.
Freedom to live where you want. To work when you want. To be your own boss and practice the purest form of financial self-determination available.
The ability to trade and to trade successfully is something that 99% percent of the world’s population would give their right arm to be able to do. And if you can do it, then Thanksgiving is the day made for you.
The day you stop and give thanks. Thanks that you can make a living while sitting in the comfort of your own home, wearing pajamas and Mickey Mouse slippers, while most of your friends and neighbors fight the traffic, the congestion, and the elements on their way to jobs that they hate.
Thanks for living in a country where markets are free (for all intents and purposes) and every citizen has the right to participate in them.
And thanks for living in a time like no other where technology has leveled the playing field for all market participants.
Back in the 70’s when I was touring with KISS, one night Paul Stanley pulled me aside backstage and told me something he had learned from years on the road….
Brian, let me tell ya sumthing. Everybody likes to Rock n’ Roll. Awwwwyeaaaahhh…..!!!!
It’s true. They do.
And another thing that people like, or that traders like, or at least male traders like, or actually just any males like, are spokesmodels.
You know who I am talking about. The lovely young ladies who pose and sometimes talk at the booths of trades shows and conventions. Often they are actually pretty well-informed on whatever product they are representing, but most of the time they are just there to be pleasant and to attract customers. Rarely do I assume that they know anything about trading.
Last week I was out at the Trader’s Expo in Vegas helping to work the show with the crew from Ditto Trade, when one of the guys suggested we hire a “spokesmodel” for the booth to help attract customers.
I was a little leery of the idea, as it seemed a bit cheesy. Plus, where the hell do you find a spokesmodel in the middle of the week on short notice? (Craig’s list Las Vegas it turns out).
However, a lot of the other booths were doing the same thing, and the point of being at a trade show, in addition to promoting your brand, is to get potential customers.
At the Trader’s Expo they make that real easy. Every attendee has to have a badge with a bar code that contains all their contact information, and you just take your hand-held RFID device and scan their badge in order to put them in your database. Seems easy, right?
Yet a lot of the attendees were standoffish when it came to scanning, probably worried that they would be hit non-stop every day with marketing materials. I get it, but that’s not how we operate. Nobody forces anybody to have their badge scanned, but if they allow it, we see that as giving us the “green light” to at least contact them occasionally about the magical and fantastical products we have to offer them?
So we put out the call and were immediately deluged with numerous aspiring Vanna Whites’. The winner, though not selected by me, was Karla Jayne.
Despite having a name that sounded somewhat like an 80’s porn actress, Karla was a very nice young girl. Clever, funny, professional, she had the whole package. But more importantly, the percentage of show attendees that wanted their badges scanned increased dramatically. Like to 100%.
Still, I was worried about her knowledge of the markets, or better put, her lack of knowledge of the markets. I didn’t want her to get cornered by a potential customer asking trading questions and have her come off sounding like a, uh….well…..a spokesmodel.
I decided that if she was going to stay in our booth I would have to give her a quick overview of the trading game. Just enough info to keep the customer engaged before she turned him over to one of the company guys.
I was just about to start the process, when she walked over to me and said, “so what’s that up there?” pointing to the trading platform.
“Those? Those are the different stocks that you can trade at our brokerage,” I replied.
“Oh, the stock market,” she continued. “I heard about the stock market crashing,” she said with a pause and a waiting look.
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself. Which crash would this twenty year old be referring to? The recent drop in the markets? Nah, that wasn’t a crash and hadn’t been on the TV enough for a non-trader like her to notice.
Perhaps it was the “Flash Crash” of a few years ago that she was talking about? Too “inside baseball” I figured, and ruled it out.
Maybe the fall of the 2008 markets was what she was thinking of? But she had said “crash” and 2008 was more of a meltdown than a crash.
I went with the 87′ crash.
“Yeah there was a day in 1987 when the market dropped 23% in one day,” I said, trying to sound both sage-like and hip at the same time, but the there was no crack in her “waiting look” so I continued on….
“….and of course there was a huge crash in 1929…”
Still no facial change.
“….which was the start of the ‘Great Depression’,” I continued.
“….and it was so bad that people jumped out of buildings.”
“THAT’S IT..!!!,” she said. “I remember reading about people jumping out of buildings.”
Okay. So her only real reference about the markets was people jumping to their death’s over eighty years ago. This should be interesting.
There was a time when the insecure, “A-hole Brian” would have taken this opportunity to act intellectually superior to a woman whom the awkwardly retarded twenty year old Brian would have been too intimidated to even approach. But I have evolved. I am “Brian 6.0” now.
“Okay,” I began. “Let’s say your friend just got a brand new copy of the Evenescence CD in the mail…….blah, blah, blah.” I figured let’s go for the hardest thing for most people to understand about trading; if she gets that, then it’s all down hill.
She got it. Not right away, but with a bit more coaxing she understood it as quick as any “civilian” I had ever explained it to.
“Okay, well how do they decide what price each stock costs,” she asked.
It’s all supply and demand,” I answered. “Let’s say they need eight spokesmodels to work the Insurance Adjusters of America trade show, and there are only five available. The demand outweighs the supply and thus the models can charge more. But if suddenly a rogue band of Swedish spokesmodels parachuted into the pool area of Caesar’s, the supply would go up drastically, and the fee for each model would drop.
“Ah, got it! But how do you know what stocks watch to see it they go up in value.”
And thus we went into sector analysis.
“Are you familiar with $COH brand purses,” I asked with nary a bit of guilt over the blatant sexism of the question. I mean c’mon, she was spokesmodel after all.
“Oh yes, I love their bags,” which led perfectly into an explanation of the retail “sector,” the companies that make it up, and how other sectors are built around energy, technology, finance, and so on.
Finally she asked, “so if I know that $AAPL is going to come out with an Iphone 5, I should probably buy the stock because it will sell a lot of phones, right?”
“Well, it’s not that simple, let me explain it like this,” I started.
“Say you are about to turn twenty, and your boyfriend throws you a surprise party. You are excited and feel good about it. But then when your twenty-first birthday comes along you expect him to do the same thing. Now, if he doesn’t, you may feel disappointed and leave him. If he does and the party is just ‘meh,’ then you may hang around but not feel very sure of the situation.”
“But what if he blows it out of the water with the best party you have ever had, something totally unexpected? Then you would love him even more and probably stay around at least until you see what he does for the next birthday.”
“It’s all about meeting expectations,” she said. “If you are already expecting something and it doesn’t happen or happens like you thought, you are not to excited and may sell the stock. But if something happens beyond what you expect; a surprise, then you might may hang around by buying more stock.”
“Everybody knows $AAPL will sell a lot of Iphone 5’s,” she continued. “So the stock may not go up much more.”
I felt like a proud parent and a small little trader tear rolled down my cheek.
“Exactly,” I said.
Karla worked the rest of the show for us and did a great job. Even though she picked up enough basics on trading, I shouldn’t have been too worried even if she didn’t. The attendees (at least the men) were too starry-eyed talking to her to care if she had said something wrong, and she was too smart and comfortable in her spokesmodel role to have made any gaffes.
By the way, Karla is also a singer and multi-instrumentalist and you can check her YouTube videos out here.
Today I am heading out to the Trader’s Expo in Las Vegas, and although I plan to have a good time, the tone and tenor of this trip will be decidedly different than that of my Vegas trips in days of yore.
One of the colloquial pleasures of growing up in Southern California was that at almost any given moment, often just on a whim, you could drop everything and head out to Vegas.
“What are we going to do this weekend? Let’s go to Vegas!”
“Man this club sucks, I’m bored. Let’s go to Vegas!”
“My classes got canceled this week. Let’s go to Vegas!”
“I’m off of work for a few days. Vegas….????”
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Swingers,” I kid you not, the scene in which they decide to go to Vegas is a 100% accurate representation of how easily it happens.
Many a times in my 20’s I would pile in to a van with some buddies and venture out through the beautiful monotony of the Southwestern desert, headed straight for Sin City. Those road trips in themselves were fun and one specific incident always sticks out when I think back on them.
We had stopped at some convenience store in the middle of nowhere in order to buy more booze. I mean this place was so off the beaten path it wouldn’t have surprised me to see Gram Parsons’ charred remains lying around.
As we all climbed back in the van with our liquid refreshments, one of my friends pulled out a “forty” of the one of the most politically incorrect and insensitively named consumer products of all-time; Crazy Horse Malt Liquor.
Yes, Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, I shit you not. That was the name on the bottle. It even had a picture of an Indian Chief on the front of it. I remember seeing it and having this stunned reaction, one that I couldn’t really put into words until years later when I saw Dave Chapelle do a bit on racism
In the bit he says….
“Have you ever had something happened that was so racist that you didn’t even get mad? You were just like, ‘god damn’ that was….that was racist!”
“I mean it was so blatant that you were like….’Woooow!'”
“You’re like ‘Man, that was really racist!’ You’re in shock like you were watching it in a movie or something.”
That’s how I felt. But hey, it was the cheapest non-grain alcohol on the shelf so I gave my pal a pass.
As I got into my 30’s, and in theory became more mature, the Vegas trip experience began to evolve. It no longer consisted of a road trip, but instead a quick fifty-five minute plane ride, affectionately called the “stripper flight.”
These trips were no longer spur of the moment as the responsibilities of life were too numerous to just be able to drop everything and go. Instead they became regularly scheduled, once a year “guy trips,” that though no longer spontaneous, were just as intense.
Truth be told, these weren’t really “trips” to Vegas as much as they were”attacks” on Vegas; the offensive usually starting in the airport bar where we would begin the process of “getting it in.” That process would continue on the plane, in the cab to the hotel, and at the bar in between the front desk and the elevator to the rooms. From that point forward it was “game on” for the rest of the weekend.
The rules for the “guys trip” to Vegas were simple….there were no rules. And no plans either.
One guy wants to play craps; great, see ya later. Two more want to hit the strip club; sounds good, have fun. Another wants to power slam a dozen tequilla shots and run naked down the strip; hey, whatever turns you on. The only exception to this rule was that on Friday night everybody would go to Del Frisco’s where we would take over one of the side rooms and gorge ourselves like Roman Senators.
I had many epic times in the city that Bugsy Siegel invented, some so “epic” that the mere fact that I never came home married, tatted, or in need of a massive double-dose of penicillin is a minor miracle.
Nowadays Vegas is a much different experience for me. Sure, I still get the visceral reaction when the name is mentioned, but I quickly realize that my “epic” days are long done. And the fact of the matter is, I am glad they are done.
A trip to Vegas now usually entails visits to the spa instead of the strip club. “Power drinking” has been replaced with scotch and cigars. I still love Del Frisco’s but now I am more likely to indulge my foodie curiosity at a tapas bar or celebrity chef’s bistro. I mean you just never know, Emeril might be using a new type of balsamic vinegar on his Carpaccio.
It’s still a great trip, but just different, and more suited to where I’m at in my life.
Over the last year or so my trading has gone through a similar transition. One that is more in tune with where I am in my life right now.
For most of the twenty-five plus years that I have been trading I have been a swing trader. It was something that fit well with the responsibilities of running my own business. However not long after 9-11 I began to day trade more frequently. That only increased when I sold my company to become a full-time trader in 2005.
Day trading has always felt to me like the “purest” form of trading to me and I don’t think I ever truly have considered someone a trader unless they day traded. But in the last few years, as my responsibilities in my new company have gotten larger, the practicality of day trading has gotten less and less.
And not only that, I realize that I don’t have the passion for day trading that I once did. Perhaps it is due to the increased noise in the markets. Perhaps it’s because I am getting older. Or maybe it’s because I realize that I did just as good, if not better, when I was almost exclusively swing trading, but with half the stress.
Whatever the cause, it’s just been harder and harder to keep up the aggressiveness and energy needed to play that game.
During this last year I have really been influenced by the trading philosophy of Howard Lindzon, Ivan Hoff, and Joe Fahmy, and especially by the trading results of Steve Gomez. All of them focus on finding that best of breed stocks and only swing trade them when the market environment is favorable. They are not going crazy at the strip club, they are relaxing at the spa. I want to be at the spa more as well.
Does this mean I won’t day trade anymore? Well, let’s not get crazy. And does that mean I won’t go to the strip clubs anymore? Well…um, yeah since I promised my wife I wouldn’t, I guess it does. But what it means in terms of trading is that when I do day trade, it is much more likely that I have passed on many other setups, even over numerous days, until I found one where I felt the odds were highly skewed in my favor.
One thing that I have always told newer traders is that you have to know what style of trading fits your personality. If you day trade but your personality is more suited for swing trading, chances are you will have a hard time being profitable in the long run. I now can add to that advice and say that you have to also trade in a style that fits with what stage you are at in your life.
So now I think I should stop commenting and making a big deal of CNBC hits because I risk sounding either like a “rube” who is transfixed by the “purdy lights” or someone who “doth protest too much” about nothing.
Anyway, thanks for all the nice words and support, as always I appreciate it.
So there I was, back in the studio, all mic’d up and ready for my return to CNBC’s “Tomorrow in 30:” segment where you have thirty seconds to talk about something that will be moving or will be moving the markets the next day.
This time as I sat there waiting for my cue I was marginally more relaxed than the first, perhaps partly because I knew what to expect and partly because I had just shotgunned a “tall boy” of Beck’s beer in the studio parking lot before I came in. Is there anything beer can’t do?
Also, I had practiced my rap ad nauseum and had it down cold;
One of the big stories among traders over the last few months has been the bottoming pattern in natural gas. That bodes well for companies like Chesapeake Energy ($CHK) who announce earnings tomorrow. What I want them to tell me on their conference call is that all their operational issues are behind them, and if so, I would look to get long the stock above $21.00 because as the price of natural gas continues to rise, that should help drive Chesapeake’s stock price.
But still, I could not completely shake off the nervous tension that was building inside me.
What was I worried about?
Was it the fact that I was being given a ridiculously short amount of time to explain a complex and nuanced idea, with no opportunity for follow-up, and that people might actually put some of their hard-earned money into a sound bite trade that I came up with while taking a shower?
Was it the fact that 99% percent of everything you hear on CNBC is disposable and I myself have not only turned CNBC off, but encouraged others to do the same to improve their trading?
Was it the fact that given those two previous points, by actually going on CNBC, basically with the only benefit being that someone might occasionally say to me, “Hey, I saw you on CNBC,” I might seem a bit disingenuous and hypocritical?
Any and all of the above would have been valid reasons for the discomfort on my part, but despite my theoretical musings about the validity of CNBC, I work for a company, and that company pays PR people to get us this type of exposure. As I am representing my company and not myself, I don’t have the luxury of begging off opportunities like being on CNBC.
So what was it that was making me feel so ill at ease?
It was simple. I was afraid of looking stupid.
Can you believe I just said that? Have you seen my StockTwits stream? Have you read this blog? Because if you have done either or ever met me in person, you know that I tend to be the one person who least cares about what people think of me. Hell, sometimes I even encourage people to think bad of me just for fun.
But there I was, under the glow of the studio lights, surrounded by HD monitors, the sweet siren song of Maria Bartiromo’s voice wafting through my earpiece, and I was afraid of looking stupid.
I mean what if in the middle of my spiel my mind suddenly went blank and I just blurted out something like….
…cheese stromboli looks good on leather shoe bags.
What a total idiot I would have looked like, right?
But then my thoughts turned to my six-year-old daughter. One of the benefits of shooting the CNBC spot was that I worked from home that day and was able to drop her off at school in the morning.
It was “All Saints Day” at her school and she was supposed to chose a Saint to dress up as, and give a short report about, in front of her classmates. She choose to be Saint John Bosco, who interestingly enough was known for his ability to juggle.
We had worked on her costume for a couple of days and I had been going over her presentation, helping her learn all the info, for about the same amount of time.
The only thing she had trouble remembering was the day of her Saint’s feast. It was January 31st, but for some reason she keep saying “July 31st” by mistake. We had tried various ways to get her to remember the correct month and I figured it was about a “50-50” shot that she would get it right.
I told her that when it was time for her to say the date, she should just take a breath and relax, and if she said the wrong date by mistake, to just say “excuse me, I meant January 31st.” No big deal.
But this morning as I walked her into class none of that mattered as she was so excited about her speech. She couldn’t wait to get up in front of class and tell them everything she had learned about her Saint (especially the juggling part).
Just a few days earlier I was sitting on a sunny San Diego beach while the whole East Coast was preparing for a storm that would end up destroying the homes of many and taking the lives of some. Now here I was, sitting in a TV studio, in the middle of one of the most prosperous counties in the country, worried about a 30 second hit that most people would not remember three seconds after it was over.
Meanwhile, at that same moment my daughter was proudly, excitedly, and joyfully speaking to her equivalent of a CNBC audience, undoubtedly with not a hint of self-doubt or fear.
Suffice to say, I felt foolish. Shame on me. And then I felt angry. Angry at myself for letting such a silly thing like being on CNBC get me so hyper-neurotic that I felt physically uncomfortable. Who was I anyway, James Altucher?
I suddenly felt a wave of relief come over me as I realized that I was going to do this thing, and knock it out of the park or fall flat on my face, neither outcome would affect my life or my opinion of myself one bit.
When I picked my daughter up from school later that afternoon the first thing I asked her was how her presentation went.
“It was great Daddy,” she replied. “I was a little bit nervous at first, but I just got up there and did it and it was fun. And I even got ‘January 31st’ right.”
“Awesome,” I said. “I knew you would do great. I love you.”
And how did my CNBC performance go?
Well, I watched as President Obama and Gov. Christie’s impromptu press conference about hurricane Sandy continued to go on, and then I suddenly heard the voice of CNBC’s New York producer in my ear…
“You’re going to bump me,” I said.
“Yes, I am so sorry, the President went longer than we thought.”
“Oh man,” I sighed, using my best feigned disappointment voice. “My grandmother is watching for me right now.”
“Awww…..really?” the producer asked.
“Oh, now that’s not nice.”
“Yeah,” I thought to myself. She’s right, it’s not nice. But it’s funny. It’s irreverent. It’s unfiltered. It’s a statement that doesn’t care what the other person thinks of it. And it’s who I am.
I say stupid crap at times. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s insightful. Sometimes it falls flat. But that’s me, unfiltered, honest, and not afraid of what anyone else thinks.
Somehow the “aura” of CNBC suckered me in, and I forgot that about myself.
The producer apologized for bumping me and promised that she would get me back on again real soon. And if the opportunity comes up, I’ll do the show.
I’ll probably still shotgun that beer ahead of time and maybe I’ll dress up as a Saint and juggle. But either way, I am going to relax and I will not forget who I am.