Failure is hot these days. All the cool kids are talking about it. From the clubs in Hollywood to the uptown Manhattan cocktail soirees, nobody wants to hear about your success, they only want to hear about your failure.
Let’s face it, failure is the new black.
And why not; everybody fails from time to time. Talking about our defeats lets others know we are human too and promotes interpersonal empathy.
Back in 2009, everyone’s favorite Market Wizard Paul Tudor Jones gave a commencement address to the 9th grade graduating class of The Buckley School on the topic of failure. The title was appropriately enough “Perfect Failure.” Here’s an except…
The next time the dragon of failure reared his ugly head was
in 1978. I was working in New Orleans for one of the greatest
cotton traders of all time, Eli Tullis. Now, New Orleans is an
unbelievable city. It has the Strawberry Festival, the Jazz Festival,
the Sugar Bowl, Mardi Gras, and just about every other excuse for
a party that you can ever imagine. Heck, in that town, waking up
was an excuse to party.
I was still pretty fresh out of college, and
my mentality, unfortunately, was still firmly set on fraternity row.
It was a Friday morning in June, and I had been out literally all
night with a bunch of my friends. My job was to man the phone all
day during trading hours and call cotton prices quotes from New
York into Mr. Tullis’ office. Around noon, things got quiet on the
New York floor, and I got overly drowsy. The next thing I
remember was a ruler prying my chin off my chest, and Mr. Tullis
calling to me, “Paul. Paul.” My eyes fluttered opened and as I
came to my senses, he said to me, “Son, you are fired.” I’d never
been so shocked or hurt in my life. I literally thought I was going
to die for I had just been sacked by an iconic figure in my business.
My shame turned into anger. I was not angry at Mr. Tullis for
he was right. I was angry at myself. But I knew I was not a
failure, and I swore that I was going to prove to myself that I could
be a success. I called a friend and secured a job on the floor of the
New York Cotton Exchange and moved to the City. Today, I will
put my work ethic up against anybody’s on Wall Street. Failure
will give you a tattoo that will stay with you your whole life, and
sometimes it’s a really good thing. One other side note, to this
day, I’ve never told my parents that I got fired. I told them I just
wanted to try something different. Shame can be a lifetime
companion for which you better prepare yourself.
Personally, I think the speech drones on at times and I would have gone with a sexier title like “I Was A Failure Then But I’m A Billionaire Now Bitches,” but hey, that’s just how I roll.
The key point in Tudor Jones’ speech and why it’s relevant now, is that it highlights something that many of those currently hoping on the “failure trend” don’t quite get. Failure in and of itself is not cool. It’s not a badge of honor you pull out with pride at the local watering hole or backyard barbecue. Failure as an “end” is for losers.
It’s the “getting up” that shows courage. It’s the lessons from the mistakes that have value. It’s the “never giving up” that merits honor. And it’s converting the sting of failure into the sweet smell of success that’s really, REALLY cool.
Trading is a tough game and you will get the crap kicked out of you more than your fair share of times. And you will fail, oh boy will you fail.
You will fail small, and you will fail big. Very big. Brian Dunkleman big.
And that’s okay. It’s not your failures, but how you get up from them, how you learn from them, and how you never let them make you quit that will determine your success as a trader.