‘Will I ever make it to the next level?’
Many people ask themselves this question at some point. I know I certainly have.
This thought can creep in when a goal seems beyond reach. We think about where we are — then where we want to be — and wonder how we’ll ever get there.
Now, this can apply to anything. It could be trading, business, sport, or education.
The fact is that most successful people start at the bottom. They then work their way to the top, one level at a time.
I often get emails from people starting out in the markets. Two things usually stand out: basic knowledge, and a modest capital base.
Many of these people worry about the enormity of the task. They wonder if they’ll ever be successful. It must be like standing at the base of Everest and looking up.
I remember my first day in the Bankers Trust dealing room. I was 21 years old and straight out of university. The idea of climbing the trading ranks was beyond overwhelming.
But it can be done. Every successful share trader has a modest beginning, be it a part-time speculator or a New York hedge fund manager.
A chance discovery
Random events can have a lasting impact on your life. I was listening to ABC Radio a few years back. I’d tuned in by chance during a trip to the shops.
There was a talk show in progress. The guest was former Test cricketer Justin Langer. He was talking about his cricketing career — it was a tale of contrasts.
The first half of his career regularly saw him in and out of the team. He was continually falling short of the selectors’ expectations. His career was often on a knife’s edge.
But the second half was radically different. Justin’s star was soaring. He went on to become one of the most successful opening batsmen of all time.
So, how did he do it?
The centrepiece of Justin’s story is a book — a gift from a teammate while on tour. Justin says this was a key event in his career. It began a whole new way of thinking.
The book became a constant companion. Justin said he would keep it on his bedside table. Each night he would read one of its short chapters…just a few pages.
I guess you’re wondering what the book’s name is. Well, it’s unusual. You probably won’t read about it anywhere else this weekend.
The name is Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hyams. It was written back in 1979.
So what do martial arts have to do with cricket…or trading, for that matter?
Well, Zen in the Martial Arts isn’t about drills and technique. The focus is more on life and philosophy — creating a positive from a negative.
I always pay attention when a high achiever gives away a ‘secret’. You never know where it will lead.
So, I went online when I got home to look for the book. Sure enough, it was there. Amazon had it in stock for a bargain basement $12.95. The biggest expense was shipping!
Zen in the Martial Arts is outstanding. Its 135 pages contain some real gems. Some of the chapter titles include: ‘Conquer Haste’, ‘Active Inactivity’, and ‘Lengthen Your Line’.
I bought Zen in the Martial Arts in 2009. It’s still clear in my mind eight years later. I often find myself teaching my kids a lesson from the book.
Even masters have masters
I’m going to tell you about one of the chapters. I often reflect on this section. I believe it’s the single most important part of the book.
The chapter’s name is ‘Even the Masters Have Masters’. It describes the process of getting good at something. This helps me put my own ability into perspective.
The author — Joe Hyams — describes his experience in the martial arts. He talks about ability as a never-ending staircase with frequent landings, or plateaus.
The rising stairs are easy to imagine. These represent the growth in a person’s skills. But we don’t always move upwards. The landings mark the periods when our progress stalls.
Hyams’ greatest frustration was being stuck on landings. These were discouraging times. He says that no matter how hard he would try, he wouldn’t get any better.
I know how this feels — I’m sure you do too.
I’ve had many plateaus in my career…periods when I wasn’t improving. And yes, those times were frustrating. I’d often wonder if I’d ever get to the next level.
But life is often how we frame it. The right perspective can make all the difference.
Hyams recalls his mentor’s way of dealing with the plateaus. When discouraged, he would go to watch the beginners train. This would remind him how far he had already come.
He would then watch the black belts. This would then inspire him, by seeing how much better he could be.
Eventually, he was a black belt himself. But that wasn’t the top. His master was higher, and his master’s master was higher still. The potential to improve was endless.
I often think of the infinitely-rising staircase. A landing is no longer frustrating. It’s now an opportunity to take stock…a chance to see an ever-increasing number of landings below.
Try it yourself. You’ll probably find your progress is already an inspiration to others.
Until next week,
Editor, Quant Trader
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