Trading mistake #3: Forgetting you’re the hero of your story

Today’s trading advice is: see your failures as chapters in a larger story of success. Good traders see their work as part of a meaningful life and a higher purpose. You can’t trade confidently if you live in self-doubt and anxiety.

The original Mr. Top Step

The original Mr. Top Step

The thing is, planning for the success itself is easy. It’s pleasant to look forward to prosperity, respect, advancement. What’s hard is accepting, and even planning for, the setbacks and failures that are inevitably part of a well-lived life. If success is the opposite of failure, then is the key to success avoiding failure? How do you avoid failure?

The answer: set very low expectations for yourself. For example, last night I set the goal of eating dinner and watching TV by myself. Despite the challenges, I achieved my goal. Singlehandedly. If I fill my weekly schedule with similar items, by Friday I’ll have checked off a long list of mundane and pointless tasks and feel ever-so accomplished and successful.

I could design a whole life in which my ladder to success is more of a gentle slope dotted with easy milestones: have job most of the time, live in enclosed structure with indoor plumbing, enjoy relationship with not entirely repulsive significant other who is firmly resigned to the fact that I’m the best she can get.

Above all, ask yourself, am I the hero of my own life story?

Not the stuff of great novels, but entirely within my grasp. If this vision of a modest, easily-achieved, not entirely objectionable life doesn’t fire your imagination, ask yourself why. Why do we seek a life of challenge? Why flirt with risk? Why do we get inspired by quotes like the one from Helen Keller, who said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”?

Is it ego? Do we all have an inner Napoleon (or an inner Madonna) who craves conquest and fame? Or is it more positive? Is our ambition something good, not only for ourselves but for the world?

The stories we tell for inspiration are never stories of self-doubt and settling for what is practical. The great stories are of heroes daring the impossible, or possibly impossible, enduring hardship and humiliation, growing and adapting with creativity and humor, but never, never giving up. Those are the stories we cherish. I urge you to think about what sort of story you are living. Above all, ask yourself, am I the hero of my own life story?

I believe we all have a right to see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. Not the victim of circumstance, not a comic side character, not a villain waiting to be exposed, but the hero. When you think that way, you can remember that in every hero story, there are parts where the hero struggles: Cinderella sitting among the ashes, humiliated, alone, her true worth unrecognized.

And you need that part of the story to be there. If the story went: Cinderella was popular, rich, and never had any problems, and then she met a prince and lived happily ever after—well, nobody wants to watch that movie! You might want to live it. But then again, deep down, no you wouldn’t. It’s the struggle that makes the success mean something. It’s the essential part of the story.

When a friend of mine was going through a severe illness, I shared this idea with her, and asked her to write the story of her life, but with her as the hero, not the victim. I wanted her to see that if you only look at the chapter in which the awful stuff is happening, you might see it as just an ugly, sad story of a victim suffering. She was living that chapter then, and you can imagine she felt like a victim. She felt like a failure. She asked “Why me?” as anyone would. But writing is wonderful therapy, and this time she rewrote her story, so that the horrible chapter she was going through—her body failing her, her husband leaving her, etc.—was part of a larger whole—a story of which she was the hero and, indeed, the author, or perhaps co-author.

I knew something interesting was happening when she asked if she could make the story a fable. I said sure. Then she said, and I quote, “Can I be a fairy princess?”

Now, she was a high-powered executive, who lives in suits and leads a large organization. When I read her story, it was funny and touching, but nearly half of it was very detailed descriptions of what she, as a fairy princess, would be wearing. I said, “This is mostly costume changes! What about the important stuff?”

To which she replied, “What I’m wearing is the important stuff!”

But there was also a plot, and though the events were the same, it had gone from the story of a victim suffering, to that of a hero struggling. That is the key difference.

As I said, every great story has setbacks, heartaches, periods of great suffering. We put up with them because we know that at the end of the tale, those dark chapters lead to the eventual successes and without them, the hero’s successes wouldn’t mean anything.

When you are facing one of the dark chapters—in life or in trading—remember that you have the choice, to see that episode as one of a victim suffering meaninglessly, or a hero struggling meaningfully and creatively in the midst of a noble quest.

I hope you can see why this relates to trading and investing. Lots of people can teach you how to do it (and a number of them are at But only you can teach yourself why you must do it. Only you can decide that you are the hero of your own story and trading well is part of your quest.

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