One of the greatest trading books ever written is Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.
The original book was published in 1923, but in 2010, an Annotated Edition was produced by Jon Markman. This edition reveals the truth about Jesse Livermore and provides colorful, historically accurate commentary on the characters, places, and events that have made Reminiscences such an enjoyable and educational read for generations.
The foreward to the Annotated Edition is written by legendary trader Paul Tudor Jones. At the end of the book, Jones answers a few questions about his relationship with the book and its themes. Here is one of the insightful questions that was asked to Jones. I found a profound meaning in his response. I hope you discover it as well.
Question: Part of the appeal of the book is Livermore’s journey of self-discovery as a person and as a trader. Have you had the same experience as a trader and portfolio manager, or was your path easier or harder?
Paul Tudor Jones: Probably the best lessons to be learned from this book come from his repeated failures and how he dealt with them. In the book I think he lost his entire fortune four or five times. I did the same thing but was fortunate enough to do it all in my early twenties on very small stakes of capital. I think I lost $10,000 when I was 22, and when I was 25 I lost about $50,000, which was all I had to my name. It felt like a fortune at the time. It was then that my father flew up from Memphis and sat me down in my New York City apartment and began lecturing me as lawyers do. He commanded, “Leave the gambling den behind. Come home and get a real job in a safe profession like real estate.” Of course, I did not, and the rest is history. And real estate these past few years has been about as safe as shooting craps to pay the rent, so I was twice blessed. If I’d have taken my father’s advice, I might have lost all of my money again these past few years in my fifties.
Anyway, I think it’s no coincidence that our greatest champions, our greatest artists, our greatest leaders, our greatest everything all seem to have experienced some kind of gut-wrenching loss. I think their greatness, in part, was fashioned on the crucible of that defeat. Two years before Lincoln was elected as maybe our finest president, he lost that monumental Senate race to Stephen Douglas. To a certain extent, I think that holds true in my field as well, and I am leery of traders who have never lost it all. I think that intense feeling of desperation that accompanies such a horrifically deflating experience indelibly cauterizes great risk management reflexes into a trader’s very being.
There are two unpleasant experiences that every trader will face in his lifetime at least once and most likely multiple times. First, there will come a day after a devastatingly brutal and agonizing stretch of losing trades that you’ll wonder if you will ever make a winning trade again. And second, there will come a point when you begin to ask yourself why it is you make money and if this is truly sustainable. That first experience tests an individual’s grit; does he have the stamina, courage, guts, and smarts to get up and engage the battle again? That second moment of enlightenment is the one that is actually scarier because it acknowledges a certain lack of control over anything. I think I was almost 38 years old when one day, in a moment of frightening enlightenment, I knew that I really did not know exactly how and why I had made all the money that I had over the prior 17 years. This threw my confidence for a jolt. It sent me down a path of self-discovery that today is still a work in progress.