The Obstacle Is The Way

The Obstacle Is The Way

The Obstacle Is The Way

As I write this, my city has gone into yet another lockdown.

No one is allowed outside for anything other than essential purposes.

Most people are frustrated by this at best, or devastated at worst, depending on their circumstances.

But for me, I just see this as an opportunity.

As traders we need to become comfortable with obstacles.

There is never going to be a time in our trading when we do not face adversity, uncertainty or in some cases, downright failure.

This is because we’re human – and all human beings face adversity, uncertainty and failure in their lives.

But it’s also because we chose to pursue a competitive craft where the majority of contenders fail.

It has always been my contention that most traders don’t fail because trading is too difficult for them to conquer – but rather, they fail because they lack patience or drive, and they give up on themselves before attaining success.

This is the natural selection process for traders.

We can’t all make money at trading due to the zero-sum nature of the financial markets.

So how are those who want to be successful separated by those who actually attain success?

Through trial by fire.

Trial By Fire

A few years ago I read Ryan Holiday’s now-infamous book of inspiration called “The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph”.

In the book Ryan reflects on the various ideas and concepts put forth by the ancient Greek stoics and philosophers who advocated courage in the face of inevitable pain, suffering and adversity.

Rather than avoiding or disliking difficulty, they encouraged embracing difficulty.

To quote the official description of the book:

“Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher.”

The Obstacle Is The Way

Or as the ancient and wise Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once put it:

“Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius

In most crafts, careers and pursuits of high-pressure high-performance endeavors, intelligence, talents and luck play only a minor role in the achievement of long-term success.

Far more important than the random chance of fate and genetics is one’s personal disposition towards challenges.

It’s not enough to simply have the required intelligence or talents to achieve great things.

There are countless people in the world who posses immense intelligence and talent at all kinds of crafts and skills.

What differentiates them from those who achieve greatness is not their intellect or talent, but their response towards inevitable adversity and failures in the pursuit of greatness.

Traders who wish to succeed at this game do not require high intelligence or natural-born talent. Those things will help, but they do not guarantee success alone.

A real trader needs to be courageous; they need to be determined, and they need to be persistent to a fault.

Courage is not the lack of fear.

Courage is acting despite the fear.

And just because one has courage to act in spite of fear doesn’t mean they’ll succeed by that merit alone – they also need to have a passionate determination to succeed, and the persistence required to form the habits needed to get there.

What Does This All Mean For Traders?

Basically, the point I’m making today is that there is no such thing as obstacles for traders.

Obstacles are really only opportunities that we haven’t worked out how to navigate yet.

There hasn’t been a single setback or obstacle in my journey as a trader that didn’t end up benefitting me in some way once I overcame it.

Every setback I’ve ever had, every mistake I’ve ever made, every failure I’ve ever experienced has paved the way to every break-through I’ve had, every good habit I’ve formed, and every success I’ve experienced.

Or as Thomas Edison eliquoently put it after failing to invent the lightbulb over ten thousand times:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

During this period of lockdown, I’m not seeing it as an obstacle.

All it means is I’m stuck at home for a week or two and can’t see any of my friends or go out to any restaurants or bars. That by itself is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing – it just is what it is.

I can either use this time to binge Netflix and deplete some of the whisky on my shelf, or I can use it to backtest new strategy ideas, reflect on my trading, and build towards future success by working without distraction.

I’m not gonna lie – I’m probably going to do a bit of both.

But my point is that situations like COVID lockdowns aren’t necessarily obstacles to your happiness or especially to your success.

If you find yourself stuck at home or your freedoms limited in some way, see that as an opportunity to study, reflect on yourself, meditate, or simply chill out and take a breather from all the chaos in life.

As the late great writer Hunter S. Thompson once said when faced with the possibility of going to jail for his drug-fueled rampage in Las Vegas:

“Many fine books have been written in prison.”

Hunter S. Thompson (Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas)

This is the stoic attitude in its full glory, and it has served many great people well.

Reflect On Your Obstacles

If you’re experiencing obstacles or failures in your trading, don’t let them stop you from progressing and moving forward.

It’s true that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So I’m not saying that if what you’re doing isn’t working, you should continue doing it.

But I am saying that there is no trader or high-performance competitor in history who has ever achieved anything of note who didn’t frequently experience obstacles and setbacks and failures in their journey to success.

The list of strategies I’ve developed which turned out to be unprofitable and which I “wasted” hundreds of hours testing and analyzing were in fact not wastes after all – because they guided my processes towards ideas and approaches that do work.

I wouldn’t have found the handful of strategies and approaches to trading that work for me if I hadn’t experienced the dozens of attempts before them which failed miserably.

It wasn’t intelligence or talent or luck that turned me from a consistently terrible trader who blew three accounts in a row into a trader who got my shit together and found consistent profitability.

It was courage in the face of constant failure and humiliation, it was determination and passion to find something that worked, and it was the persistence to try, try and try again whenever something failed.

…And a whole lot of backtesting.

Hopefully all this COVID madness will be over soon as the vaccines roll out.

But in the meantime – those of you who use this time to continue bettering yourself, to study new skills, to put your head down and work while the rest of the world stops in their tracks and waits for the government to send them back to their 9-5: the world truly is your oyster.

Those who turn these obstacles into opportunities are going to inherit the value and the success that was forfeited by those who chose to stagnate during this period.

(And by the way, one of the best ways to use your down-time in lockdowns is to sign up to Skillshare. It’s an extremely cheap platform with hundreds if not thousands of courses covering every topic under the sun – and the first two weeks are free. Whenever I’m thrown into lockdown, it’s the first place I go.)

The past 2 years have been the most productive and profitable of my entire life, and I have no doubt that part of that is due to COVID.

This period of time has been tough for many people, and there have been plenty of times over the past year that have been rough for me and my family – including my sister who was stuck in Canada due to all the cancelled flights and only managed to get back to Australia a few weeks ago.

But it doesn’t need to be a setback if you don’t allow it to be.

If I had been able to see my friends and go out to bars and parties and I had been surrounded by the many distractions of a “normal” lifestyle over the past year, I doubt I’d be as far along in my journey as a trader and entrepreneur as I am now. So for me, 2020 was a huge breakthrough year in terms of my career.

Yet I hear from so many people that 2020 was the worst year of their life.

And it’s because they did not use the ancient alchemy taught by some of the wisest people to have ever lived.

They did not turn the obstacle into the way.

Good luck with your trading, good luck with the COVID situation, and good luck pursuing your own success.

And if you haven’t read Ryan Holiday’s book yet – you really need to.

Take care.

– Matt.

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