Why Should You Become A Trader…
…When “Trading Adds No Value To This World”?
I received a question from a reader a few months ago that read something like this:
“A friend of mine once told me it’s not a good idea to become a professional trader because trading does not produce any value for this world. A trader only competes with other traders. What are your thoughts?”
Talk about an existential question!
Today I’m going to share my thoughts on this matter, but keep in mind that I fully recognize that this is a deeply personal dilemma.
Everyone is going to have a different opinion on this subject, and to be honest, I don’t believe there is a “right” or “wrong” answer.
The “right” answer is whatever feels right to you.
But also to be straight-up with you – I think this is a perfectly reasonable objection to make against trading, perhaps the most reasonable of them all, and I can sympathize and relate to where this reader’s friend is coming from.
It’s a large part of the reason why I started my blog and YouTube channel. Staring at charts all day to make money wasn’t very fulfilling, and so I sought out other ways to make my work feel fulfilling.
And so I’d like to explore this subject in detail in today’s writing.
The 4 Objections To Trading
When I first began trading I heard all manner of objections from people I knew and respected (in addition to random trolls on the internet) who said all kinds of things, such as:
You shouldn’t become a trader because…
- It’s risky
- It’s gambling
- It’s too difficult
- It’s manipulated
- Algos run the game
- You need a “real” job
- Wall Street run the game
- Brokers hunt your stop losses
- Technical analysis doesn’t work
- You need a thorough education in economics
Most of these objections come from one of three places: general ignorance about how trading works, concern from loved-ones for your financial well-being, or fear of being overshadowed by your success if you manage to make it work (aka. jealousy or “tall poppy syndrome“).
Those are the three main sources of objections to trading. They all come from emotional or logical motivators. But the fourth is very different – and comes from a philosophical motivation.
It’s very rare that someone will object to trading out of a spiritual or philosophical bent, although perhaps this is more common in spiritually-minded cultures.
Overcoming These Objections
The usual objections are fairly easy to overcome.
If someone is ignorant about trading or thinks it’s risky and akin to gambling, speaking from personal experience, there’s not much you can do about that and you’re better off just not speaking to that person about trading if you can avoid it.
It takes months of education to earn a firm grasp on the foundational concepts of trading. Explaining to someone what edge is or the mathematics behind consistently profitable trading will put most people to sleep or cause their eyes to glaze over.
I’ve personally witnessed this happen so many times in my own conversations with strangers and even some friends and family members that I’ve stopped mentioning to people that I’m a trader unless they bring it up first. It makes life a lot less frustrating.
These days if someone asks what I do for a living, instead of telling them I’m a forex trader and spending ten minutes trying (and usually failing) to explain what that means in terms they’ll understand – sometimes I’ll just tell them I’m a professional gambler or that I rob banks.
That always leads to a series of more interesting questions!
As for loved ones objecting out of concern for your well-being, that’s a similar challenge. For this one you may need to actually take the time to try to explain to them how trading works in order to ease their anxiety (which is completely justified by the way).
The boneyard of failed traders is massive and ever-growing.
But if you are truly committed to becoming consistently profitable as a trader and you have realistic expectations and a realistic plan to follow in order to get there, including seeking out a mentorship figure who can lead the way, then this objection can typically be easily overcome with a bit of patience.
And when it comes to those who are discouraging and don’t want to see you succeed simply because it will make them look like the lazy under-achievers and sore losers that they are, then you’re better off without those types of narcissistic and unsupportive people in your life anyway – and you should stop telling them what great things you’re aspiring to do.
But when someone objects to you becoming a trader because it “doesn’t add any value to the world” – what can you say?
After all, objectively and theoretically, they’re right. Participating in the financial markets in order to make yourself financial gains really doesn’t directly help anyone else or make the world a better place.
At least, not directly.
Two Kinds Of Traders: Stone Buddhas & Bodhisattvas
There’s a concept in Buddhism which I’m very fond of. It’s called “Bodhisattvas”.
In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is a sentient being who is able to attain enlightenment and liberation from suffering in the physical world, but chooses voluntarily to forego their ticket to eternal bliss and remain behind so that they can assist other suffering beings in their own quest for liberation.
The opposite of a Bodhisattva is the “Stone Buddha” or “Private Buddha” – someone who attains enlightenment and liberation from suffering, but rather than share it with the world, they simply live alone in their own bliss – detached from the world and the suffering of those around them.
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong choice between the private Buddha or the Bodhisattva. Any being who frees themselves from their own suffering has achieved a great and noble thing towards bettering humankind in general.
But I personally think it’s more challenging and virtuous (and therefore more rewarding) to take the path of the Bodhisattva. First you find liberation for yourself, and then you go back to assist the others in their own quest for liberation.
The parallel between Bodhisattvas and traders is that personal enlightenment (and attaining wealth) doesn’t help anyone else. But once you attain personal enlightenment (or financial independence), and you come back to help others in their own journey through life, that’s when you make your value-impact on the world.
It’s the same with trading and investing.
Making money for yourself doesn’t improve the world at all in any measurable way. Simply trading the financial markets (or doing any other kind of repetitive task that doesn’t improve the lives of others) to make a dime doesn’t help anyone else.
But it’s what you do with the wealth you earn – and the freedom of time and action it affords you – that makes the impactful difference and creates genuine value in the world!
Just like personal enlightenment, spirituality, religion – the real value from that experience, from that attainment, from that accomplishment isn’t the accomplishment itself. It’s what you do with the skill or the energy or the currency that you accumulate throughout that process which creates tangible value.
I like to think of my trading as a form of financial “Bodhisattvaism”. It’s not like that for everyone, and there are many traders out there who would disagree with me (and who would prefer to be “Private Buddhas” in relation to their wealth). And that’s fine – we’re all different, we’re all entitled to our own lifestyles and approach to existence.
But my personal philosophy which motivates me in my work as a trader is not just the financial gain itself and the luxuries which that brings, but also the power which that financial gain grants me.
I can’t help anyone with their financial well-being (or much else for that matter) if I’m not in good financial shape myself. So long as I require charity from others or live from paycheck to paycheck and barely scrape by, I’m in no position to give. And being generous and charitable is something I value highly in my own personal life experience.
The pleasure of giving far outweighs the pleasure of receiving, especially when you can give freely without stress or an unbalanced and unhealthy degree of self-sacrifice.
Trading is one of many vessels to attain financial independence. Through mastering the skill of trading (and investing and other good wealth management practices) it is possible to become a powerful financial force.
How you use that force is up to you – and there’s no reason why you should be expected to be charitable with it. But it certainly gives you the option to be if you so desire.
You can achieve great things with great wealth. And ironically, despite the fact that the act of trading does not add value to the world directly – you can add a tremendous amount of value to the world by leveraging the excess money you gain through your mastery of the financial markets.
Money Is A Tool: A Means To An End, Not The End
There are hundreds if not thousands of professions and careers that generate lots of money without generating much value to the world.
If adding value to the world through our work was the only way we judged success, then we would view success very differently as a society.
And as the original objection stated – “traders only compete with other traders” – well, this applies to all manner of careers and vocations. I don’t understand why people become professional cyclists, but they do it, and some of them get paid a lot of money to do it.
The truth is, how you make money is irrelevant if you’re not victimizing or oppressing anyone. It’s what you do with the wealth you accumulate that truly matters towards your value as a human being.
There’s no reason why your work can’t add value to the world and make you a lot of money. But there’s also no reason why your work must add a lot of value in order to make you a lot of money.
There’s a philosophical book called The Emerald Tablets written by an ancient mythical figure called Thoth the Atlantean which I’ve read dozens of times because I find it fascinating.
There’s a quote in that book that really resonates with me regarding this subject of wealth versus value:
“Riches are a means to an end, not the end–when material needs are supplied the mind should lead into higher realms.”— Thoth
This is in alignment with my personal philosophy about money and wealth.
Money is a tool and an amplifier. It does not do anything in and of itself. It is lifeless, and it is useless – until it is applied creatively by a benevolent mind.
Then it becomes something powerful. It can move mountains – not directly, but by leveraging wealth to motivate others to assist you in the gargantuan endeavor.
I believe this is why there is a large number of traders out there who are extremely dedicated to their craft, but who also highly value self-awareness, self-discipline, humility and charity.
Throughout my travels as a trader and through the running of this website and all that I do under my company name Zen & The Art of Trading, I’ve met some of the kindest and most virtuous human beings in my life.
I’ve even met two buddhist monks who turned to trading not just for the financial rewards, but to test themselves and better understand themselves through the self-mastery that trading requires of you in order to be successful at it.
Money Is In Infinite Supply
Finally, I’d like to conclude this reflection with the observation that money isn’t real.
Any trader worth their salt knows that fiat currencies are printed by central banks out of thin air. And in fact, money is no longer even printed – it’s simply added to a number in a computer.
Money is a social construct designed to make life easier for all of us when it comes to trading goods and services and keeping track of debts. Just like “inches” or “litres” – it’s not tangible. It’s symbolic.
You can’t eat money, you can’t enjoy money, you can’t do anything with money besides leverage it to attain things.
What things you pursue with your money is your business. And that’s true of all professions, whether you’re a trader providing no value to the world, or a doctor saving several lives per day.
And there’s plenty of money to go around.
If you were to personally take $100 million U.S. dollars out of circulation every year, you would only be impacting 0.000001% of the total money supply that passes through businesses and individual’s hands each year around the globe.
Yes, that’s five zeroes after the decimal place.
$100 million ÷ $87 Trillion GDP = 0.000001149425287356322%— Total World GDP
So who cares how you make your money, and who cares how much of it you make?
It’s what you do with the time and the tools at your disposal – money or otherwise – which determines your value as a human being… not your job.
And that’s a great thing, because there are a lot of shitty jobs out there far worse than trading.
Great article. That question is one i have struggled with many times and still do.
I am a monk turned trader and I thought I was the only one…everything you have written here is every thought I have ever had.
That’s amazing Alexandra! I am very surprised by how many spiritual seekers find their way into trading. I guess money and trading is a multiplier – if you’re already a greedy or selfish person, it will make you more greedy and selfish – and if you’re already a person who seeks wisdom and insight into themselves, trading just adds another fantastic way to explore yourself. Take care and best of luck with your journey my friend!