A Thanksgiving Story

 | Nov 21, 2012 | 1:30 PM EST
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A little more than 11 years ago I sat down at my Gateway computer and transmitted a short column to the editors at Real Money via my 28.8 baud modem. Since then, I estimate that I have written nearly 5 million words for the site.

Hopefully, a few of my musings have been helpful to readers over the years. But I thought it was a good time to say how thankful I am that I have had the privilege of your time and attention. It is gratifying to know that you deem my thoughts worthy of consideration. My goal is to do the best job possible to help you make money.

Every year since I started at Real Money I've written a column on the day before Thanksgiving about how I came to be in the trading business. I believe it is very important to realize and appreciate how lucky I have been and how much I have to be thankful for. I share my story not only to count my blessings, but to point out to those who may be struggling with difficulties of their own that life has a surprising way of working out if you persevere.

I grew up the oldest of eight children in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. I earned law and business degrees from the University of Michigan and had worked for two of what were then known as, Big Eight accounting firms and had become a CPA. I was struggling to build a tax and corporate law practice in Ann Arbor and was doing fairly well until I rapidly became totally and completely deaf.

There was a history of hearing loss on my mother's side of the family and I had struggled with it a little as a child, but it was more a source of embarrassment and inconvenience than anything else. Suddenly it started to become much more of a problem. At first, my ability to talk on the phone was impaired. Then my ability to even hold a face-to-face conversation was compromised. Within a few months I had to resort to handwritten notes if someone wanted to communicate with me.

There isn't much demand for deaf lawyers, especially those who have had no clue how to adapt to this obstacle. I was left with no choice but to give up my law practice. I lost virtually everything I owned and even my already-shaky marriage came to an end.

The worst part of all this was that that I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. I couldn't even obtain a menial job because of my inability to communicate. Fortunately I had a disability insurance policy that was sufficient to pay my rent and put food on the table, but the future looked extremely bleak and I was terribly depressed and demoralized.

The worse thing about deafness is that it is so isolating. You can't go hang out and talk with people or chat on the phone if you are lonely. You are basically cut off from the world and the usual emotional support that helps people through tough times just doesn't exist.  

One day, while was visiting my sister and her husband, I started playing on their new computer and stumbled across a new service called Prodigy. I was intrigued to see a variety of online conversations about many topics and, best of all, I didn't need to hear in order to participate. 

I convinced them to loan me their computer for a while and I was soon very actively involved in the online chatter. Eventually I came across the stock market message boards and was intrigued by the discussions that quite different than the portfolio theory that I had been taught in business school. These folks were ignoring the convention approach and many used charts and momentum strategy. Some of these stocks moved extremely fast and, if nothing else, it looked like fun.

I had a very small amount of money in an IRA, so I opened a brokerage account at Olde Discount Brokers and started dabbling a little bit. I had very mixed success at first and was burned by some penny stocks and even a Chinese fraud. Also, I had to drive to the broker and give him orders in person since I couldn't use a phone, which limited my flexibility a bit.

Eventually I came to realize that trading was primarily an exercise in psychology rather than finance. The way to make money was to understand the emotions that were at work and most of the time they had little to do with the fundamentals. I focused more and more on charts and thought of the market as a giant chess game. With the advent of online brokers I was able to become more active and aggressive.

I not only enjoyed the challenge of trading, but the online community was a source of great support and provided me with some real friendship. I eventually migrated to American Online where I tormented the Motley Fools and their buy-and-hold philosophy. In an attempt to contain my constant attacks, they created a message board for active traders, which soon became a busy hub for the growing crowd of individual traders. We had great success with our active approach and even hedge fund managers like Jim Cramer would read the board for new ideas.

It was a great time in the online world and it was possible to make some huge profits trading things like Iomega and some of the stocks benefiting from the early boom in the Internet. My small stake had started to grow quickly and soon it had multiplied a number of times. Not only was I making far more money than I had made practicing law, but I loved what I was doing.

Eventually I hooked up with Herb Greenberg, who I had a number of intense debates with, and started the Shark Attack short-term trading site on AOL.  We had the first real chat room for active traders and people would wait hours just to grab one of the few available sites. After a few years I moved to the Web where I still operate SharkInvesting.com. One thing I'm particularly proud of is that we still have some of the same members that started with us more than 15 years ago.

Shortly after 9/11 I asked Jim Cramer if he would allow me the privilege of writing a few comments from Real Money. He welcomed with open arms and I've been here almost every day since then.

The great irony is that if I hadn't lost my hearing and almost everything I owned I would have never found the success and the satisfaction that I have enjoyed. In retrospect, losing my hearing was one of the best things that ever happened to me. What is even more ironic is that through cochlear implant surgery I have been able to regain my hearing to a great degree. It isn't perfect, but I can hear my children's voices and carry on ordinary conversations now.

It is difficult for me to recall now how desperate and lost I was when I went deaf. I believed there was absolutely no solution to my problems and never dreamed that I could accomplish anything meaningful. Luckily, I was wrong and if it can happen to me then it can happen to you. Everyone has challenges and setbacks in life, but if you keep a positive mental attitude I am confident you will be surprised at how things will work out.

Have a great Thanksgiving.

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