"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance."
For 18 years now I've written about my personal journey on the day before Thanksgiving on RealMoney. I do it for two reasons. First, I find it important to be grateful for the many blessings in life. Even when things look bleak, focusing on the positives leads to a better life than negativity and pessimism.
Second, I hope that my story helps to provide some hope to those dealing with difficult circumstances. We all go through challenges and positives at various times. Like the stock market, life is cyclical as well. Periods of struggle and difficulty are inevitable but so are the periods of progress and joy. The key is to maintain the right mindset.
I never dreamed that going totally deaf and losing everything would turn out to have such a positive impact on my life. I could have easily wallowed in self-pity for the rest of my life, but staying positive and hopeful eventual lead to a better life than imagined.
I grew up as the oldest of eight siblings in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. From the time I was a child, I planned on being a lawyer and I eventually earned business and law degrees from the University of Michigan, and became a CPA before starting a law practice.
I worked hard, made some money and the future looked bright. Then I went deaf.
I don't mean 'speak a little louder' deaf. I mean totally and completely 'you have to write me a note' deaf. My mother was hard of hearing and I had minor hearing loss as a child but due to some genetic quirk my remaining hearing disappeared over the course of about six months I tried hearing aids but they require some residual hearing for amplification to work. I studied lip reading but it isn't nearly as easy as identifying profanity during sports events.
There isn't much demand for lawyers that can't communicate, no matter how competent they might be. I was forced to give up my law practice, lost everything I owned and was basically dead broke. Luckily I had a disability policy from the State Bar of Michigan and the Social Security Administration deemed me incapable of performing any meaningful job so I had enough income to pay my rent and put some food on the table.
My already shaky marriage had ended and I was alone, depressed and had no clue what I was going to do. I couldn't qualify for even a menial job as there was no way for me to converse. The worst thing about deafness is social isolation. You can't have casual conversations or normal human contact. Struggling to hear when you can't is tiring and depressing.
One day while visiting my sister, I discovered a personal computer my brother-in-law had just bought. It looked like a fun toy but it eventually changed my life. New services called Prodigy and CompuServe allowed me to converse without the necessity of hearing a voice.
Eventually, I stumbled across stock market message boards and I was intrigued by the very active trading that the participants were engaged in. I had some minor experience with stocks but these discussions were nothing like the investing I learned about in business school. Aren't we supposed to use modern portfolio theory, study financial statements and calculate valuations based on discounted cash flows? Apparently not. These folks were gunslingers. They didn't even know the actual name of some of the stocks they traded but the savvy traders seemed to make money regardless.
I had a very small amount of money saved that I couldn't afford to lose, but I opened an account with a local broker and started trading a little. It was a disaster. I was burned in some ridiculous small-cap "story" stocks. When I tried conservative big-caps they barely moved. Buy-and-hold was a great idea if I could wait 20 years but I wanted to try to produce some immediate income.
I flailed about for a while but eventually I started to focus more on understanding emotions and psychology. It dawned on me that the main thing that drove stocks wasn't their inherent characteristics but the emotions of the people that bought and sold them.
The best way to understand the emotions that were driving stocks was to study charts and focus on price action What moved a stock in the short term had almost nothing to do with the things I had learned from my finance professor. In fact, he informed us that trading was a useless endeavor due to the efficient market theory. I quickly learned how wrong he was.
Twenty plus years later I'm still learning about trading. It is a never ending process and there is still excitement when gaining new insights. It remains just as challenging and invigorating as it did back in the 1990s
It was still hard for me to trade because I couldn't talk on the phone and had to physically visit my broker to place orders, but when online brokers started to appear, I could trade more aggressively. I still recall the first time I bought and sold a stock within the same day. That was quite a victory when dealing with 15-minute quote delays and 28.8 baud modems.
I loved what I was doing. Trading gave me something to do other than dwell on my inability to function in a normal work environment. Plus, I made surprisingly good money. My account not only grew but it multiplied. My fear of losing money forced me to keep grinding away day after day and not allow losses to build.
I greatly enjoyed looking for new stock picks and sharing them on message boards. I had many battles with the dogmatic founders of Motley Fool, who kept insisting that trading was a waste of time, but they couldn't dispute my success. They even set up an active traders' message board on AOL to keep my heresy contained. In the late 1990s, this was the home of many great individual traders who were doing extremely well in an environment that favored a momentum and trend-following approach.
One of the more controversial stocks back then was Iomega. The Motley Fool promoted a buy-and-hold approach to it while Herb Greenberg presciently predicted its doom. I actively traded it, up and down, with great success and did battle with both sides. I insulted Herb constantly over his bearish views, but he is such a pro that he just smiled and even invited me to set up the "Shark Investing" site in conjunction with his "Business Insider" message board on AOL.
Shark Investing was the home of the first real online chat room for traders. Folks would wait for hours each morning to get one of the limited spots. It was an idyllic time for traders as the market climbed higher in the late 1990s and into 2000. I was making more money than I had ever dreamed possible. On the day in early 2000 when I wrote the biggest check I've ever written in order to pay my taxes, the internet bubble burst. Many traders gave back years of profits. Luckily, my fear of never finding a job again served me well and I protected my capital and held on to the bulk of my gains.
My site eventually moved to the Web, where my chat room still operates with many of the original members at SharkInvesting.com. Shortly after 9/11, I talked with Jim Cramer and was surprised to learn that he had followed my message board back in the AOL days. He offered me the opportunity to write for Real Money and I've been here ever since.
Trading had transformed my financial life but my personal life took a very positive turn. While visiting my parent's condominium in Florida I met a smart attractive woman. I was extremely self-conscious about being unable to hear but we developed our own form of sign language to communicate. My children, Isabella, Jimmy and Sam are the loves of my life.
Luckily I am no longer totally deaf. New technology has made it possible for me to hear again through a device called a cochlear implant. While my hearing is not perfect, I can now carry on a normal conversation and listen to my children play the piano.
The lesson of my story is that if I hadn't lost my hearing and everything I owned, I would never have been as happy as I am now. I never dreamed that anything positive would come from such a devastating event.
In the year ahead I hope to write a second book. Many things about trading and the market have changed since I wrote "Invest Like a Shark: How a Deaf Guy with No Job and Limited Capital Made a Fortune Investing in the Stock Market"' back in 2007. I still believe that someone that works hard can have tremendous financial success as an active trader.
I hope that sharing my story will give hope to others who are facing problems and obstacles. Everyone experiences hardships and obstacles but I'm convinced that if you can stay positive and find things in life that you enjoy, it has a miraculous way of working out. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Have a great Thanksgiving.