They were rich.
I went to his house on weekends so he could teach me options trading. He and his partner were two of the biggest independent options traders in Chicago at the time. They made between $12 and $40 million per year. I wanted to learn from the best and maybe trade for them.
But he wasn’t free. He was drinking a couple years earlier and hit a baby trailer in his Porsche on his way home. The baby died but was revived and survived with a fractured leg and head injury.
His legal probation is over, but his mental probation never will be.
I went to a party.
It was 1998. I was a $30,000 per year trading clerk with gold dreams in my eyes. A big trader owned a 4,000 square foot loft on the near west side of Chicago. It had a basketball court and in the middle was a room made of black plywood. It had a door, and a bouncer, but I was with a well-known girl from the trading floor so we got in.
On the coffee table was a Scarface-sized mound of cocaine. Scantily-dressed models splayed out on two couches. My friend dug in, I declined. Not because I wasn’t curious but because I’d never done it and was afraid I’d embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the uncool kid that embarrassed himself at a rich guy party. I was 20 and it was my first career; I didn’t want to mess it up.
His kids and I were friends in grade school.
He sold his trading company for $200M. He was renowned as being one of the brains in the business. He was once a minimum wage security guard, then a truck driver, before becoming a rich trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. His wife had MS.
I was searching for advice, and he gave counsel. I wanted advice on trading, I wanted advice on life. He was religious and found messages from God in everything around him. I wanted him to bankroll me so I could trade. I wanted him to teach me his secrets. I wanted him to adopt me so I could be rich. But all we talked about were the religious messages from his two books and his wife’s MS. He’d give all his money to take her pain away.
I taught his son to climb and I knew right away he was a trader.
He didn’t understand how I knew he was a trader when I asked him if he was. He was owner of one of the oldest clearing firms at the Chicago Board of Trade. A family man that kept his nose clean and his work ethic strong. We found some common friends like my rich friend who’s wife had MS. He gave me advice. He gave me a book about Jesus. There is a lot of Jesus in the Midwest.
He asked me if I’d found God.
He was once probably the biggest trader at The Merc.
He spent all his money on hookers and cocaine, then crack and maybe heroine. Seven girls lived in his condo at Presidential Towers. Now he was my coworker trading S&P futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He spent all his money and was “getting by” on Jesus and an $80,000 salaried job working for some people whom he’d made a lot of money for in years past. He fell off the wagon a lot and it tended to happen around 17 year old girls.
I’ve met a lot of people. A lot of rich people. A lot of poor people. Addicted people, ego people, humble people, confused people, smart people. A few happy people.
I was climbing one weekend and my older friend Nick, a pilot and a trader at The Merc told me I needed to meet his friend. Chuck seems happy. He became a great friend and taught me an important lesson:
“When faced with the choice of choosing your path, choose the path with heart.”
The path with heart is not the easiest path. Sometimes the path leads to riches and sometimes not. Often times your path is the most difficult. Definitely, your path is unique and no one else can live your path.
Our paths are often defined by the people we come across. It’s the people that truly matter.
Most people do not follow their path, they follow the expected path. This is not necessarily bad. It’s hard to figure out your own path. People will not always understand your path. They’ll say “I’ve never heard of that before” or “that doesn’t sound like it will work”. Sometimes the path is more traditional and clearly understood by many people. This is fine. Some paths will be understood. Other paths will not be understood. You will not understand your own path sometimes. I certainly don’t understand my path sometimes, but if there is a fork, and one direction does not have heart, I know that will not be my path.
Bob Marley says “every man think that his burden is the heaviest” mine definitely feels heaviest some days, but rarely. Especially in the dark when the future isn’t clear. But when I’m feeling heaviest, I ask not “does this path have riches” but “does this path have heart”.
(Bob Marley lived his path with heart)
Ask this of people. Ask this of jobs. Ask this of school and the things we do every day. Ask this of relationships. Having heart doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, it means that we have faith in and trust ourselves the most.
I’ve always followed paths with heart. When I was eighteen I had dreadlocks and a VW bus. I lived in it on weekends, climbing across the country. That path had heart.
When I was sixteen and dropped out of high school to go to college, it was scary, but it had heart.
When I was working as a clerk and learning how to trade, it had heart.
Now, years later, as I’m navigating the waters of new directions, there is more heart than ever.
I hadn’t recognized it until Chuck said it, but I’d always lived a path with heart, and to me it’s the only way.
So I quit my job with the trading firm with the converted ex-addict and went to Spain to win back a girlfriend. I rented a motorcycle and toured Tenerife with her. I borrowed a small J21 racing sailboat and sailed her along the coast. We backpacked across the country. I didn’t win, but I did. Today she is one of my favorite people and a close friend. That path took time to figure out its purpose and there were painful speedbumps along the way.
When I came back from Spain I started trading on my own, in the top-floor apartment my best friend Rich and I rented from his Polish grandmother, the building owner. I strapped a satellite dish to the side of the building, just above the beet, cabbage and tomato garden Baba tended, and fired up the five-screen trading system.
But when you start doing things on your own, people want you more. So two big traders recruited me to help them build trading systems at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. We built an arbitrage system cross-trading foreign equities vs the ADR comparable and offset those with foreign currency hedge transactions. We built another arb system to trade between pit-contracts and the Chicago Board of Trade digital contracts.
We went to the partner’s house.
We grilled tenderloin at his $5 million dollar summer estate designed by a famous architect on the Lake Michigan shore in Indiana before it burned a few years later. We drank a 1980 BV and played golf. They complained about never having worked so hard for so little money and talked about dinners with Chicago film critics. One of the partners was tall, and described as Robert Redford-esque. A rockstar-type Chicago socialite who’s wife was even more prominent on the scene. The other was short, fatter, balding and always angry. We really had nothing in common and my heart wondered what the hell I was doing.
I was 24 and after a long five years trading I decided the heart was gone. My heart was in the mountains and on the coast where I’d always wanted to live, running the pines and surfing the sea. So I left.
I’ve been lucky that my paths have had heart.
Every time. Every single time I have chosen the path without heart, it has not worked. Replacing heart with money or fun or peer pressure, or replacing my heart with someone else’s takes me down the wrong path. It’s much harder to get back on the path with heart than it is to stay on the path with heart, even though it’s difficult.
However, we are not on our paths alone. The thing that defines our paths are the people. Only relative to what other people are doing, does our path become relevant. We are helping them, hearing them, learning from them, ignoring them, competing against them and falling in love with them.
Riches can be in many forms. When we go against our path with heart, we will never find riches. We may find money, but we’ll never be rich. When we go with our path, Ww may be poor, but we’ll never be broke. When you want to really get rich, who is what matters. Who are you with? Do they have heart? Who are you learning from? Who are you avoiding? Who should you step away from? The riches we find when we travel our paths with heart are the riches that everyone wishes they find: happiness.
The people who matter are all of them: the addicts, the rich people, the poor people, the confused people, the models splayed out on couches, the fat mean people, the religious people, the mentors, the critics (by no means does their criticism matter, necessarily) and the happy people. They all matter in some way, as references along our paths, guiding us.
It’s hard when you meet someone to know how or if they will change your direction, but looking back it often becomes obvious what influence they had and what value they bring.
My friend would trade anything to have his wife as she once was. My former coworker would trade his hookers and dealers for a life of normal if he could get over his addiction. My friend would give all his money to get back the day he sideswiped the baby trailer. The riches in life are where our path sits waiting, and travels through the people we meet. It’s the Who that matters.
I try to hold onto those that matter. The ones that bring happiness, courage and authentic commitment to their path. Sometimes holding on is painful, but in the long run it’s really the only thing we have.
So who matters? We all do. And that is why our path is as important as anyone else’s and we must follow our paths when we know they have heart, to the best of our abilities, using each others as references and guides to our path with heart.
As Steve Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than our best is to sacrifice the gift”, and what we have to give is only worth anything if there are those people out there who matter to us. With them, we will be richer than our wildest dreams.