How A Garbage Man Became Your Broker

(this was not in the truck)

(Cosmo was not in the truck that day)

Raunchy porn magazines littered the dashboard. It smelled like rotting fruit, stale beer and dirty diapers.

“The other driver loves to keep the dirty stuff. He picks it out of people’s trash” he said. “I wouldn’t touch those without gloves on.”

We were 19 sitting in the sweltering cab of a recycling truck in suburban Chicago, in August. The grass was tall in the ditches next to the roads and the humidity held our sweat to our skin beneath our shirts. Something for the stench to cling.

He invited me “On The Route” so I went, now regretful, nose burning.

recycling_truck.jpg

(what goes around comes around)

My friend confessed “it’s a good job but I don’t want to be doing this my whole life. I just can’t go to school. It’s a waste of time. Who are these teachers? They just throw stuff at you. This is real education.”

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

(all the gold, guns and girls. is it ever gonna be enough?)

My friend was the epitome of the James Dean type. Every girl ogled him but he was faithful to his girlfriend, contrarian, reckless but smart (once crashing his Dad’s new Mustang while driving underage, ditching it to avoid the police), questioning authority philosophically, appearing always like he stepped off the pages of a JCrew catalog (the most influential mail order of the time). I was not much like him, but we became best friends. I wanted to start a jazz club in Chicago called “Birdland.” We were obsessed with jazz. We had big plans. Always circling around how we’d leave our mark on the world, not sure how to start. Uncertain when our break would come, chasing.

We’d both dropped out of high school the same year. I tested into college and he went to work driving a recycling truck.

(we wanted to go back in time)

(we wanted to go back in time)

He drove the route every day while I tore through classes, tripling credit hours to graduate early.

But I didn’t have a job plan. I felt like I should. Anxiety was growing.

Sitting in the parlor of the house I shared with 4 girls and another guy, watching ticker symbols stream on CNBC two weeks before graduation, I had a flash: “can someone trade for a living?”

I graduated in December with two interviews at brokerage firms.

“Hey man I’m going downtown Monday to interview. You should come.”

“What are you talking about. I’m not going with you to your job interview.”

“Dude, it’s just an interview. You can introduce yourself and see if they have anything else. Seriously, no big deal. Come with.”

He agreed.

We took an early train from Barrington and met a guy in the office of Eurospread Associates, where some of my cousins un-coincidentally worked. “I didn’t expect two?” he said. We acted dumb and shrugged. He ushered us onto the trading floor. “People are gonna say shit. Just ignore them. Don’t take it personally.”

It was nothing we’d seen before: mass chaos, colored jackets, hands in the air, faces screaming, spitting and sweating. The floor was littered with paper.

Traders & clerks laughed and pointed at us chanting “fresh meat,” flipping trading cards our way like flat paper bullets.

We were overwhelmed by stimulus, captivated. You could feel the money.

“I didn’t know we were hiring two” one broker said.

My friend and I looked at each other “I guess you are” I said.

“Okay, fill out these forms. You can start January 3rd. I’ll put one of you in Yen and the other in the LIBOR pit. You’ll start as runners.” He got Yen, I got LIBOR.

We rolled out of the building laughing, high-fiving. “What just happened?!”

Two weeks later we walked onto the CME floor and started our future.

A year later I was hired at Michael Stoltzner’s Futrex Trading, training with Jeff Goldman (one of the largest EuroOptions traders) on weekends and went on to develop trading systems at Specialists DPM and Edge LLC until I left to pursue my dream on the West Coast.

People will tell you the better path is the path in pursuit of something they can see. The path that looks good on paper and reflects well when you tell your new girlfriend’s parents. They don’t like recycling trucks they like money and power and sophistication and houses in suburbs.

But when you climb the unfamiliar trail in front of you to the top of the first mountain, only then can you find the next mountain beyond.

16 years and witness to suicides, rehabs, parties, stories, more money than God, investigations, lawsuits, lies and fistfights, he’s a successful options broker at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. He didn’t need a college degree to get educated but he had to have the guts to hang on.

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

(this place smells like the cab of a recycling truck on a hot day)

And I’ll tell you the secret they don’t want you to know: it’s not the cab of a recycling truck but it’s still filled with raunchy porn, smells like stale beer, rotting fruit and dirty diapers. There’s just more money and more pixels, and looks better on TV.

Me? I just like to watch.

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Chicago Bears vs Green Bay Packers: The End Of The Rivalry?

(bears v packers 1941)

(bears v packers 1941)

I may end up like Salman Rushdie after the people of Illinois and Wisconsin read this.

Companies will ban me. My family will quit speaking to me.

My hometown city – the Greater Chicagoland Area – may have me killed.

But, after much study, this is what I believe:

The Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers should give up their rivalry. Everyone in Illinois and Wisconsin should become fans of both teams.

That includes you.

If you’re not from Illinois or Wisconsin you probably won’t understand.

So stop reading.

If you are from WIIL , I know you hate me now.

So read on:

(no longer brewed in Milwaukee, Wis)

(I’m sorry, hipsters)

The Wisconsin/Illinois relationship is like North and South Korea with some waterskiing, beer and bratwurst thrown in. We live with each other because we are forced. Otherwise, we’d build a wall right on the border and guard it with large-diameter guns, allowing only a chosen few to come and go. Probably Johnsonville brat trucks and maybe some Sargento cheese deliveries (if you didn’t know this, Pabst Blue Ribbon is now brewed in Illinois and will be moving to Los Angeles).

(in the midwest, this is your life)

(in the midwest, this is your life)

In the Midwest you grow up on football. It’s not a decision, it’s a rite of passage – whether you like it or not.

You grow up learning that your team is the best.

Midwesterners live and die by these allegiances.

I haven’t lived in Chicago for 11 years but if you ask me, the Chicago teams are still my teams. You know what I mean if you live there.

But I’ve learned some things. I was very close to football growing up.

And my belief in the Green Bay Packers started when I was introduced to them in 4th grade.

(this is the guy that started me down the wrong path)

(this is the guy)

I had to write a book report. I wanted to be cool. I chose a football book: “Bart Starr: A Biography” by Gene Schoor. At the time I knew nothing about the Packers except everyone in Illinois hated them. I’m sure the book was planted in my Northern Illinois school as propaganda.

It was a legendary tale of Coach Lombardi and QB Bart Starr. But  I was struck by the humanity. The story of Starr’s brother’s death from tetanus and how it affected him. The story of his rise from an unremarkable college football career to a leading NFL QB, MVP and ultimately head coach of the Packers career. The story of this tiny nowhere town and it’s host to an NFL powerhouse team. It explained how the Packers rose into a hugely successful NFL competitor and why the people of Wisconsin care so much. It’s a legacy and I get it. I dig the story.

In Chicago more recently This story about Derrick Rose got it right and explains the allegiance and the feeling behind Chicago sports teams. And the humanity of its players. It’s truth in the highest conviction.

So I did the report and I realized those huge guys on TV, and Bart Starr in the book, were people. Players had stories unfolding on the gridiron when the game was passion and everything off the field was kept private.

The Packers-Bears rivalry is one of the longest in the league, trumped only by the Packers-Lions rivalry in length  (and only by a few games), but trumped by none other in belief and fan dedication. Until now, passion pulled fans in polarized opposite directions.

It started in 1921 when the Packers Joined the NFL and the Bears moved from Decatur (where they were known as the Staleys), playing each other in their first game (Bears won 20-0). The rivalry began then and grew more furious.

In 1924 a fight broke out at a game. Punches were thrown between Frank Henry and Tillie Voss. People were ejected. The first players ever ejected from an NFL game. Fans have diverged ever since.

But the Packers are the only team in the league never to have left the city where they started (not counting expansion teams), and they never will. The GBP are owned by the public and they’re profitable. They’re stuck in Green Bay until the end of time.

This is the first reason for my love of the Green Bay Packers: They’ve always been in Green Bay, and they always will be in Green Bay.

And this is the first reason why you should start warming up to them if you haven’t already. The Bears, though I love them, are just another team. They could leave Chicago tomorrow if they had a buyer.

Imagine that: THE BEARS COULD LEAVE CHICAGO.

(imagine if the bears left chicago)

(the bears could leave chicago)

And this is the first reason why I’ve expanded my allegiance to both teams. I am prepared for imminent departure. But why would the Bears leave?

The Veeck Convention.

The Veeck convention is an IRS rule allowing team owners to depreciate the purchase price of a sports team over 15 years.

Basically, the Veeck convention creates a tax shelter and a loss where there really is none. Many, if not most teams, make cash but can be shown to lose money under the Veeck Convention.

The Veeck convention is a primary reason for ownership turnover and the elephant noone talks about when sports teams change hands (oh, you thought it coincidence Jay-Z is selling his stake in the NJ Nets? It’s the end of his tax shelter: $1M/8 years = $125K/year in tax writeoffs).

It’s more complex than that, but we’re talking Packers-Bears here not franchise accounting and finance…the point is ownership turnover is more likely than people realize for reasons that have nothing to do with history or tradition.

The Veeck Convention is an incentive for an owner to sell and a new owner to buy, though the transfer might include a move to a new city. Could it happen in Chicago? Yes (but please don’t, Virginia).

Now that I have your attention, there’s more.

The Packers play in Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI, population 105,809 as of 2011. Not only are they the only franchise to remain in the original town, Green Bay is the smallest town of any NFL franchise.****

The average city population of an NFL franchise is 1.3M (not including surrounding suburban populations), making Green Bay 1/13th of the average NFL franchise city size, yet they are ranked 12th in franchise value of $1.2B (Almost exactly at the average NFL franchise value)**, just below 8th ranked Chicago at $1.3B.

Comparatively, the population:value ratio between the Packers and Bears is 111.81 vs 4.63. The Packers are 24.17 times more valuable per person than the Chicago Bears.

You let me down, Chicago!

Adding insult to injury, Lambeau holds 80,750, Soldier 61,500.

But Lambeau has sold out every game since 1960 with a backlog of over 81,000 names on the waiting list. The Bears have sold out every game since 1984, but the stadium capacity:population ratio is only 2.27% for Chicago. It’s 76.32% for Lambeau.

Holy Cow, Harey Carey.

I call this my fanatic rating.**** The Packers draw from a smaller population but have a higher overall % attendance rate, trumping the Bears by 33.62X!

And you know what? I get it. I’ve been to a few games in Lambeau Field. Lambeau is in a neighborhood, easy to access if you live nearby and has the energy of a college game. Even the cheerleaders are collegiate.

(lambeau is a great stadium)

(lambeau field)

Soldier, though iconic, is hard to get to with a car, expensive and has a commercial feeling.

Then again. Lambeau is hard to attend if you live far, it’s frigid in the winter and you usually have to drive a hundred miles or more to get home when the game is over. No Capital Grill for cocktails after a Packers game – you’ve got a long drive ahead.

But the Packers are reliable.

The Packers are a great story you can invest your hard earned money in because they’ll never leave you in the middle of the night (Colts, Bears?).

But Green Bay doesn’t have The Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks. They aren’t in one of the world’s best cities. They don’t have public transportation, they’re ranked 14/32 in team loyalty vs Chicago’s 7th place rank* and they don’t have the Winning Record (Chicago leads Green Bay 92-88-6) in the rivalry.

Take that Wisconsin.

I love the Bears and have memories of watching every game with my family eating popcorn in front of the fireplace while the wind whistled outside. But now I’ll always love the Packers, too.

The Packers may not be the coolest team, or have the coolest jerseys. But they have the best story in the league. It only takes one game in Lambeau Field to understand what I mean. You can’t help but feel the energy.

If you don’t feel the ghosts, the history, the passion and the meaning of real football  in Lambeau Field, you’re not a real football fan.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe it’s true the Packers, despite all of that, are still a terrible team with ugly uniforms and the second worst name in the NFL.

But I don’t think it is and I don’t think I am.

Because numbers don’t lie.

So there’s room in your heart for both teams. I know there is.

Join me on the Dark Side and share the love.

End the rivalry.

*Emory University 2013
**Forbes 2013
***Under the 2004 tax revisions allow 100% of the purchase price to be depreciated over 15 years. If a team was purchased for $1.165B, annual depreciation allowance is $77.7M which would save approximately $27.2M at a 35% annual tax rate or $408 million dollars over 15 years.
****Link to dropbox download of the spreadsheet I built for the information in this article: https://www.dropbox.com/l/0OcctgtTHayvClPWCaUSU9 (contains all franchise value and key performance indicators by team, calculations are solely my own)

(thanks to Gary Treangen for comments on improving this post)

Hero #32

(he was famous to us)

(he was famous to us)

He was number 32.

We scanned the screen of every game to catch him in action. He wasn’t a top player, but he was captain of special teams and put his all onto the field.

He is my cousin and he is a hero to me.

I just sat next to him at my Aunt Joanne’s dinner table trying to match him plate-for-plate but never could, eating myself sick instead. Now he was there on TV playing pro football just a week or two later.

(he was #23 on the steelers)

(he was #23 on the steelers)

I learned that I wasn’t very good at football but I’d play at recess anyway. He was my inspiration, so I’d try hard.

I earned school cred having the only family member in the NFL, which kept me from getting picked on a couple days a year.

My cousin Tim’s message to me was always the same: “Oh man, Kev, you can do anything you put your mind to”. I worked hard to live up to his example.

Twenty-five years later his message is the same. He always pushed us to do our best. He’s still an inspiration though the NFL days are memories. Great, amazing memories he uses as a platform to inspire next generations of kids everywhere.

Anyone who met Tim was captivated by his charm, his good looks, and his midwestern friendliness. A constant source of positivity, I kept the Game Day magazines, newspaper clippings, signed balls and pennants from his career, and my belief in his message carries me forward now.

For a young kid from the sticks, he showed me and my friends that anything was possible. He lived the dream.

He wasn’t my Dad, or my Grandpa or my older brother, but he made as much of a difference in my life. He didn’t have the stats of a Walter Payton or an Eric Dickerson, but he was and still is a hero to me.

Timothy Gerard Tyrrell
#32 Atlanta Falcons 1984-1986
#32 Los Angeles Rams 1986-1988
#23 Pittsburgh Steelers 1989
#1 Hero

Thanks Timmy, it’s true: you really can do anything.

The Phone Was Dead – 5 Things I Learned From September 11, 2001

20130911-180110.jpg
(we saw this outside our office window)

We pulled up the blinds of our office window on the 23rd floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange building as an FA18 fighter jet burned past.

All air traffic was halted. The Chicago skyline was silent except for the jets loaded with live missiles and the haze wallowing over the South Side.

We could see the pilot’s head through the cockpit canopy.

An hour earlier we arrived for work. I had moved from trading on the floor of the exchange to our office. We had the news on all day, starting at 5am.

CNN showed smoke pouring out of a hole in the tower.

The second plane hit.

We’ve all seen this 1,000, perhaps 10,000 times.

But it was different for me.

On the floor of the CBOE our pit was responsible for making markets – offering retailers and street traders prices so they could buy and sell options with us.*

Several times each day we were on the phone with traders and brokers working from the towers in New York.

20130911-175910.jpg
(they where there on Monday, then they were gone)

We talked to Cantor Fitz every day.

They were mostly professional conversations, but during slow times there was small talk. How’s your wife? Where’s your daughter going to college? Dirty jokes were shared. Pranks were played. “We have to get drinks when you come to New York” they said.

The drinks were never gotten.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone I saw jumping from the towers on TV were the guys on the phone.

But when we saw the fighter jet blast by, a switch flipped and I knew it wasn’t an accident.

I left.

The El** in Chicago was packed with people and the one guy with a portable jogging radio (pre-twitter and smartphone) relayed the reports to our train car while everyone else was silent.

“Oh my god the second tower fell”

“The Pentagon is still burning”

“There may be other explosions”

People were crying. Cell phones weren’t working.

We were trapped in the train car alone with each other. Strangers were hugging. It’s the only time in life that I’ve been with a group of complete strangers and we looked each other in the eyes with pure empathy. Everyone cared.

It was 15 minutes on the Brown Line to Armitage in Lincoln Park, it may as well have been 15 hours.

My best friend Rich, his friend Brad and I went to Mongolian Barbecue and drank beer.

We talked about the people we knew in NY, and what was important to us.

Some of the guys in NY were lucky – missed a train, got a late breakfast, had the flu – and lived.

But we were alive, too.

I was 23 and had been trading almost 4 years. I felt old. I was stressed out all the time. I was driving up to 10 hours on weekends to get away from concrete and corn field.

I was afraid. I wasn’t happy, but uncertainty seemed scarier.

I also realized I wasn’t in control. A bomb could go off, a plane could crash, a train could derail, a zillion other things could kill me that day. I’m surprised more people don’t die by all the things that could kill us.

I told the firm partners I was moving to Oregon where there were mountains, rivers and oceans. Changing my life took me 10,000 strides closer to happiness.

I realized 5 things on September 11, 2001 but took 10 years to understand:

1. We all care – Everyone cares but we don’t extend empathy to strangers very often because we’re all fighting our daily battles. Extending empathy to a stranger once every day makes me realize there are bigger things at play than me.

2. My world is made up and I’m in control – Everything in my world is a result of my own mind and my own decisions; fear can be fought with ideas and ingenuity. Ask “how can I do this” and write down ideas. This will empower you and build your own reality the way you want it to be. Everything is an experiment.

3. I’m not in control – We can’t control others, so any day could be your last. I try to make sure the people I love know I love them, and I try not to kill anyone.

4. Happiness is a choice – Losing things can make you realize what you had and what you have left over. When I feel poor or constricted I count the bounty: there are hundreds of millions of cars on the road, food in every market and every little diner across the country. Thousands of new businesses started every day. Count the bounty.

5. Have faith – Believe in something. Believing is the first step to finding purpose in life.

At the end of the day we tend to think we’re here alone, but then something horrific happens and we realize we’re here together.

But we’re alive and we can pass the torch of those in the past by being better than we were yesterday.

To my friends and acquaintances and the families of Cantor Fitz, my thoughts are with you.

20130911-180258.jpg
(thanks to Mr. Lutnick, Cantor Fitz has thrived since 2001)

* We made the market for UAL – United Airlines – and 10 other underlying stocks.
** The El is Chicago’s subway system. It’s short for Elevated Rail.

What To Do When Your Father Is Murdered

(chicago in 1928 was the site of war between capone and moran)

(chicago in 1928 was the site of a bloody liquor war between capone and moran)

My grandmother begged him to carry a gun but he refused.

My grandfather sat outside in the car. My great uncle Frank went into their store to check on business.

It was warm and humid just before 11:00pm, July 13, 1928 on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

A car pulled up from behind. Two men got out. The driver stayed in. The car tailed them from the Union meeting earlier that night.

They approached grandpa’s car, one on each side.

Guns were pointed into open windows.

Frank and grandpa together owned shops in Chicago. Whisky was delivered from Canada to Saugatuck and run into Chicago where it was marketed in their windows as “Ice Cream”. The shops sold a lot of Ice Cream.

(it said "ice cream" but everyone knew it wasn't)

(it said “ice cream” but everyone knew what it was)

At 33 my grandpa was a business owner, and considered running for a position in the Union, a powerful influence in The City. Many thought he was not yet powerful enough. Some thought he could be too powerful if he won.

He was 5’6″ and people said he was “handy with his dukes.”

A couple kids tried robbing one of his stores once. They did not see him behind them as they backed out, guns drawn. He grabbed their necks and cracked their heads together, knocking the bastards out. When they came-to he told them not to mess with his stores. If he heard about them doing it again, he wouldn’t be so nice.

It may have been petty theft, but the mob was shaking down every speakeasy in the city for their cut. “Robbery” was another term for the mob tax. The kids were collectors, but grandpa still believed in people. He let them go.

He believed anything was possible with enough work and enough courage. The fighting Irish attitude. He was a family man with 3 kids and a young, beautiful wife. He may have sold whisky, but he didn’t drink. He was building power. He had everything to live for. But that made him a target and a victim of 1920s Chicago, likely Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang.

(i believe bugs moran ordered the hit on my grandfather because he wouldn't pay the mob tax)

(i believe bugs moran had grandpa killed for not paying the mob tax)

The men fired more than once. A shotgun and a revolver.

Blood sprayed the car interior and soaked the seat.

They fled.

Frank ran out of the store. Without stopping he pushed grandpa off of the steering wheel and across the bench seat, jammed the car into drive and sped to the hospital.

There was little hope, but when you’re Irish and Catholic you live on hope and prayer. Uncle Frank drove and prayed. I’m sure he swore, too.

Only a miracle could save him.

But there were no miracles, just bullets and blood and the heat escaping the sewers, pavement, bricks of the buildings, and the body of my grandfather.

Newspapers across the country carried the story. The young Irishman from Chicago was dead.

As a child, I was always embarrassed of our father. He was older than the other dads. His hair was beaming white and he spoke loud, laughed louder and everyone thought he was our grandfather. He was twenty years older than our mother.

I grew into appreciating him and learning his important lessons.

He taught us to shoot guns, field dress game, chainsaw trees, fix cars, sail The Great Lakes in a squall and have proper manners at dinner. When we reached a certain age he brought out relics of his past and shared stories. The stories helped us understand history, our family, and him.

His stories usually involved Cahill, Murphy or County Mayo.

He was a child of the depression. We knew he grew up without a father. He joined the United States Navy and served in World War II underage. The Navy prepared him for his life ahead and a confrontation with his anger and loss. He had an Irish temper.

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

In 1945, my father approached grandpa’s best friend.

“Can you tell me everything you know about my father’s death?”

“What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been to war and I’m a heck of a good shot. I want to get even with the men who killed him.”

The Friend leaned back in his chair and did not blink for a moment.

“I have to go to the safe deposit box. Can you come back tomorrow at the same time?”

The friend was of some judicial power in Chicago and knew things, had connections.

Dad went back the next day and The Friend had an envelope.

The envelope was old. It had my father’s name on it.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come to me, Joe.”

Inside were newspaper clippings from 1928.

One article was about grandpa’s death.

Another was about two bodies found with coins in their hands, dumped in an abandoned neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

The Friend said “Joe, you don’t have to worry about something like that. Your father had many friends.”

The Friend told him they knew who’d done it. The friends staked out the wake of another hoodlum and picked the two up as they left.

It was the same two grandpa let go.

My father felt anger and relief. Relief that it was handled. Anger for many reasons. It’s hard to let go when you live with hurt.

He would have to live without a father. He would have to pave his own way. He would have to build a new direction: life after death.

(the illinois institute of technology is cutting edge)

(the illinois institute of technology, chicago)

He went to the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering, going on to a long career as an engineer.

He flew millions of miles in prop planes in the ’50s and ’60s, doing business throughout North and South America and Europe. He built components that helped launch astronauts into space and other things like pitot tubes that measure aircraft speed on every airplane.

He invented products for the ceramic wire industry and founded Equipment Sales Company, still operating today.

He bought a sailboat from an old family friend named Bill Morgan who claimed to have been a deckhand on a pirate vessel in the Caribbean in the early 1900s. Dad learned to sail from Bill and eventually met our mother while sailing.

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca (a whole other story entirely))

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca)

He is the father of 7.

He’s an 87 year old bladder cancer survivor.

Get him going and he’ll tell you Irish stories, sing Irish songs or embarrass you with crass jokes that makes NSFW* look like a rated G movie.

He acts like a man 30 years younger and is a wonderful grandfather.

He’s a lover of people who can’t resist a Guinness or a sip of Irish Holy Water.

(irish holy water)

(irish holy water)

So what do you do when your father is murdered and you have to live as a fatherless child, Irishman, older brother, husband, father, WWII veteran, engineer, inventor, cancer survivor and grandfather?

You let it go.

You live.

(grandpa joe, 2013, living every day)

(dad, grandpa, 87 in 2013, living every day)

*nsfw = refers to any image, language or otherwise that is “Not Safe For Work”
(credit to Erin Voss, Sean Faul, and our Dad Joe Faul for helping me wade through all the information and get this story to be accurate. there are a lot of details missing, but we’ll save that for the book)

Who Matters When You Want to Get Rich

(these people are all rich and famous, but do they matter?)

(these people are all rich and famous, but do they matter?)

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.

(my first career was in this trading pit at the chicago mercantile exchange)

(my first career was in this trading pit at the chicago mercantile exchange)

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.

(tony montana may have been at this party)

(tony montana may have been at this party)

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.”

(ask yourself: does this path have heart?)

(always 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.

(my idea of the perfect place)

(my idea of the perfect place)

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.

(this is how it feels when I don't follow the path with heart)

(if you don’t follow the path with heart, this might happen)

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.

(my family are those who matter most to me)

(my family are the ones who matter the most to me)