Lessons From An Ex-Trader


“We are consumers. We’re the by-products of a lifestyle obsession.”

Tyler Durden


Recently on a cab ride back home, I chatted with the cab driver, asking him about traffic conditions on the route out of the business district. 

The conversation delved into work, the current economic conditions and the crowded clusterf*** of a city in Singapore… and before long, he spontaneously shared about his previous occupation as a stock trader.

He described vividly about his days as a trader, including a stint at Barings Bank where he met the infamous Nick Leeson (whose rogue trades eventually caused the collapse of the oldest English bank). He also went into great detail about his previous career as a stock trader, earning shitloads of money and blowing them on luxury items like properties, cards and brands like Hugo Boss etc.

After he was retrenched, he continued trading on his own and during the economic downturn in 2008/2009, he lost millions of dollars overnight. His stop-loss order wasn’t triggered and presumably, he traded on margin. 

He was screwed. Royally screwed. It was FUBAR.

Compelled to liquidate his assets including landed properties and luxury cars etc., he eventually moved into a humble 3-room flat. Subsequently, he was depressed and whatnot. Contemplated ending his life but pulled himself together for his daughters and wife…  and here we are today.

Today, he lives frugally and will have to manage his day’s earnings carefully so his children will have money to buy their school textbooks. 

Whether he was exaggerating or BS-ing or really being truthful, it didn’t quite matter to me. After all, we have all heard of someone who got rich and became broke (or even bankrupt) and like a Phoenix, rose from the ashes to pull his life back together.

I didn’t care about the veracity of his story. But I could certainly care about some lessons that could be taken away from this story.


Our Earning Power Isn’t Always Guaranteed

Even someone like him who was once raking in 10-16 months of bonuses in a year, even ended up broke when he unexpectedly not only stopped earning boatloads of cash, but suffered tremendous losses. 

Our incomes can and will likely rise multiple-folds from the time we graduate till we reach our 40s, which is typically the peak of most people’s careers. However, it can lure some of us into thinking that the income streams will always be there no matter what. And we spend and spend without thinking twice. 

Keep some money aside and don’t draw from that well. You may truly need it one day and it will hurt to know that it was previously wasted on chasing the latest fashion or gadget trends. 


Resist The Constant Need To Upgrade Our Lifestyles

During his glorious trading days, the ex-trader and his like-minded competitive peers consistently splurged their money on stuff. As they earned more, they spent more.

As our incomes rise, there is often an implicit desire to aspire towards the next stage or level in lifestyles. Bigger house, swankier car, more exquisite Swiss timepieces, the latest tech gadgets and whatnot. Throw in a couple of friends who are ‘show-offs’, we yearn to keep up with them.

And it’s all a facade – trying to show that we are richer than we really truly are.


Most Importantly, it’s About The Quality Of Our Relationships

The cab driver mentioned that though he was a lot poorer right now, he got by pretty alright and is rather contented. The key reason? His relationships with his wife and kids are good.

Even though the finer luxuries in life now are beyond his grasp, he learnt to live happily with a lot lesser than what he used to think was essential to happiness.

Fight Club’s Tyler Durden said this aptly: We buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.


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