Imagine I strapped you into the driver’s seat of a Formula 1 car. The engine’s running, the crowd’s roaring, and you’re in the front row of the starting line.
Millions of dollars are on the line. You’re surrounded by the world’s best drivers. And your only experience racing is from a go-kart track.
Safe to say, you’d be a little nervous. You don’t have the experience you need to succeed at such a high level.
The same goes for trading… You have to work your way up before you can hang with the world’s best traders.
But you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – do it alone…
Let’s revisit the same scenario from above. Same car, same crowd, same stakes.
Except this time, you’re wearing a headset with Michael Schumacher on the other end, one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers ever. He’s giving you turn-by-turn advice for each curve on the track.
You’d feel a little more comfortable with such an experienced mentor helping you…
Becoming a trader is like with anything in life. If you want to be really good at it, you have to start somewhere. You won’t have 30-plus years of experience from the jump.
And if you want an edge, there’s no better place to start than by learning from someone who’s already paved the way. That way, you don’t go at it alone.
The Key Thing a Mentor Provides
A good mentor provides, first and foremost, a methodology to follow.
Most traders struggle because they have no real methodology. They take positions willy-nilly, with no real concern for position sizing or an exit strategy. It’s a make-money mentality… but with no firm plan.
To be a successful trader, you have to be able to deal with the finality of a loss on the downside… and know when to take profits on the upside.
Taking a loss is one of the hardest things to do in trading. But, when you take that loss, you’ve now locked it in, and you have to make it back. If you don’t believe you can make that money back, you’ll never get out of a losing trade.
That’s a crucial piece of discipline that’s extremely difficult to just figure out on your own.
Having a mentor to show you how to execute trades – when to get in, when to get out, and how to control your emotions – will help you develop the ability to take a loss and move on.
I’ve had a few mentors throughout my career. But one sticks out… because he saved my career.
How I Found My Mentor
When I started out on the trading floor, it was common that most floor traders didn’t go to college. They just learned everything on the floor. So, while I went to college, my colleagues had the advantage of four years on the floor over me. I was blind coming in. I had no idea what was going on.
But over time, I became drawn to the traders who were outliers… The one or two guys who were really good. They were able to consistently grow their positive P&L (profit and loss) and put on larger position sizes.
One of those guys was Larry LoVecchio. I worked under him at the firm Spear, Leeds & Kellogg.
He was the best mentor I ever had, and a lot of it was due to his wisdom and age. I was just 27 or so at the time, and he was in his mid-30s.
He taught me the discipline that I never had. I’d watch him and be in awe of not just his performance, but how calm, measured, and unemotional he was…
Meanwhile, I was like a wild stallion that was out of control. I had the “it” factor, aggressiveness, and the will to win… but I didn’t understand how to make it all work together.
LoVecchio was really aggressive, but also incredibly disciplined. He knew when to take risks and how big of a risk to take. He didn’t overleverage his trades, and he never let his emotions get ahead of him.
That’s why I say he saved my career. Before I met LoVecchio, I was just throwing all of my money into one trade, swinging for the fences… and usually missing.
It’s not easy to bounce back, time after time, after you’ve lost it all. And in my early days, I lost it all, multiple times.
I might’ve wound up quitting, had LoVecchio not pulled me under his wing.
The critical thing he taught me was the importance of position sizing. Where other traders would throw too much money into trades, hold on to losers too long, freak out over their massive losses, and stagnate… I learned to cut my losses early. After booking some wins, I could size up to bigger and bigger levels more comfortably.
My advice for any new trader is to be eager to grow. That’s the key to trading. I didn’t start out doing 50–70 trades per day like I do now. I started out with just one trade per day. My position sizes were extremely small, meaning I put a very small percentage of my overall capital into each trade.
Then, I started improving. I started accumulating one small win after another and started adding more trades each day and sizing up my positions.
But I had to watch someone else do it to learn that. I had no other experience to draw from.
I say all this to show you something important: You don’t have to go at it alone when you’re learning to trade. Find someone whose performance you find impressive… whose ideas you agree with… And find a way to learn from them.
Editor, The Opportunistic Trader
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