It’s now been 20 weeks since I was fired. The calendar has turned into a new year. There goes the prospect of not showing a year gap on my resume … then again … will it really matter that much anymore?
A candid look back at a shitty year
A year ago, sitting here at the beginning of 2018, things appeared fine. I just came off a decent year at work with seven straight positive months, 10 out of 12 up months in total. My book was finally at a respectable size. I felt like I figured out trading and was actually getting good at it. My weekly meetings with my Director of Research were not great but they were good enough that I wasn’t losing sleep over them anymore. I regained confidence and was generally feeling good. By mid-January, I was already up 60 bps on the year – a good start.
Outside of work, I was buying stuff I didn’t really need. Not foofoo stuff. Just stuff. Our little apartment felt crowded. Besides this, things were good. It was (and still is) fantastic watching my little guy grow each day and become a little person. Despite making less than a full-time Starbucks employee, my wife was happy doing her own thing. She just gained a couple good clients and prospects looked more upbeat.
I was down in Orlando at the building products conference during the third week of January. Getting ready in the morning, CNBC was reporting an unusually pre-market sell-off due to fears around a vague statement by the Chinese around U.S. treasury purchases. It had been sometime since fear was showing in the markets. I felt some anxiety from this. The intuition was correct.
The building show was very bullish. Private companies in the space discussed the best backlogs they had seen in years. Public company management teams were outwardly optimistic — a good sign considering Q4 earnings were just around the corner. Despite my inclination that valuations for my housing coverage companies were heavy, based on the positive feedback from this conference. I stayed long and strong.
The week I got back to NYC, interest rates exploded upward. My housing stocks dropped like lead balloons. As did my book. Concurrent with this icy wind blowing through my space was a sudden push back from management on the portfolio managers to trade less. I felt stuck between a rock and hard place. Either I could completely flip my book over and go short housing and deal with the negative feedback from over-trading or I could slowly reduce my long exposure and hope that this was just another good opportunity to “buy the dip”. I decided the later would be better. It proved a likely bad decision. Not only did I still get warned about over-trading but I experienced a 300 bps drawdown.
To be clear, my contract with the fund specifies that my capital will be cut at a 500 bps drawdown and that I will be cut at 1,000 bps drawdown — no questions asked. Until this point, I never had more than a 175 bps drawdown. ~250 bps was unsettling to say the least. As a mental torture, I lost money most days and almost every single week. I got stuck in a pattern of a big up day then two or three smaller down days. As a trader, this is a very frustrating position to be in.
As the weeks wore on, I felt like a bug stuck in a spiders’ web. The more I struggled, the worse things got. I was slowly sinking towards a 300 bps drawdown. My confidence eroded into panic. I was underutilizing my capital, staying invested at 50% most weeks. I was receiving direct fire from the risk officer, the Director of Research, the co-group head. The more I fucked up, the more miserable I became.
Come summer, I lived in fear of my under performance. I woke up late in the morning full of fear of what was to come. I started getting to work right before the markets opened. I would complain. The cognitive dissonance I mentally avoided for months turned into outward disgust of my job. I still worked pretty hard but I found myself easily distracted. My mind was a mess.
At home, my wife became tired of my complaining. She kept hoping things would just turn around and was impatient when I’d try to explain how bad things had gotten — she just shut it out. Our little guy remained a bright spot. Thank god for the little man.
Then… as you well know if you read anything else I’ve written, come mid-August, my professional life hit a wall. To recap, I began the year with my stock price climbing back towards a recent high. Then in August, it hit an all time low. In just five years, I went from a darling investment to a penny stock.
The date of my termination through year-end could best be described as a whirlwind of emotions broadly categorized into the stages outlined below in the Kubler-Ross model (its amazing how spot-on this is).
Shock — Despite “the writing on the wall”, I did have some initial shock when I got fired. I had thought that I would have until the end of the year. I didn’t breach my parameters and there was still a lot of the year left. Coming home that day, I couldn’t help to wonder how things had nosed dived so hard so quick.
Denial — For the next few weeks, until about labor day, I went through the denial stage. I still felt I had some marketability out there. I thought about all the funds and that I may figure out a way go get into one of them. I thought about all the other options out there … other industries, entrepreneurship, etc. I find solace in thinking about how I had a lot of skills that I could apply to any type of employer. In summary, I still felt pretty high on myself.
Frustration — Come mid-to-late September, the frustration stage began and I recognized that my prospects were not too bright. Exploring different passages through the maze, I was running into a lot of dead ends. An early flurry of interviews turned into quick declines. I had a couple interesting conversations which gave me some hope.
Depression — By mid-October, the depression set in. I was only getting interviews at the worst shit funds nobody wants to work at. Even those interviews went nowhere. People in my network were writing me off. Those who couldn’t write me off were generally disappointed in me. It generally seemed like everything I ever worked for was worthless. I also felt like the distance between me and everyone else was just getting wider and wider. I felt like a real loser. Depression set in. Anger, fear, anxiety, etc. took over. Only hope and appreciation kept me afloat. As for home life, my wife’s zero income for the year (actually a negative cash flow), our lack of benefit coverage, and the constant mess in our apartment despite the continuous cleaning out process really got to both of us. Tensions were flared. They have gotten a bit better but they are still there.
Acceptance — Not in the stages above but also important is the acceptance stage. Eventually I realized that there was no way to bull shit my current predicament. When people asked what happened, I began to cut the story short and just said “I got shit canned and now I’m unemployed”. They’d always ask “what are you going to do next?” I’d just respond, “no idea”. That’s all they want to hear anyway.
At first it bothered me that almost everyone responded to my long “getting let go explanation” with little interest, no surprise and a lack of help. Eventually, I just stopped caring about most of this. Ya, it did bother me at first. However, I just comer to expect it now. I reached a point recently where it was just better to let the floor drop out entirely on other peoples’ expectations for me. I know many think I’m just a loser. I’m actually fine with that. I just don’t care anymore. In many ways, I felt like a phony who is now just glad its exposed and made known. The few people who stick with me through this will be real friends. Its down to just a few now. As we get older, people get tired of excuses. The prevalent idiom is “good people don’t get fired”. I get it. I now just accept that things will be different for me and that’s the way it is. I’ve also learned, its not about the external score card.
The other part of acceptance is from the hard look that the depression stage forces you to give yourself. I now know that my dismissal was due to: (1) my attitude (showing up late, complaining, etc.), (2) my under-performance (seven straight down months), and (3) I was never liked by my bosses. I acknowledge all of these. Now, its up to me to figure out how to fix each one. #3 is the hardest.
Experiment — this is the stage that I am currently in. The project work that I’m currently doing has pulled me out of depression and towards some more positive excitement. I feel more alive and energized.
Where I stand now looking into 2019
Going back to an analogy I made in a previous posting about feeling like I’m floating on a raft ala Pi Patel in Life of Pi … the recent project work that I am doing has felt like another raft has floated up to me full of food and supplies. Unfortunately, I know this is just a temporary situation. Eventually the food and the supplies will run out. At this point, sitting here right now on January 4th, I have no fucking idea what is next. Its likely I go back into the depression stage for awhile. Perhaps I can roll this velocity into something new. That’s my goal right now … keep planning on packaging a goal for what’s next. One thing is clear, I do enjoy working for myself.
Hopefully, a year from now … I revisit this post and smile when thinking about what I didn’t know was coming in front of me.