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Bulkowski's Trading Through a Midlife Crisis

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Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners.

This article discusses how to trade through a midlife crisis.


In The Beginning...

It's unclear when I had my midlife crises, but I think it started when I was about 30. That means I'll be dead in less than a decade and I've so much left to do. Anyway, I started asking the existential questions: "Why am I here?" and "Is this all that there is?" I thought that the answer to the first question was, "to make a difference," and I think I've done that through my work.

The second question, "Is this all that there is?" sounds like one born from boredom. If you're excited about your work, you're not thinking about the future. When you get bored, or you retire, you have the time to ponder your fate and your position in history.

Some interpret a midlife crisis as one that often occurs when you're about 50. That's when you have enough money to buy the boy toys you couldn't afford when you were younger. Your body begins to break down, but your mind still says "You're young! You can run a marathon! You can fall off a bicycle with only a bruise!" Reality in the form of blisters, broken bones, and other human wreckage suggests your mind should listen more to your body. You want to remain young and you act that way, but each day carries you further away from youth, like a stream carrying a twig away from its birthplace.


A picture of two ducks.

The Problem

Basket Case Bob struggled through the early years of trading, making mistake after mistake, just as everyone does. He bet everything he owned on one trade, a trade he knew was a sure thing.

He blew out his account, and swore never to make that mistake again. But he was young and youth is forgiving.

Years later, after he had recovered from his devastating loss, he bet the farm on one trade. Living up to his name, Basket Case Bob, he lost again.

When he turned fifty, he once more felt compelled to risk everything on one trade, but refrained from doing so. The trade turned into a huge winner. He shook his head sadly and says, "I knew I should have bet everything."

With the responsibilities of a wife and child, he outgrew his risky behavior. Money started piling up like dust on my silk plants. The family began to enjoy a life with money: fancy cars, a house so large you could land planes in the living room, a yacht waiting down at the boat club, unused.

And each day that he walked into his home office, he felt uneasy, as if the challenge of trading he once enjoyed had evaporated. He wasn't burned out, but something was missing.


What happens when you get good at trading and every new setup feels just like the last one?


Not all people are hunters or have that killer instinct. They are builders. A relative of mine buys a house, lives in it for a few years, and then sells it, replacing it with a new home. She's not playing the real estate game, it's just that she can't seem to stay put in one place for long. For her, the challenge of life is to build, and she buys homes to satisfy that desire. (I've heard that rearranging the furniture helps throttle the desire. So if your significant other wants to move and you don't, try the furniture gambit and see if you can buy yourself six months. Then do it again).


I am happiest when I am working on some kind of construction project. Often it takes the shape of a new flower bed, or setting stone pavers, or something like that. At other times, my interest moves to my computer. I add a new feature to my software program that makes my life easier when updating and maintaining this website. Or perhaps it's new research. Whatever it is, I feel this desire to accomplish something, each day. It's a drive that keeps me happy. I'm miserable when I'm bored.

You may find joy in construction projects around your home, such as remodeling the bathroom or finishing off that basement. Perhaps you built a shed in the back yard that you now call your "Trading Capitol."

What happens when the shed is built and you've accomplished all that you wanted to?


A picture of a praying mantis.

Explorers and Money Mercenaries

If you are not a hunter or a builder, perhaps you are an explorer. You get a thrill from discovering how the markets work. What happens when you feel as if you have learned all the secrets, as if each day trading is just a variation of yesterday?

Some have a quest to make oodles of money. They are what I call money mercenaries and it's one reason I don't charge anyone for access to this site. I dislike people that are out just to make a buck, regardless of the consequences.

Back in college, though, I didn't feel this way. I remember the professor saying that he wanted all of his students to have lunch with him in the coming weeks, and he started with one group of four. He asked them, "What do you want out of life?" Almost in unison, they replied with one word. "Money." Then they turned the tables on the teacher. "What do you want?" they asked. He said, "World peace."

The students scoffed at his answer. Why? Because they didn't have money. The professor could dream about world peace (or as one joke goes, "Think whirled peas") because he had made enough money to satisfy his needs and didn't have loans to repay.

I made the transition at 36 when I got tired of being laid off. I looked at my savings and calculated that if I kept spending to a minimum, I could make my savings last until I was 65. So I stopped working and I haven't regretted it...until the insurance bills come (health, auto, home, you name it). Those blood suckers. I spend more on insurance than on anything else, except taxes, that is. I hate taxes, too, but I digress.

A mercenary reminds me of the world's best hunter in the sequel to Jurassic Park. His "fun" was to shoot animals until it stopped being fun. What did he do then? He got the hell off the island, that's what.


What Now?

If you have enough food to eat, have built your house, explored your domain, and made enough money, what then do you do? If trading ceases being fun or challenging, what's next?

You could ride a bicycle until you fall off it like I did, twice, breaking both collar bones, a bunch of ribs, and poking a hole in your lung for good measure.

Try these suggestions.

  1. Mentor people. I recently received an email from a trader asking to visit me to watch me trade. He is not the first to ask, but it shows the need for experienced traders to help others. It's like teaching a class. It forces you to bone up on the subject because you don't know what will be asked.

    What's the first lesson you teach a novice trader? What's most important? How do you teach them "experience?" That is the challenge of mentoring. It will bring the joy back into your trading.

    Tutor unmotivated people because doing so forces you to become motivated.

  2. Become a hunter, builder or explorer. To re-ignite your passion in life, go hunt, build, or explore, perhaps write your memoirs. Your children will love it and it gives you a chance to pass on all of that wisdom: "When I was your age, I used to walk barefoot to school. It was uphill and against the wind, both ways!" Teaching others about yourself will make you feel good about what you've accomplished and will help you look forward to new chapters yet undiscovered.
  3. A picture of a butterfly.

  4. A new career! This is drastic, no question. It reminds me of the copy editor asking if I really meant changing jobs and not careers in my introduction to one of my books. No, I meant careers. I morphed from a hardware design engineer to a manager to a software engineer to an entrepreneur to a writer and then an author. Now, I'm a pain in the ass.

    A new career could force a lifestyle change (that is, diminished income).

  5. Become an expert. Learn to trade as well as you possibly can. Perhaps you can set a goal, like earning enough money to create a foundation bearing your name. You'll become forever famous and it might do the world some good, too.


I think that once you retire life takes on a new perspective. You yell at the politicians for dipping their hands into your pockets to fund bridges to nowhere. Every bill that arrives feels as if you're being stuck with a pin. Taxes go up, the cost of living goes up and your income drops.

If you retire at 36 like I did, you get to do all of those things and more, like chase cars on your bicycle.

-- Thomas Bulkowski

See Also

Written by and copyright © 2005-2019 by Thomas N. Bulkowski. All rights reserved. Disclaimer: You alone are responsible for your investment decisions. See Privacy/Disclaimer for more information. Some pattern names are the registered trademarks of their respective owners. Due to circumstances beyond your control, you are master of your fate and captain of your soul.