Having a family and a career in the markets is tough. They say it is a young person’s game. In many ways it is, but with proper thought, planning, openness with your life partner, scheduling and the right routine, it’s a career that can last as long as you want it to. I recently tied the knot and had a baby and I find it is difficult to get the balance right between family time and career time, which in a normal job is tough, but when you are in a 24hr market type career, even that is much trickier. So for all you newly weds or dads and moms, the following advice is for you…or for all you soon to be married or soon to be dads and moms.
Talk to the Missus/Mr.
First off, you need to sit down with your spouse and describe the career and help them understand the demands of the career. Talk about your schedule, the off limit times, the flexible times both on a daily basis but also about specific dates: opens, figures, closes, NFP, quarter end, etc. the busy times when you have to be in the office. You may have a preference for always being in the office on a certain day, and other days that are more flexible. Talk this out so your spouse understands the demands of the job and knows when to rely on you and when they can’t. Get it all out in the open.
One of the best parts of this career is that you do have a lot of flexibility. If you need to be out of the office, and you are flat, then you can be out. Its not something you want to do on a regular basis because it will erode your market touch, vibe, sync, but if your spouse, baby or kid needs you, just take the time off and enjoy the quality time.
Don’t be too flexible.
Be aware of the double edged sword of the career’s flexibility. Taking off a day here or there is ok, but if it gets built into your schedule you really risk erosion of your market observations, being in touch with the market and that will hurt your results. Do not over estimate your ability to be away from the screens and still be able to trade the same when you come back to them. Somebody who sits in front of the screens all day, is in sync with the market and always has the advantage over somebody who pops in and out. So with the career flexibility comes some real responsibility to not abuse that flexibility, otherwise your edge and career can erode quickly. It takes real work to maintain your edge. Don’t take it for granted.
Balance is key.
Get the right balance between market time and family time. Think about a schedule that works for you and your family that gives you optimum screen time and optimum family time. It’s a hard balance to get right without one or the other or both family/market ability taking a hit. So think about it carefully. You’ll know when one or the other is suffering and you’ll need to put time into one or the other. Sometimes you will need to spend more time with family. Sometimes you will need to spend more time on the job. It’s a balancing act that you will need to work on. If its Fall of 2008, “family take a back seat,” its market money making time. Kids, kiss your dad or mom good bye because its money making time and they need to “make the doughnuts.” But if it’s Columbus day or St. Patrick’s day, the markets will be dead and it’s easy to get away. If your kids or spouse are ill, take care of family business. Work on the balance.
You may hear this a lot from us, but for good reason. This is the single biggest key to a long career. I’ve personally traded dozens upon dozens of products throughout my career, and changed 4-5 times my market focus from equities to bonds, Europe to US, etc. I’ve had to work really hard on finding edge as edge disappears in one market or strategy to maintain my performance in the markets. This is probably the one area that is most essential for people who are going down the family road. You are going to spend less time in the office, more time at home and this will erode your ability to pick things up in the office, erode your time spent innovating and this will hit the bottom line as your edge erodes over time. So many people think their edge developed over years as a trainee and as a professional will be there for ever. It won’t. It might not erode tomorrow or the next day, or even this year, but it will. The market adapts and so must we as traders. We need to work on our edge, develop new products and strategies. It takes a lot of work to develop the edge. Think about all the time you spent as a trainee learning how to trade. It’s still the same thing for us experienced folks. You need to put in the time. So put it in your schedule. 1 hour a day. One hour a day every other day. Whatever works for you. But make sure its regular, concerted and organized.
And don’t forget about time for yourself. With a family it’s easy to be doing the career or the family thing and forget about some “me time.” There is definitely less me time out there when you are balancing family and career, but it’s an important part of being a fulfilled person, rested, relaxed and able to tackle the demands of the career and family. So don’t neglect a cocktail or beer hour with the lads or ladies. Don’t neglect your health and schedule gym or sports time. A little you time goes a long way towards keeping you fresh for the family and the job.
There are plenty of family and mature traders out there. So if you want to be one of them, be sure to work on the items above. Get your spouse on board. Strike the right balance between family time and work time. Innovate, innovate, innovate. Keep doing all those things that got you into your position as success so that you can be a trader for as long as you want.