When To Quit Your Day Job

I have had many readers through the years--most of whom were less-experienced traders--tell me that at some point in the future they planned to quit their day jobs and trade futures full-time. While their optimism was certainly positive from the standpoint of eagerness to learn about a truly fascinating business, it is also probably unrealistic that they will ever make a good living as a full-time futures trader. At the end of this feature I have a few questions that may help determine if you are ready to attempt to join the elusive rank of "full-time" trader. But first, I want to present you with some straight facts.

I have been in this business nearly 20 years. I have read stacks of trading books and have voraciously studied markets and market behavior. I have worked right on the trading floors of all the major futures exchanges. As a journalist, I have conducted countless interviews with the very best traders and analysts in the world. But I still cannot specifically predict what a given market will do in the future.

Now, at this point a few of you may be thinking, "This is not very encouraging news. Maybe I should listen to some of those other guys that say I can have immediate trading success by learning their 'secrets' or adopting their 'proven' system or strategies?" While I hope this is not the case with you, I am very proud of the fact that I have made my reputation in this industry by refusing to be marketed and promoted (hyped) as something I am not, nor can ever be.

It's very important to realize the fact that neither I nor anyone else--not even the most powerful computer trading systems--can predict what the markets will do in the future. Markets will never be tamed. I've said many times that my profession is not a business of market predictions, but one of exploring market probabilities, based upon fundamental and technical analysis--and human behavior. By exploring and understanding market probabilities, and human nature, one can achieve trading success.

Many traders are lured by fast-talkers or fancy wording into thinking that someone or some firm has a sure-fire trading "secret" or system that beats the markets on a consistent basis--and racks up big trading profits in the process. But the truth is, most of these claims are half-truths at best and downright lies at worst--and come from people who are out to take your money. I tell my readers right up front that I have no "trading secrets" and that achieving futures trading success is not easy and takes hard work. And even hard work does not guarantee futures trading success. Unfortunately for many traders, it takes the pain of losing substantial amounts of money early on before they finally realize what I stress to my readers right away.

Okay, enough preaching from me.

What are some clues that you could be one of the fortunate few that actually could succeed at being a full-time trader? I'll get some questions for you shortly, but first I want to address an issue about which you may be pondering right now. That is: Jim, why don't you only trade futures full-time if you are so knowledgeable?

I have never attempted to be a full-time futures trader. By "full-time" I mean focusing only on trading futures and using the realized profits for my living expenses. In my case, that would mean no analytical service, no custom consulting, no educational writing--all of which I'm doing now. Since I have never tried to make a living only by trading futures, I cannot tell you whether I would be successful or not. The reason I have never attempted to trade futures full-time is because I truly enjoy the communications aspect of being a market analyst and a trading educator and mentor. I hope that those of you who have talked with me or emailed me would agree that I do really enjoy discussing markets with other traders. I do know that if I were to attempt to be a "full-time" futures trader, the task would not be easy, even though I do have much experience and knowledge.

Now, on to a few questions to ask yourself if you think you might be ready to trade futures full-time:

Are you a successful part-time trader? You'll need to be successful at trading futures on a part-time basis before you think about moving into the full-time trader ranks. Don't be fooled into thinking that trading futures on a full-time basis will allow you to spend more time to cure your part-time trading ailments. In other words, don't say to yourself: "If only I could spend more time trading markets, I could have more success than I've had just trading 'one-lots' here and there."

Do you have enough money available to live on when (yes when, not if) you hit a streak of losing trades? A losing streak will inevitably occur--and probably sooner rather than later. And I don't mean a losing streak of two weeks, but more like a stretch of poor performance of up to six months, or longer.

Do you have the psychological stamina to be a full-time futures trader? Quite frankly, most people do not. Can your psyche (not to mention your pocket book) handle six months of mostly losing trades?

Will your immediate family members support you--even during a prolonged rough stretch of trading? Believe it or not, this is a very, very important question. For example, if your spouse does not support your decision to trade full-time, then you are likely doomed to failure. The pressure of having to produce winning trades and knowing that your spouse is skeptical of your efforts is almost insurmountable.

And on your part, will you be able to uphold your family or other important responsibilities even during a rough trading stretch? Or, will you brood and kick the dog when he happens to cross your path?

I think you'll agree with me that those are tough questions to answer.

One more thing: I do have many readers that are "full-time traders" but who do fall into a different category than what I described above. These are people who do have enough money to trade futures on a full-time basis--even if their trading profits alone will not support their lifestyles. These are individuals who already have significant amounts of money derived from means other than trading futures. Also, I have many readers who are now full-time traders, and that have retired from another profession and want to spend the "autumn of their lives" not in a rocking chair, but in a field that is challenging to them.

Again, they, too, have other means of income besides just futures trading profits.

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