No shit, there I was…
I was standing in front of a stacked array of monitors among a half dozen aging former high school and NCAA Division 1 athletes. Standing there, blank faced with their ties loosened, top collar button opened and sleeves rolled up, they all were staring intently at one corner of one of the screens.
Not everything on Wall Street is a zero sum game, a situation where one person gains exactly what another person loses. In fact, many situations represent a rising tide where all boats are lifted. But this was not a rising tide. This trade had ended with a position where we were clearly squared off against another trader, probably standing at his desk just like us, somewhere out there in an urban jungle of high rises. The screens showed us that the other trader was desperately trying to mount a last minute defense of his position as the trade was about to settle. In less than a minute though, one of us would win, and the other would lose. At stake was a small fortune. We had made our call, and we were waiting on the clock.
“Fuck you, asshole!” a colleague shouted, as he shook his clenched fist in victory. Our opponent hadn’t been able to hold off a loss. Another colleague made the sound of an explosion to go along with widening eyes, his hands trying to mimic the slow motion expanse of a fireball. This was a declaration that maybe we had blown up the other trader, a term used to describe a job ending loss.
Another colleague turned to me and said something that I’m not sure I would classify as an adage, but I would continue to hear this phrase regularly throughout the remainder of my career:
“It’s not enough that I succeed. You must also fail.”
This is the Conan mentality.
Thinking like this is a massive waste of time and energy. Don’t succumb to this fool’s errand. Your candle won't burn any brighter because you blow out someone else's.
Conan didn’t have to spend time thinking about making himself better, since he was already the most jacked, badass Barbarian on the planet. He could focus all of his energy on crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him, and hearing the lamentation of their women.
You are not Conan.
To be clear, this is not an argument against competition or competitiveness. It’s an argument against poisoning ourselves with anger, negativity, and the grave mistake of disrespecting an enemy or an opponent.
If you’re reading this blog, you are probably aware of our mantra, “Die Living.” One of the reasons that it resonates so deeply with so many of us is that the the specifics of how you interpret this code by which we live is totally unique and personal. This might mean a 10 day unsupported backcountry hunt, entering a race or competition that will challenge your physical limits, or going to the mall with your girlfriend and successfully resisting the urge to kill yourself or someone else. The point is to be pushing your boundaries, whatever they may be. And while the application of Die Living to our boundaries is personal, there is an underlying, universal truth at the foundation of the mantra.
That universal truth is this: The clock only ticks one way. You can’t push against it. You don’t know how much you have left, but your time is running out.
You’re free to choose how you spend your time. But you’re a fool if you spend it focused on celebrating or creating the failures of others. The same is true for chasing someone else’s success. Find your own path, what works for you, and develop your own style. Be true to yourself and you will reap the rewards.
If you’re not on a quest to avenge the death of your parents at the hands of an evil sorcerer, spend your time focused on making yourself better. Don’t let yourself get mired in the failures or successes of your opponents. Don’t be an asshole. It’s really that easy.