Working with a mentor, trading coach, or teacher can cut years off the learning curve. For many, it’s the difference between ultimate success and failure. This is an important and powerful relationship, and I want to share some ideas for how you can get the most out of your work.
- Find shoshin. Shoshin is a term from Zen Buddhism that means “beginner’s mind.” In practice, it means that we try to leave everything we think we know about a subject, and to approach study with openness, excitement, and as few assumptions as possible. Even when studying on an advanced level, we try to re-capture the beginner’s mind.Why do we do this? First of all, it can be very hard to learn something if you think you already know it. Some of what you think you know is undoubtedly wrong. Even some of what you correctly know might cut you off from a new insight. If you make your teacher fight through all your assumptions, it’s a lot of hard work!This is hard and humbling, but the rewards will probably surpass all your expectations. (I have a recent, personal anecdote I might share in a future blog post.) One of the quotes that has always resonated with me comes from Suzuki Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.”
- Though this might seem to contradict the previous point, have goals and objectives. If you want to be a long-term fundamental investor, working with someone who is going to show you how to daytrade is not helpful. Working with a classical chartist might not be the quickest path to options trading success.The person you choose to work with can give you some idea if your goal is reasonable, but, of course, no one can tell you with certainty if it can be achieved—if you can do it. Discuss your goals so you both know the result you’re working toward, and the timeframe in which you wish to achieve it.Also, be open to having those goals modified or nudged in a different direction. If you want to be a daytrader, expect that most of your work will be daytrading, but don’t balk if your coach suggests you learn about options or try swing trading. Looking at other assets or timeframes can give you a skill set you might not expect, and a good coach can often push you to grow in some directions you might not have expected.
- Plan on working hard. Like many relationships, you’ll get more out of it, the more you put into it. You are not some pristine piece of clay that your teacher will shape into a masterpiece—you’re a person fighting to learn a skill that defies most people who try to learn it. You’re trying to transform yourself into a trader, and your coach, mentor, or teacher is there to help you do it. But be clear: you are doing it. The eventual success will be yours, but so is the work!Working hard, to me, has at least two meanings. On one hand, you do the day to day work, much of which will be guided by your teacher or coach. It also means that you ask the big picture questions and aren’t afraid of the answers. It means you dig deep when faced with disappointment, and that you aren’t afraid to try other avenues and approaches.
- Look for and expect synergy. In the best cases, this relationship can call both the teacher and student to be better than their best, individually. Together, the results can be many times more powerful than anyone would ever expect. This doesn’t always happen, but a good working relationship will often spark powerful synergies. It only works if both people bring time, energy, focus, and skills to the table.
- Communicate. That’s really the essence of most relationships. It’s easy to err on both sides; someone might approach a mentoring relationship too casually and think of his mentor as his buddy—that’s probably not the way to get the best out of either of you. It’s also not really constructive to put your mentor on such a pedestal that they are unapproachable. No matter what background or experience your mentor brings, s/he is still a fallible person.If something is good or is working for you, say so. If something isn’t or you just feel you aren’t connecting, say so. Your mentor may be feeling the same thing, or may be unaware. Many of these misses can be corrected with some very minor adjustments on both sides, so communicating openly is a critical step in success.
There are many places to find a coach or mentor, and this relationship can be formal or informal. It’s possible to work with someone at a much higher stage of development than you are, or to use someone who is right beside you on your path to help you grow and develop. Some of the points above might apply more or less in different situations; as always, adapt for your own case and situation.
Working with a coach or mentor can be a life-changing experience. If you decide to go this route, do some thinking about what you can do to give yourself the best chance of success and to be ready to get the most out of the hard work you’ll do.