Dylan is a day trader and, to the surprise of no one who knows him, he’s turned out to be rather a good one. He’s clever and quick enough to jump on opportunities within seconds of their turning up on his screen, fearless enough to risk losing most of his net worth in one or two trades, disciplined enough not to — and confident enough to know that even if he does, he can make it all back- all the more reason why we thought about featuring this trader success story.
Only 25, Dylan plays the markets with a pot of more than $1 million — $100,000 of his own money earned from trading over the past two years, the rest provided by his bosses and partners at AMR Capital Trading. While many of Dylan’s high school friends are still grinding it out in graduate school or moving up the ladder of barely paid “internships,” Dylan last year was pulling down a six-figure income.
“Trading is fun,” reports Dylan. “I’m genuinely excited most days when I get to the office. I was so excited and jazzed by what I was doing that it was a year before I took a day off. For me, this is a dream job.”
“They hated it,” recalls Chris, 28, a Tulane University grad and one of Dylan’s AMR colleagues with whom he shares an apartment several blocks from the office. (At the company’s insistence, we have withheld the last names of the other traders for competitive reasons.) “I remember vividly walking into my father’s office. Dad had printed out a sheet from the Tulane Web site that said what finance majors in my region were earning. Maybe it was $40,000, $50,000. He said that was what I should be making, not taking a job that pays nothing.”
“I understand the idea that maybe you’d want to do something more meaningful, but I don’t think I need to worry about that at my age,” Dylan says. For now, his focus is on making as much money as possible. The money, however, isn’t so much about buying things or living the high life. In the short-run, it's mostly a way of keeping score; longer term, he views the money as providing the potential for opening up other, more entrepreneurial opportunities.
If you walked into the apartment Dylan shares with Chris and another former trader, you’d think they were just a bunch of recent college graduates with a tenuous hold on the first rung of the economic ladder.
Despite having a bank account bigger than the 401(k)s of most 50-somethings, Chris just bought his first car last December — a black Cadillac CTS. Dylan motors around West Palm in a blue 2003 Jaguar sedan with 100,000 miles on it that he bought for $7,000 in poker-
winnings when he still had no paycheck. They spend almost nothing on flashy electronics or clothes (Dylan is not too proud to wear hand-me-downs from his colleagues). And while they’ve been known to blow a few hundred bucks on a celebratory meal or night of hard drinking, or a golfing weekend at Hilton Head, most of their earnings go into their “banks” or is stashed away for the inevitable drought in trading profits.
What mostly weighs on their minds is whether they can turn this exciting, lucrative, adrenaline-filled job into a lifelong career. It’s not just the trading odds that are against them. The psychological odds are, too.
“The reason why there aren’t older guys in the office is that of the stress,” Dylan says. “I can see even now that you can get burned out after doing it for five, 10 years. There are nights you can’t sleep because you’re so exposed, or you lie there thinking about the big jobs number that is coming out tomorrow and you know you’re either going to earn $50,000 or lose $50,000, but you don’t know which.”
Under stress, a trader is apt to become too cautious or too comfortable with one trading strategy — and before long he’s caught in one of those self-
reinforcing downward spirals of declining income, declining confidence, and declining risk tolerance.
“My goal has always been to take a short-term trading business and turn it, as close as it can be, into a salaried business,” he says. “There will always be crazy swings, you hope more positive ones than negative, but the aim is to create consistent income.”
It’s a vision shared by the 25-year-old from Washington. “Barring some disaster, I can’t imagine leaving this firm,” Dylan declares with the con salaried of a twenty-something. “I’m sure this is the perfect career for me.”
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