"Be thankful for everything that happens in your life; it's all an experience." -- Roy T. Bennett
Every year at Thanksgiving, I write a column about what I am thankful for. Being grateful helps to produce an optimistic mindset, and that promotes positive outcomes. I never imagined my life would turn out the way it did, and I'm now thankful for the hardships I experienced. By telling my story, I hope I can provide some motivation for others who are dealing with struggles that may seem insurmountable. Even when your situation seems hopeless, you can survive, prosper and be happy if you have the right frame of mind.
My story starts back in the 1990s. I had graduated from the University of Michigan with business and law degrees and had earned a CPA designation after working for two international CPA firms. I was working hard to establish a specialized legal practice that focused on tax and corporate matters. It was a struggle, but I was making progress and the future looked promising -- until I went completely deaf.
Ever since I was a teenager I had dealt with hearing loss. My mother's family had a history of deafness and I had inherited the defective gene. It was an annoyance and an embarrassment at times, but I had been able to accommodate for it. That is, until one day when I was on the phone with an IRS agent and realized that no matter what I did, I could not hear anything being said.
My hearing had started to decline rapidly; within a short period of time, I was totally deaf. No hearing aid or device could help me. I could lip-read a little, but sign language is only helpful if you are dealing with other deaf people. To communicate, I generally had to resort to written notes.
There isn't much demand for lawyers who can't hear, so I was forced to give up my law practice. My small savings were rapidly depleted. I was now divorced, broke and deeply depressed. One of the worse things about deafness is that it isolates you from people, since you cannot communicate easily, and that made my situation feel quite hopeless. Life seemed worthless.
I had a small disability insurance policy from the State Bar Association, so I wasn't going to starve, but I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I couldn't do anything but menial work, since I couldn't communicate.
I drifted for a while, until one day I stumbled across Compuserve and Prodigy on my brother-in-law's new PC. These online services allowed me to communicate with people without having to hear. It was a great relief to have some normal human interaction again, and I quickly embraced it.
Eventually, I came across some of the stock discussion boards. The boards were not all that much different than what we have on Twitter these day. There were a wide variety of topics discussed, and it was interesting to see the many variations in style.
In business school, I had had some basic finance classes that dwelled on Modern Portfolio Theory, valuation and diversification. All the standard stuff that money managers use in running big funds. I had learned nothing about the excitement of technical analysis or momentum investing. Long-term buy-and-hold was deemed the only prudent approach to the market.
I had tried some longer-term investments, but soon grew impatient with the results, and I wanted to try my hand at something that could produce immediate results. I tried some penny stocks and was burned in some outright frauds, but I eventually came to the realization that the only thing that really mattered was price action.
Financial statements, news stories, economics, valuations and the many other things we see in the financial press each day may be interesting, but if you wanted to make money, you had to find stocks that were moving in the right direction and stick with them.
It became very apparent to me that I couldn't compete with huge institutional funds by doing the same thing they did. I needed to ride on their coattails, and the best way to do that was to look at charts and understand the price action. I had the ability to move fast, so why squander that by pretending to be a mini mutual fund?
I had a small amount of money I couldn't afford to lose, and I had to physically go to the broker's office, since I couldn't hear on a phone, but I was intrigued and tried a few small trades. I started sharing ideas on the Prodigy message board and soon had a small following, as my trades started to work.
One of my best early trades was the stock II-VI (IIVI) , which is still trading today. It moved up nearly 10-fold in 1994-95 and my small stake had multiplied. Online trading started, and now I no longer had to struggle to communicate with a broker.
I threw myself into trading and had great fun arguing with the founders of Motley Fool, who had shown up one day on AOL promoting a long-term buy-and-hold strategy of stocks like Iomega. I traded that name aggressively with great success, and had some heated debates with Herb Greenberg over its merits.
Herb is a great pro, who can have intelligent discussions with those who disagree with him. He was running a website on AOL at the time, and invited me to set up the Shark Attack area for short-term traders. We developed one of the very first online chatrooms. Capacity was limited, and people would wait for hours just to grab a seat. Eventually, I moved to the internet and still operate SharkInvesting.com to this day, with many of our original members from nearly 20 years ago.
I enjoyed sharing my trades and the teaching aspect of the business tremendously, and sent a note to David Morrow, the editor of TheStreet.com, to see if he was interested in my commentary. Unknown to me, Jim Cramer had followed some of my stock-picking on AOL and I was offered a chance to write. I've been writing for Real Money for around 16 years now.
I was extremely lucky with the timing of my trading career. The late 1990s and early 2000 were a perfect time for aggressive momentum investors, and I made far more money than I dreamed possible. But ultimately, what was even more important was that I developed a methodology to protect profits. When the market topped in 2000, I gave back some gains, but within a matter of months I had my accounts back at all-time highs. Keeping my accounts close to highs was one of my mantras.
While visiting Florida one winter I met a very attractive young lady on the beach. She had previously been married to the grandson of one of the richest men in the world, RJ Reynolds, but her husband led a very sad and tragic life and left her with almost nothing after his death. That is a story for another time, but it was another lesson of how wealth can come and go in the blink of an eye.
Gail and I were kindred spirits and together we developed a simplistic form of sign language that allowed us to communicate. After our marriage, we were blessed with three children. Isabella, James and Samuel are homeschooled on a 70-acre homestead in rural North Carolina. Ironically, even though I do not hear well, they are all aspiring musicians. James played piano at Carnegie Hall when he was 10, Isabella has done runway modeling and Sam is already being recruited for high level baseball teams.
Being deaf had turned out to be a great blessing, but I was blessed further with medical technology called a cochlear implant. I had this surgery done and now I can communicate normally in most situations. It is imperfect, but it is truly miraculous technology.
I never imagined that going deaf and losing everything would turn out the way it has. I am still learning about trading and the stock market every day, and I love it. I am privileged to be able to write for Real Money and find it extremely satisfying that I can be of help to others to earn income for their families and reach their financial goals.
As a gift to readers, I'd like to offer you a free copy of "RevShark's Essential Guild to Market Success". It is a short book that outlines some of my market philosophy and basic trading principles.
On this day of Thanksgiving, I am grateful.
(This article originally appeared on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get daily columns from Jim "Rev Shark" DePorre, Jim Cramer and other writers.)
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