Coping with the stress of high finance

STRESS-BUSTING TIP: Whatever it is a hedge fund manager does with other people's money, if he can sit on his own past, and subdue it, he will cease to worry.


    Jun 19, 2014

    Coping with the stress of high finance

    I'D LIKE to start by making a confession: It's never been easy being me.

    Managing billions of dollars of other people's money, and countless millions of my own, has been highly stressful.

    There was a time when I thought my anxiety, not to mention the investigations of my affairs by the various US government authorities, might break me - and so, on the advice of my attorneys, I took some time off.

    But that period of my life, thankfully, is now over. Just last week, for the first time in months, I fired up my Bloomberg terminal!

    There I discovered that I'm not the only extremely distinguished Wall Street trader whose life is more difficult than ordinary people understand.

    Looking over the stories that people who can afford Bloomberg terminals have been e-mailing to one another over the past few months, I see the anxiety of financiers hitting new highs: Old bankers have been killing themselves; young bankers, burned out by their 90-hour-a-week jobs, have been quitting in droves to work for start-ups; hedge-fund managers are now telling the public that the stock market feels so dangerous that they are selling their holdings and going into cash.

    The most widely circulated horror story was about people giving up golf.

    So maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised that the story that got all of Wall Street's attention was about a hot, new stress-reduction strategy: transcendental meditation. Several of my esteemed hedge fund colleagues apparently actually do this.

    David Ford told Bloomberg Pursuits that his mantra helped him make a killing in the emerging-markets crash - and he isn't alone. The point of this crazy meditation article was how much money a guy can make these days just from staying calm.

    I also get that the new way to get an edge in the markets is to trick your brain into no longer worrying about whether you have an edge - and just letting the intuition fly.

    The problem is that there's no way meditating can give you a competitive advantage if everyone in the financial markets is already meditating.

    Any hedge fund manager who wants to pursue the calming strategy obviously needs new, superior stress-relieving techniques, unknown to the weaker individuals whose anxiety he seeks to exploit.

    Here are a few secret strategies, unknown to the larger investing public, used by only the most successful hedge fund managers, myself included.

    To begin, find a fat kid and sit on him. The act of sitting on a fat kid is terribly relaxing, says one hedge fund trader who, like many extremely successful hedge fund managers, struggled with his appetites when he was himself a child.

    Once you realise that you can literally sit on your own past, and subdue it, you cease to worry about whatever it is you have just done with other people's money.

    For those who don't have the nerve to publicly sit on a fat kid, there are other state-of-the-art calming strategies, such as this one: Identify people who have no hope in life, and use their distress to soothe your own.

    One serious hedge fund guy who just shorted a huge number of French government bonds told me that, when the pressure of his trade gets too overwhelming, he goes to his local hospital and checks himself into a cancer ward.

    Obviously, he doesn't have cancer; he just uses the people who do, to put his position into deep perspective.

    "I don't know why," he says, "but it just makes me feel at peace with myself, and all my trades, to be surrounded by people who are seriously worse off than I am."

    However, a few extremely successful Wall Street guys claim this particular calming strategy has led to negative psychological returns. "Surrounded by people who don't know how long they have to live just emphasises how serious the pressures are on me," as one trader puts it.

    Which brings me to the third strategy: Find someone who can help you to see the humour in your problems.

    The rulers of nations also shared our biggest source of stress: that no one dared make light of them. They, like us, were surrounded by courtiers and toadies and liars; they, like us, faced both the love and the hostility of an entire society.

    But they found a way to cope with their stress: a lowly but witty person who could serve as their Fool. Every extremely successful financier, like every king, can benefit from employing a court jester.

    This person's job is to find the humour in you and your problems.

    In the end, we who sit on top of the financial world all need to remember that anxiety is a relative thing. The best among us realise that it doesn't matter how much of it we feel, so long as everyone else in the financial markets feels more of it.

    And so if you don't have the stomach for these cutting-edge stress-relieving strategies, you can always just give up trying to reduce your own stress, and instead create more stress for other people.

    Stage a raid on some totally unsuspecting company, for example, or just go on TV and say you're getting the hell out of the markets and putting everything into cash.

    It's a less original solution, but it totally works.