Eight essential lessons learnt from nearly losing everything

Magpie

I’m quite a magpie and it’s lead to an interesting professional life: financial technical writing for investment banks; volunteering with an environmental NGO; therapeutic massage and art.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/magpie

My first degree was in economics, but after 8 years in the corporate world I changed track and went to Chelsea College or Art and Design and then the Royal Academy to study sculpture. For the next few years, I balanced cash-generating-freelancing with being an artist.

In 2008, after nearly 20 years, I left London. I sold my houses and gave away everything I owned except for my artworks and sculpture equipment.

A new home in Berlin

Via a delicious few months in Madagascar, and a bit of back and forth, I made Berlin my home in 2010. In this new land, with my normal career options unavailable, and a burning desire to create a lucrative location-independent income, I decided to become a trader. My intention was to make enough money to continue as an artist without having to worry about selection panels, sales and who I should know — I had enough of that in London.

Lessons (1)

1.i. Lesson: ‘away from’ instead of ‘move towards’ motivation: I took up trading partly because I was interested in it but also to avenge my disappointments in my art career — I wanted to get away from the pain of rejection letters and undo feelings of failure.

1.ii. Lesson: talk!!! Get proper, neutral advice on your new venture, run your plans by someone you trust, preferably someone who has succeeded in a similar field. Don’t let yourself be swayed by anyone who stands to profit from you taking their advice — no matter how tempting their offer and how much you want to believe them.

1.iii. Lesson: all businesses are people businesses and sales businesses. This was a difficult area for me, and part of the attraction of trading was not having to sell and not having a boss (I didn’t know back the that the market is always your boss). These problems will repeat themselves no matter how many times you switch activities — you can lessen their impact by choosing a more suitable career, but bosses and sales and part of life.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

1.iv. Lesson: what assumptions are you making? Ask yourself the hard questions: How are you seeing the world? Have you really considered other options? What are your chances of success? Why are you going to succeed in a business where the majority fail?

I thought I was smart

I thought knew a lot about trading and markets — after all, I had taught training courses on financial derivatives and market analysis. I went in, full speed, fuelled by a drive to make money, a lot of bravado but not much forethought, I simply thought ‘If I stick at this long enough, I’ll be able to do it.’

I read many books on the topic, sought out reputable training courses. I even had some of the best traders in the world teaching me how to do it. The people I ignored were teachers who told me how hard it is to succeed, how low realistic returns are and that consistently profitable traders are as rare as hen’s teeth. They call it the 90:90:90 rule: 90% of people who take up day trading will lose 90% of their trading money in 90 days.

An easy, profitable start to my new career quickly went very wrong. I obsessed over my losses and yet became even more determined to succeed. The more I tried to get my money back, the more I lost. I would have phases of what I thought was ‘brilliance’ and quickly double or treble my account, only to lose it all again in the following days or weeks.

I continued to avoid information that didn’t fit my narrative.

Photo by Ian on Unsplash

Lessons (2)

2.i. Lesson: ambition and confidence are great but mine was not based on any skill development or any evidence of natural talent or ability.

2.ii. Lesson: like most retail traders, my business plan was simply to pay a subscription to a profitable trader and then take the trades they recommend. I met many, many people doing the same thing: believing that by following a skilful trader, they would be able to imitate his success. It looks easy but it rarely works. Out of the 100’s of traders I came into contact with, only a handful were profitable — the rest were consistently losing money and wasting time doing so. To succeed at trading, you have to find your own style, make your own rules and develop your system — basically be creative, dedicated and know yourself very well.

Too angry, too scared

I wasn’t implementing what I was being taught, nor was I sticking to my own rules. I was too scared and too angry at myself to be able to trade with the discipline that is essential to success. I began to realize that I was motivated by trying to undo the past, to prove I was right to have taken this path and to finally win at something. I made every single mistake you could possibly make — not just once, but over and over again.

My confidence bombed along with my bank account. I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working; despite all my training, despite my education, I was failing. The loss of money was terrible, but the effect on my psyche was excruciating. I would wake up screaming in the night, horrified by what I had done to myself.

My dream of trading for financial freedom and being able to continue making my sculpture had long since evaporated. Even though I was doing some exhibitions and finally having more success as an artist, my attention was on what I’d lost and how I was going to get it back.

Photo by British Library on Unsplash

Lessons (3)

3.i. Lesson: if the business is making you feel awful and it’s taking you in the opposite direction of your life intentions and value system — STOP!!! — no matter how many people tell you that the night is darkest before dawn or that you shouldn’t give up because you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough into success.

Yes — do give up a dream

It was a slow-motion disaster. I stuck at it for eight years in total. The majority of the losses happened in the first two years and then slowed to trickle once I started getting more training, and eventually stopped completely when I was wise (and scared) enough to trade only with simulated money. Nevertheless, I continued to spend hours every day practising trading.

I truly believed that the only way out of my predicament was more of the same: I kept thinking, ‘oh I’ll just work harder/I’ll take cold showers/get up even earlier/do breathing exercises/mediate more/drink bullet-proof coffee’. I wasn’t losing money any more, but I was locked into the past, trapped by an inability to forgive myself. After all, as long as I could keep the dream of success going, I didn’t have to really face up to the losses.

Lessons (4)

4.i. Lesson: if the business is making you feel awful and it’s taking you in the opposite direction of your life intentions and value system — STOP!!! — no matter how many people tell you that the night is darkest before dawn or that you shouldn’t give up because you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough into success.

4.ii. Lesson: looking through stress-induced tunnel vision, I was completely irrational and never stopped to consider other ways I could generate an income. Now I understand that this kind of chronic stress and fear will send the pre-frontal cortex offline. This is the part of the brain that we need to get us out of the situation, to see it for what it is and to come up with enticing alternatives. But it’s not available to us in this state, and so we tend to make things worse.

One day, it was over

I had to stop, and one day I did, I just realised that it was never going to work — it was a great moment. But I didn’t tell anyone about what had happened, or how much money I’d lost. I thought people would hate me if they found out and I felt like such an idiot.

The irony was that by the time I stopped, I had developed some great trading systems, knew how to trade, how to control risk and how to monitor my activity effectively. But even so, with my history, I simply didn’t have the stomach for trading, and the prospect of risking with real money again would cause my hands to shake and my heart to race. My body definitely said ‘no’ even though my mind was still trying to tempt me back in.

More importantly, I didn’t have enough money to make it worth my while. I had finally understood that it’s a game of probability and the odds were against me, so it was time to walk away — simple as that.

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

A mission

The bright star in all of this was that over the years, I had been so baffled by my own behaviour that I had embarked on a mission to find out why I was so destructive (and so stubborn). Conventional therapy didn’t interest me much after my previous experiences in London. So I explored spirituality and discovered the amazing Sedona Method. I also studied the impact and treatment of trauma, and took professional training in Thai Massage and Holistic Bodywork (a talk-therapy-bodywork hybrid approach).

I went on Sedona Method courses and retreats, I had therapy and participated to Internal Family System (IFS) groups as part of my massage training. But I never told a soul what I had done and continued to do. I certainly didn’t want to admit to anyone how much I still believed I could succeed. I loved all of these activities and communities, I finally felt at home and had found somewhere I could shine, so I couldn’t possibly take the risk of being rejected and seen as a failure.

It played on my mind constantly but my family, friends and even my partner were in the dark about the scale of the losses and how all-consuming it had become. But it was worse than that — I lied to all of them about what I was doing.

Lessons (5)

5.i. Lesson: if the business is making you feel awful and it’s taking you in the opposite direction of your life intentions and value system — STOP!!! — no matter how many people tell you that the night is darkest before dawn or that you shouldn’t give up because you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough into success.

5.ii. Lesson: however good the therapy or technique, for it to be effective, you have to be OK with being wrong, be OK with admitting that perhaps the world you see is not the truth and be willing to be open to whatever it brings. Without that, it can’t have much impact. Back then, I wasn’t open at all- I just wanted these techniques to make me good at trading. I did so many things: the Hoffman Process, EFT/tapping, Byron Katie, Bikram Yoga, a ton of peak performance workshops … the list is endless and yet I continued to hit the self-destruct button.

5.iii. Lesson: a skilled practitioner is a godsend, but no one can help you until you are willing to receive. The good news is that just the tiniest bit of humility and a droplet of love for yourself and everyone else in your life is enough to get the ball rolling.

5.iv. Lesson: talk!!! Tell someone what is going on. Find someone trustworthy and unburden yourself. Then, with their help, work out who else needs to know and then make a plan and get some support for sharing what has happened.

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

People, people, people

As soon as I stopped, I knew I needed to process what I had done by sharing it. I wrote an essay about my experience and posted it in trading forums to warn people what can happen. Although I wrote under an alias, it brought me relief to have finally spoken out and that was really the beginning of being able to move forward. People who had similar difficulties began to get in touch and said they felt so relieved that they were not alone in their car-crash trading careers.

Two months after stopping trading, I welcomed my first Thai Massage client into my practice and never looked back. It was an instant success, and I was soon getting booked up weeks in advance.

I was finally playing to my strengths: I am fascinated by people, who we are how we navigate life and by our physical and mental health and now I was in my element. I was so humbled by my experience, so grateful that it was over and that I had found work I loved, and this blew my mind open. I dropped so many ideas I had about myself and the prejudices that had kept me closed off and isolated. In my experience, real healing happens with other people and I used that energy to welcome clients into my practice. This just confirmed again how wholly unsuited I was to sitting alone, staring at a screen all day.

Being truly my own boss and having my sales taken care of by an app hat brought me my client, my former issues around selling and hierarchies no longer hindered the growth of my new career.

Photo by qinghill on Unsplash

Instead of the day stretching ahead of me, I now had a tight appointment schedule which I had to honour for my clients. Instead of being at the mercy of the vagaries of market moves and daily profit and loss statements, I was finally doing something healthy — for myself and the people I was working with (as if there was a difference). My expertise was growing daily and so were my repeat bookings.

Lessons (6)

6.i. Lesson: if the business is making you feel awful and it’s taking you in the opposite direction of your life intentions and value system — STOP!!! — no matter how many people tell you that the night is darkest before dawn or that you shouldn’t give up because you might be on the cusp of a breakthrough into success.

6.ii. Lesson: with my magpie brain, I need order to function well and having a strict appointment schedule, a physically demanding job and people to interact with all day meant that I was minimizing the impact of my weakness and playing to my strengths. I am also naturally quite untidy, but my practice was at home, so I had to keep the flat immaculate which helped stabilise my moods and reflected a more harmonious image back to me.

The greatest lesson of my working life

The stark contrast between the desperation of my trading and the fulfilling calm of my massage work taught me the greatest lesson of my working life — that it’s essential to work to your strengths. Trading simply didn’t suit my personality. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons: to undo personal feelings of lack rather than enriching the world by sharing what I am good at.

Lessons (7)

7.i. Lesson: don’t try and fix your personal issues through business activities. If you don’t like aspects of yourself, want to get even with someone, have unprocessed grief about past ‘failures’ etc.etc. don’t create a business to try and work through them. Work out what you can do well and then use your resources to address any issues in a context where you won’t endanger yourself or anyone else.

And then comes Corona

Then came March 13th 2020. One day before the government banned massage in a bid to get to grips with the rapid spread on COVID 19, I wrote to all my clients and told them that with so many unknowns, the risks of continuing were too high and that with a very heavy heart, I was closing my practice indefinitely.

I was forced to change direction again. But this time I knew where my strengths lay and what I needed from my working life.

The Sedona Method is an extremely powerful technique for letting go of uncomfortable emotions, limiting stories and improving our mental health and general well-being.

I had already been working with it for six years — using it myself and facilitating others and I loved to share it with others. Up until then, I had just done so on a word-of-mouth basis.

I am pretty sure that without the Sedona Method I would have continued trading until I had bankrupted myself. It really did bring me back from the brink and it is through practicing the Method that I have restored my self-esteem and love of life.

After initially thinking I would put myself out there for anyone who would benefit from the Method, once I joined MNC and started pitching, I soon realised that I needed to be much more specific about what I offer and how it can help.

Lessons (Part 8)

8.i. Lesson: with no marketing budget and no staff, you’re not going to be able to make much of an impact unless you niche. Much as I know how great the Sedona Method is, there are a lot of offers and techniques which sound similar. My message just wasn’t getting across and it didn’t seem to mean much to anyone.

Finally, it all makes sense

I had learnt so much from my experience in trading and its devastating emotional fallout and I knew certainly wasn’t the only one who had experienced this. With my coaching and therapeutic training, I realized I was in a unique position to support others and turn this whole story around.

I offer a specialised service to anyone suffering from financial losses — maybe you have come unstuck through trading and investment losses, job loss, poor outcomes of business decisions or financial fraud — or any other actions by you or others that have left you not only poorer but also mentally disorientated and confused at the very least.

People will often say ‘it’s only money’ which is true, but the effect is that we feel isolated, we lose trust in ourselves and often feel unlovable as a result. This IS our emotional life and reaches the very core of how we see ourselves and can have a lasting impact on our relationships. Having been to hell and back myself (it’s the ‘and back’ that’s the important part), I can relate to and offer support to anyone who is struggling with financial losses, or who resonates with this story. I’ve found real purpose in being able to help others like me to relinquish those painful feelings of shame, anger, regret, loneliness and all that goes with them, to move forward into a life of purpose and authenticity, playing to what you are instead of what you think you should be.

Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash

To end on a positive note: after hearing countless stories of financial struggles and mistakes, I see one thing in common: no one starts out with bad intentions, no one starts out thinking ‘I know, I’ll cause myself and my family pain and stress’ — not at all. Like me, people start out with ambitions to create something that’s important to them, or help their families, relieve financial stress or simply to bring some extra abundance into their lives to enjoy. So yes, it might well have gone very wrong, but our intention at the outset is always good, and it’s important to acknowledge that, even to begin there as we embark on the recovery process.

Sally Underwood | Sedona Method Coach | sedona.sallyunderwood.net

Pursued freedom all my life — tried money, art, travel and career — found it through the Sedona Method®. Now I love to help others Let Go of limitations.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store