To give a personal example, after college the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade were booming places where millions could be made relatively quickly. I was lucky enough to go to a good school, learned the ropes and made a lot of money. It was the kind of place where men would regularly have their bank statements (we called them P/L sheets) in their pocket and would show the fellow members of the pit how much money they made that day, or year.
During that accumulation period, my own ego soared. Sometimes, like once during the apex of my trading career, I would move large chunks of stock. There was a company I really believed in called USG (United States Gypsum Corp) that made a product called Sheetrock which was wall board used in housing construction. Due to fears of asbestos litigation, the price went very low. I started buying up the shares and at one point owned more shares that the CEO of the entire company (over 50,000) shares of stock. I felt invincible, making five figures per month regularly.
I would often show my bank statement to friends and proudly pounded my chest as to my trading acumen. While some skill certainly was involved, most of it was luck showing itself behind a large bull market (period where stocks go up and up and up). I bought every dip and accumulated a lot of shares. Then the 2008-9 financial crisis occurred. Companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers announced bankruptcy, and my dollar value ownership in those companies fell fast. During the fall, I couldn’t believe it. All my money was evaporating, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. I stubbornly held onto the shares but was forced to liquidate at the lows of the crash. I had lost everything and even fell into debt.
During that time, I even began drinking, which was something I could not imagine myself doing. I had never drank before in my life. But for days sometimes I would wake myself up with an “eye opener”. I had lost control, and became an alcoholic. It was so painful. I realize now that the pain was just an illusion brought on by my attachment to my money. As my money hoard grew, my ego rose tremendously and sat rock solid. I felt somewhat superior to others and relished in the envy that my friends and family placed onto me. But that “glory” was proportional to the pain when all the money vanished.
And I did not even get to enjoy the money either. The more money I made, the more money I desired. I did not spend any of the money helping others (actually I did help some and donated to charities regularly, but it was in a proportion so small it is embarrassing to admit). It was all like a drug. I could not get off that high.
When the stock market did crash hard, and even the Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said it was a once in a century event, my ego was crushed. I am keen to understand now that I had sowed the seeds of my future misery which was certain as I greedily amassed my money. I became different during that time and showed arrogance and pride. When my broker would make a mistake, I would sometimes raise my voice and shout in anger, which is something I never had done before.
When I lost everything, I realized that my misery was brought on by my own doing. It was not the stock market crashing that hurt me, nor was it the reduction in my trading account. It was my attachment to the money that brought me down to my knees. In retrospect, I am glad it happened, as I was out of control and needed to have my hubris cleaned out. As it says in the Bible, wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart is also… I had stored up my money in my very heart, my very soul, and I identified with the money to the point of unbridled obsession. Only with the loss of the money would clarity hit me. I was set free. Now, I proportionally donate much more than I did when I had money. My mind is clear, and I am calm.
I no longer wake up terrified in the night, glaring like a paralyzed animal at the green and red screens at my brokerage account. I no longer touch alcohol, ever. I am not detached with respect to the markets, and now view the ups and downs of the markets with curiosity, and not a soul sucking endeavor. I realize now that it was my attachment to “things” (money and what it buys) that was the source of my depression.
Had I not put my heart and soul into my bank account, I would have been spared the suffering. But I needed to learn that lesson. I needed to have everything taken away, to pave my path towards grace. There is no other way I could have learned such a valuable lesson. It was my ego, and my ego alone, that made my suffering so acute and painful.