October 26, 2011
The following was written by Jawad Mian, Portfolio Manager based in Doha, Qatar
“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
According to Paulo Coelho, we are all prisoners of our own personal history. At an early point in our little life, everything is clear and everything is possible. We are not afraid to dream. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. As the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our souls as to be invisible. But it’s still there. In the silence of our hearts it urges us to carry on, but only if you listen, intently.
Life is not without its challenges. If we do not find ourselves being trapped by circumstance, we are simply told that everything we want to do is impossible. But as Muhammad Ali would chime, “impossible” is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. What we need is the courage to confront our own dream. The courage to try, the courage to fail, the courage to succeed, and the courage to keep on going even when the odds are stacked against you. To quote Rilke: perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
As the thoughtful blogger Mark McGuinnes has written, we are so afraid of failure that we don’t even speak of our ambition. “Ambition” might as well be a dirty word. People who are ambitious are viewed as either selfish or unrealistic. “That sounds a bit ambitious” is code for “you are going to fail.” It shouldn’t be this way. We lost something important when we made a tacit agreement to keep quiet about our ambition. The truth is you don’t even need to tell your ambition to another soul. All you need to do is admit it – to yourself – and give yourself permission to pursue it.
The world turns aside to let any man pass who knows where he is going. But to even be worthy of a glance from fate, one must be willing to struggle and not be paralyzed by fear. Naturally we’re afraid that, in pursuing our dream, we may have to sacrifice everything we’ve won. We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it’s our life or our possessions. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand. Faith for me has become a complete liberation. It drives away your fears.
Whatever you want, chase after it with everything that you have. Not because of the fame or the fortune, but solely because that’s what you believe in, because that’s what makes your heart sing, that’s what your dance is. As Mark Twain observed, twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So listen to your heart and follow the sage old words of Rumi – “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do, there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.”
Soon after I graduated in 2004 I found myself attracted to markets and quickly lost my heart in the process. It would come as no surprise to anyone who has read George Goodman’s The Money Game – “The market,” he wrote, “is like a beautiful woman – endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, always changing, always mystifying. Then, if you have observed her a long time, you begin to see little tricks, little nervous movements of the hands when she is being false.” Pretty soon, I was having sleepless nights. I was in, deep.
I made up my mind that by the time I reach thirty I was going to be running my own little hedge fund. After that, I never thought that there was any possibility that I would not get to do that. It was only a question of when. I immersed myself in the study of macro markets and my passion for playing the game kept growing with time. If trading is your life, it’s a tortuous kind of excitement – my love has not always been reciprocated. I have faced many setbacks. Yet there is something about the global macro world that keeps me engaged to its every heartbeat. My personal calling refuses to keep quiet.
For those of you familiar with The Alchemist, I’d been working at the Crystal Shop for the last three years – postponing the realization of my dream. Waiting just a little bit longer, like everyone else. I was thinking only of putting aside enough money so that I could take a shot at launching my own fund. I had been working on my departure from the moment I joined. My closest friends had my planned resignation date marked in their calendar to serve as a fateful reminder. Last month, that date was finally here. On September 2nd, I resigned. I decided consciously, lucidly and deliberately to follow my heart and pursue the life I always wanted.
I know starting a fund is a big risk, but I don’t have any overhead – I’m twenty-eight, not married (yet), don’t have kids, owe nothing and don’t need much money to live. If it was a pure dollar thing, I think I made the wrong risk-adjusted decision. I would probably make more money if I pursued a path of gainful employment. But it wasn’t that. It was more of a freedom thing – I just always wanted to run my own fund. There is nothing more crucial to investment success than the complete freedom to express my own views.
I have no doubts about the decision I have made but I understand one thing: making a decision is only the beginning of things. When one door closes, another will open, but standing in the hallway can be hell. You just have to persevere. Life is a pilgrimage – hopefully one of exalted purpose and moral significance. The critical test of mankind is how you live your life and how you endure the suffering and pain that are inflicted upon you. The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times. As Churchill opined, success is nothing more than moving from one failure to the next with undiminished enthusiasm.
As far as I know, we will never be able to escape from our heart. If you are suffering at the hands of destiny it is not unfair to ask God for a new one. He has no shortage of destinies for you. Iqbal taught me an important lesson: Change yourself and your destiny will change with you. If you are dust you shall be scattered by the wind but if you become solid as a rock then you may break the glass. The world will shape itself according to your perception of it. Heaven and earth too will adjust.
I am filled with a sense of euphoria and confidence. My whole heart is in this journey. Each day, each hour, is going to be part of the good fight. And in the end, it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose. I just know this: when I leave this world for my scheduled meeting with God, I only want to be told one thing…
“Well done, Mr. Mian. You tried your best.”
The Pilgrimage, by Jawad Mian 14 October 2012
jmian -at- qinvest -dot- com