Press Release – Jack Schwager interviewing Thomas Dall for Schwager’s next book in the Market Wizard series, The Modern Market Wizards. Published December 1st 2019. (NOTE: Fictional story! – but one day it will happen)
Chapter Title: Thomas Dall – The Sage Trader
The focus of this book is on the new generation of traders who do not fit the old image of a sweaty, hormone driven, loudly yelling male making it out in the pits by wrestling over millions in epic battles with other loudmouthed sweaty males. The new generation of modern traders want a balanced life – a term that of course mean different things to different people. One of the individual traders who personifies this new generation is Thomas Dall, so much so that he has been nicknamed The Sage Trader. During our conversation which took place in the gardens surrounding his house, I found that the nickname is fully justified. As with Ed Seykota who I interviewed for the first Market Wizards book now 30 years ago, Dall’s success goes well beyond his trading. He impressed me as someone who has found meaning in his life, and is living exactly the life he wants to be living. Not surprisingly, Seykota is one of Dall’s great early influencers and his reverence for Seykota and his thinking is apparent, as is his shared view that trading and psychology are one and the same thing.
I arrived at his house mid morning after a beautiful drive up the gentle slopes that roll up from the ocean. I was welcomed as an old friend by Thomas Dall and his wife Nana. They both seemed very relaxed and peaceful, which immediately made me relax as well. They showed me around in the impressive gardens around the house before we seated ourselves in one of the many terraces with a wonderful view of the ocean. Halfway through the interview, my host suggested that we grab a coffee. I agreed and he proceeded to make some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. We moved to another terrace where we finished the interview while sipping strong black moka and enjoying the magnificent view and tranquility of that very special place. I never felt that my host wanted to get this thing over with, quite the contrary, he was very interested in my new book and in the other traders I had interviewed so our conversation drifted a lot. What struck me was that his interest was not that of someone trying to gain information on the competition, but simply as someone who has an earnest interest in other people.
The below is a small excerpt of our conversation which lasted from mid afternoon till long into the gorgeous evening.
You have a Ph.D in astronomy and have a research background, but you have never had a job in the financial industry. Are you a self-taught trader, or did another trader teach you worthwhile lessons?
I have had some very good mentors. And not just traders. In fact, the most important lessons I’ve learned were life lessons. Those lessons just happen to be made through the market. In a way there is no distinction between life and trading for me. The moment I decided to make the best of myself was when I decided to become a successful trader.
Let’s talk about that for a moment. Are you saying that becoming successful at trading comes down to a decision?
Absolutely. See, without a decision, you’ll just keep on dabbling at the thing for years, not really getting anywhere. That’s what I did myself, and so many other people I know. So at some point, what happens is that most people get so fed up with going nowhere that they finally decide to quit. But a small minority of people will come to a different decision. Instead of saying Enough! I quit, they say Enough! I’m going to make this work! And that’s where success starts, with that decision to finally do it like your life depends on it – because in a very real way, your life does depend on it. It’s a commitment that comes from a decision, and once the commitment is there, once you’re committed to becoming successful, the Universe conspires – as they say – to let you have it.
You have focused a lot on personal development. How important is psychology to the success of a trader?
I believe lasting success in any endeavour is directly proportional with your personal development. And personal development is just a catchy phrase for doing psychological work on yourself. I think the phrase was developed to not make it sound like you need a shrink – that would probably not sell that well (laughs).
I know you are deeply influenced by the work of Ed Seykota. How do you relate to his concept that everybody gets what they want out of the market?
I completely agree, and it’s one of those truths that it hurts to admit, but it is crucial that we admit and accept it. Actually, in my experience, it is not limited to the markets. If I may make an even bolder statement, I would say that everybody gets what they want. Period. And I believe this was the point Ed wanted to make. Or at least I like to think so (laughs). Another way to put it, which I like even more is: Everybody gets what they expect. So to change your results, simply change your expectations. It sounds simple but that’s very hard to do because our expectations are habitual, and deeply rooted habits are very hard to change. But it can be done. I have done it, and many people I know have done it resulting in tremendous success in all areas of life. I also know a lot of people who never did it and as a consequence they keep getting the same kind of results they’ve always gotten.
You have been called The Sage Trader. Apart from your wisdom, which is obvious, what is so special about your trading style?
My trading style is different from any other trader’s style. But that’s just because everybody’s different. And of course I’m talking about successful traders here. The unsuccessful ones are typically those with styles that look like every other unsuccessful trader’s style. Most people are not successful, so to be successful one need to do things most other people don’t. But that requires going against the herd and more importantly against our deeply rooted habitual patterns. Working on yourself is the hardest work there is, which is why so few people do it.
Are you saying that trading success just means doing something nobody else is doing?
If you remove the “just” you will see that that’s actually the very hardest part. It may sound outrageous, but I believe that any and all trading concepts can be made into a profitable trading methodology. Provided you (1) follow sound principles and (2) make sure that the method fits your personality, and (3) make sure that you can place yourself in the flow while trading.
The last point about “the flow” seems to rest on the first two points. Is it not a consequence of proper implementation of those two points?
It ought to be, but I struggled for years with methods that actually fulfilled the first two points without being able to place myself in the flow, and as a result I was not successful. The breakthrough in my trading happened not as a result of refining my methods, but as a result of getting my mind right – my previous point about the hardest work there is. Only when I learned to direct my subconscious and eliminate fear from my trading and from my life in general, was I able to achieve the success I desired.
It seems to me such a crucial yet fuzzy concept. Can you describe in more detail what you mean by “the flow”?
I can try (laughs). There is a martial arts term called zanshin. I have seen it explained as the state of mind just after having cut down an opponent, meaning that you don’t let what just happened affect you, you are in the moment fully concentrated yet completely at peace, just doing what is to be done without attaching meaning or emotion to it. You cut down the opponent, but that’s the past and the next one is waiting but that’s the future. Right now in this moment you do exactly what you need to do. (pauses) I think martial arts can teach us a lot about trading, but then again, I think every endeavor that puts a strain on us can teach us something about ourselves, which is really what we mean when we talk about learning about trading. We’re really learning about ourselves.
Do you practice martial arts yourself?
Yes, I have have my karate black belt exam coming up soon, and I recently started training in swordsmanship. The martial arts and especially the Japanese arts have always fascinated and attracted me. As I get older I find the meditative, or perhaps more precisely, the mental aspects of the martial arts more appealing than the more physical aspects. I still enjoy the physical training, but it is not the only thing for me now, as it were when I was younger.
You are fond of traveling. How do you manage your trading when you’re traveling and are you able to relax and unwind?
I love traveling. Just as much as I love our house here. My trading routines are almost the same every day whether I’m here or traveling somewhere in the world. Last year we went on a family trip through Japan and I managed my trading by going to a higher time frame during the trip. I did my analysis in the evening and placed pending orders for the next day, since it would have been inconvenient for me to trade live because of the time difference. My normal trading hours are 9am to 1pm and I stick to that wherever we go. It’s quite liberating to be able to manage my trading business from a laptop no matter where I go (laughs).
There is no doubt that Thomas Dall has found his bliss.