Being bipolar was instrumental in my success in trading and asset management for nearly 30 years.
I will demonstrate in this post why I am making such a statement.
I am going to share with you the first part of my career as a trader for 19 years and will tackle the remaining part of my journey in asset management in another article.
Somehow I managed to work for nearly 30 years in trading and asset management, carrying a huge load of responsibilities until the day the load became too large and caused me to totally collapsed, ending my career overnight.
I have to be very honest and say that my bipolarity helped me in the first 19 years.This first chapter took place in trading in the broader sense of the term and I won’t bore you with details and different types of trading/brokering that exist.
I was groomed in Wall Street, on the floor of New York Stock Exchange, at the age of 20. I honestly felt comfortable and at ease in this environment, and for that, you needed to have a screw loose. Afterwards, I left the floor and started to trade behind multiple screens as you probably have seen in movies. To give you an idea as far as the timeline, it was closer to the first movie “Wall Street” than the second one. I survived the crash in 1987, which was an absolute blast for a trader (not for an investor). I was an arbitrageur for few years, which means, buying or selling a stock in one country and selling it or buying back in another country, this had to be done almost instantly, it required quick thinking and speed in the execution.
In financial markets, you can do something that you cannot do anywhere else, which is selling something that you don’t own. Arbitrage done by human disappeared slowly as the computers were starting to do the job more efficiently and less costly.
Then I ended up being a broker in New York (for 10 years), an independent broker if I want to use the proper definition. Brokering is putting a deal together. A quick explanation; client A wants to buy or sell a specific bond or stock, he asks me to make him an offer or a bid depending whether he wanted to buy or sell. Client A asked other brokers as well at the same time, therefore, you had no time to sleep over it. I had to call my contacts to see if they were interested in the transaction or not, I had to call as many counterparts as possible in order to have the best possible bid or offer. Then I relayed the price to client A, who said the magical word “Done” or not. If he said done, I had to quickly go back to my counterpart and cover my open position. Sometimes the bid or offer was gone and I ended up losing money on the deal, these were the rules of the game (losing happened very rarely). Believe me, I cannot explain it more simply than this. They are many more types of transactions a broker can do and we did, but I chose to explain this plain vanilla one, just to give you a taste of it, these type of transactions are called; Over The Counter deals (OTC). I usually had several deals going on at the same time, actually, it was rare to have only one deal to work on at a time.
Tons of fun, looking back. Being bipolar was an asset to me. The faster, the bigger the better. It slowed down my brain somehow. I was at peace, the demons were quiet. I saw things in slow motion. I was operating in one extreme environment. My brain was fed with the right food.
Once my wife offered to come and helped me as my partner was gone. I was quite happy that she did but she ended up hiding in the boardroom after an hour or so as she could take the chaos knowing what was at stake.
These were the best years of my entire career. I was free to be myself and my messed up brain was definitely an asset. I made lots of money which I squandered in luxury cars, motorcycles, art and so on. These manic phases were impossible to decipher as most traders had similar behaviors. By the way, I was already seeing a psychiatrist as I had major problems with anxiety, this is why I said that mania or hypomania brings me anxiety and I feel very agitated. This is when I was diagnosed with “severe anxiety disorder” (1992). Even though we found out later that I was already suffering from bipolarity, it was impossible to figure it out then due to the line of work I was involved with.
I don’t know how the other traders were functioning and I wouldn’t dare to say that they are all sick even though I can safely say that one of my close friend, former trader as well, has something off for sure.
Trading was an escape for me. I wasn’t connected to the real world. I was free.
My life was balanced. I WAS HAPPY.
It was time for me to make a professional move after I realized that my trading days were getting close to being over. I opted to get involved with Wealth Management for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI).
I was hired by a prestigious Swiss Firm which had its headquarters in Geneva which entailed moving out of New York for good and to give up my green card. I spent 2 years there, to get accustomed to my new job and also to get acquainted with my future clients. When I signed up for this position I knew that I would have to move to an offshore center based in the Caribbean.
When I received the phone call offering me the job, it took about 10 seconds of deep analysis to answer yes. They didn’t expect such an immediate answer as any normal person would have, at least, slept over it. They asked me twice and told me that it wasn’t necessary to give an answer right away but my decision was made. I was again ruled by my unconventional brain and it may have been perceived as an irrational the decision due to the swift answer. As bipolars, I believe we have a multitude of gifts and I think I have the ability to come up with a decision on the spot is one of mine. It feels like a six’s sense, and I can’t seem to be able to find the right words to describe it. Maybe it is because we are wired differently and it enables us to bypass the regular channels that normal people have to use. I know for sure that I took advantage of it in my trading days and it worked for me most of the time. In this case, it worked again, being bipolar had been an asset. Hopefully one day the world will see it and accept it.
After a couple of years working for the offshore Bank, they promoted me Head of Private Banking. I had about a dozen people in my team and we were the main profit center.
Shortly after, they offered me another position in the Executive Committee of the Bank, where four people, including me, were managing the entire Bank.
Then they asked me to be part of the Due Diligence Committee which is a very sensitive and potentially dangerous committee to be part of as we had the final say in accepting or rejecting clients who could be part of some unlawful activities.
At one point the Bank was stagnating and we were losing ground versus our competitors. The partners were unhappy and urged us to gain visibility. I was convinced that we needed to do something about it as well, and I promoted myself Head of Marketing. Needless to say that my colleagues were really upset as I took a major decision without consulting them and they were right to be upset. The reason I did it was that I knew in my guts that they would have rejected it, as it entailed doing something outside your comfort zone, meaning finding avenues to promote ourselves outside of our walls. In other words, putting your butt on the line. Please keep in mind, while I am relaying to you the summary of the second part of my career, that the decisions taken went through the same “bipolar process” that I mentioned earlier, which was still an asset at this stage.
I must admit that marketing was a lot of fun. None of the following is written with the intention to brag, it is to be used as a backdrop to demonstrate that without my bipolarity none of this would have happened. All projects were born “outside the box” except for the school sponsoring. As “crazy” as they were perceived by my pears, they ended up yielded exactly what the Bank’s partner wanted which was to gain visibility.
We started to sponsor several local events and a school, as I just mentioned. One of these events was an international film festival where I eventually became one of the directors. I am a real lover of the seven art, watching movies is one aspect of it but the filmmaking process was where my interest lay. Through the festival, I became very close to a Hollywood legend who taught me so much about filmmaking, actors, and Hollywood. He even taught me how to stand and smile in front of cameras. I also had the opportunity to go the Cannes Film Festival. It was heaven on earth for me. I will not bore you with the many fabulous experiences and anecdotes. The climax was the walk on the red carpet, going up the stairs wearing a tuxedo. I was living my dream.
Our own festival lasted a week. We had a multitude of events including the closing evening gala where the Bank was the only sponsor. I had to make a speech in front of prestigious people, potential clients as well as existing ones. It was always a stressful moment for me, as the stake were high, but I loved it. I loved the limelight, what can I say? I’m a snub! This gave us tremendous exposure in the local press, local radios, TV, and the internet.
We were also co-sponsor of a tennis event, I got to play with ATP pros, actually, I didn’t really play with them, it was more of a lesson than anything else. We participated in the fundraising dinner where an auction took place. The funds raised went directly to of the pro’s charity foundation. I ended up buying one of Mr. Federer’s rackets, for an exorbitant amount of money. The racket was the one he played with when he lost his first match at the US Open. Right now I wished I had the money instead of the racket.
Last but not least, the school sponsoring where the Bank donate money to the school directly and also through a black-tie auction dinner.
All of the above looks fantastical and unreal, but trust me, it is true. Only a “crazy person” can come up and achieve something like this. Guess what? It worked. We bipolars have tremendous creativity, it was actually studied and confirmed. We far outpace regular people. If we are given an opportunity, a good job where we can showcase our talents then we become a great asset.
Bipolarity definitely helped my career but it did end it abruptly and painfully.
I firmly believe that you can have a successful career throughout your life and use all of your bipolar assets, but in order for this to happen, you have to be followed by a psychiatrist on a regular basis, at least once a month and take your medicine religiously, if you need any of course.
I am tempted to say that bipolarity is a double edge sword. If one doesn’t use it with caution it can kill you as it killed me.
My big problem was that I didn’t know about my bipolarity. I had my ups and downs but I wasn’t really keeping track of them. Especially since I was so busy working, at least 12 hours a day. I didn’t have time to reflect. Once I reached home, I was so tired and my brain was totally fried, all I wanted to do is eat and sleep.
In retrospect, I think that I was working so hard in order to escape reality.
It had been like this during my all career. I also had the same abnormal behavior with my hobbies and my private life. Everything had to be done right away with maximum speed or nothing. I drove like a maniac whether it was on motorcycles or by cars. I was and still am extreme in everything I do.
All of this with one purpose, escape reality.
My reality, the one that I am living now, broke, covered with debts. Filled with anxiety, rages, fears, demons and angels fighting constantly. Unknowingly, this is what I was running away from. You can’t escape it forever, it will catch up with you and you will have to face it in order to get back to some sort of normalcy.
Back to my career.
The downside of having taken all these activities on top of my job, took a serious toll on me. Looking back, with what I know now. I was clearly in a manic phase while all of this was happening. Near the end, I started to become aggressive, having violent rages in the office, once I turned over one of my colleague’s desk as she didn’t want to sign off on some project of mine.
I became totally out of control.
Calling for general meetings with the executives and the staff roasting them one after the other.No wonder they were nice to me, they were scared and I mistook it for respect. I was constantly fighting with everybody including clients, which was a big no, no. I withdrew myself in a private office, closed the door as I couldn’t bear to see my colleagues’ faces.
The final straw was when I got into a major fight with a very big and high profile client. He threatened me to close his account and I called his bluff, he became absolutely furious and requested apologies from me which I told him he will never get any at any cost and time. I was beside myself and took off, left the bank and went home. This was the last time I saw the office. This incident went all the way to the partners and strangely enough, backed me up as they knew the client to be extremely difficult to deal with.
My wife saw the condition that I was in when I reached home and took me straight away to the psychiatrist who put me immediately on a six months medical leave. I was destroyed, I had a massive burn out. I had pushed to limits too far beyond repairs as I later found out.
The reason I was fired was that all my colleagues ganged up on me while I was away and stabbed me in the back. They couldn’t face me and fight me while I was there, which made this a golden opportunity for them to get rid of me for good. Some thoughts they would get my position others just couldn’t stand me anymore. It hurt me greatly because they never saw how much I was fighting for them behind the scene to get a better pay for them or a promotion. They totally discounted it.
It is true that when I step back and take a hard look at myself, that I was very difficult to deal with near the end of my career. I had become a brutal and powerful beast without mercy.
Maybe I deserved what I got.
Peace and serenity
Here is a link to Lawrence’s blog titled Being Bipolar. Trying to break the stigma!
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