The first time I visited the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) was very intimidating. I was reminded of the Guns N Roses song, “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Here were masses of people and everyone was moving at blitz speed like they had just downed a gallon of Starbucks’ finest.
Traders would crowd into the elevators like cattle. When the elevator was full, a few more people would push their way in until I experienced a feeling beyond claustrophobia.
When we stopped at a floor, someone (usually from the very back) would yell out “Me!” Then they’d aggressively wiggle their way through their competitors and exit the elevator.
My first day there a bunch of us decided to break for lunch. So we, along with what seemed like half of the planet, headed for the elevators. Again, our elevator was full, people pushing their way in, seemingly defying physics to find space where no space existed.
At each floor, someone yelled, “Me!” And made their way out, aggressively pushing others aside in the process.
Next floor: “Me!”
Next floor: “Me!”
After lunch we corralled back into the infamous elevators once more and I got squished into intimate contact with at least four strangers.
I was waiting for the first “Me!” to be sounded, when the elevator came to a HALT!
Oh no! Stuck! The ultimate “STOP!”
It seemed strange to me that everyone remained calm and no one said a word.
I wanted to yell, “Hey, we’re stuck and I’m squished and claustrophobic and I’m going to panic big time if someone doesn’t get me out of here pronto!”
But instead I waited to see if anyone would say or do anything.
I started to think about the whole experience of my first day. The trading floor was a jungle. Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest.
Everyone was out for themselves, FIGHTING to make money for “Me.”
The trading floor was crowded and chaotic, people literally pushing others out of the way to make money.
Being there changed my trading forever. Being a screen trader, I had been focused on lines and colors and dots and curves and pretty stuff on a monitor. You almost start to think that’s the market.
But when you get on the trading floor, you “see” the market. It’s people. And those people are FIGHTING for their money. These people are serious. Dead serious.
It’s you against me. And I’m only concerned about me. Nice guys finish last.
Welcome to the jungle.
This is not “compassionate capitalism.” The trading floor was a lot like the elevator. In that elevator I tried to distract myself with positive thoughts as long as I could, but then my attention came back to where I was and the feeling of panic started to rise again.
Finally I blurted out, “Does anyone know how to get us out of here?”
Someone responded, “This happens all the time.”
I replied, “How long does it usually last?”
He said, “10 to 15 minutes.”
And sure enough, the elevator started again.
That experience changed my trading forever because though I remained a screen trader, I realized that trading is a competitive sport, and the competition is fierce. I knew I had to be as tough and as smart and as aggressive as these warriors, or I was doomed.
There was no room for the wallflower, and there was no allowance for laziness. You had to always look out for the tigers because they are always there, hiding, waiting to pounce. And they feel no remorse in attacking you — in fact they enjoy it because you’re their dinner!
At the end of that first day, my sponsor asked me if I had any questions. I said, yeah, I have only one: “Where’s the stairs?”
Barry Burns is the author of “Trend Trading For Dummies” (Wiley) and the Founder of Top Dog Trading.