We have all heard of PTSS, but a well known response to trauma is substantial growth or PTGS. Those that espouse Post Traumatic Growth syndrome, believe great growth happens in the majority of the cases. But like the spectacular fall colors, which people drive by without noticing, it is too predictably common. It was only more recently that people started realizing that studying this growth may help more people achieve this growth and those that achieved some growth to grow more.

My layman’s thoughts on studying this may be more applicable to trading. This article and this excerpt from a book will explain the phenomenon better than I could. After reading the testimony of my younger brother, an MIT grad, on why and how he built a multimillion dollar charity, I realized that what we had gone through in childhood was pretty traumatic. I found myself asking a question that my Uncle asked me at my Grandmother’s funeral, “Why are Andrew and you overachievers?” And while there really is no one answer, I would have to say part of it would be our growth after trauma. If I gave you the details, you might think I'd blame someone, or that I'd blamed everyone. But I've learned that blame is a path to destruction and others owning you. But I also won't give you the details because they can't be really explained– unless you've lived them you don't understand them. You don't see how close a call the choice between, the blame and victim-hood; or forgiveness and empowerment; really was. This, I believe, could have some deep negative implications for the current crisis.

Clearly poverty had its hand in my families trauma. My Dad was smart and impressive enough to get jobs but he could not maintain them. We moved from small town to small town until we made a fateful move into Kansas City Missouri. Here eventually my Dad was to land a solid job at the US Post Office. Coming from humble small town background, my parents were incredibly naive about the “big city”. Like Scott will tell you about St. Louis, the other big city in Missouri, Kansas City was a rough town, getting rougher as it rusted in the late 70 and 80s. My parents moved us in a tough part of town. I learned to avoid people, but my younger brothers would find abuse and trouble by the beginning of elementary school. Several of the ones that were loyal to each other would end up spending time in prison. A few like him learned to grow after leaving home.

There is some controversy over PTGS. We know that stress can make you stronger. There are those that would say that this is just a scalable factor of strength through the recovery process. But I would disagree in 4 significant ways. First, there is something about facing a total loss that makes you appreciate the little things in life. The hug of a child, a cool drink of water, the sun on your back and the wink from your spouse all gain their place amongst the size of your balance sheet and your position of power. It may be you discover your childhood ideals again. It may be you see the failure of the dinosaurs to adapt. It may be that you discover that David can beat Goliath. It may be those giants are recognized as only one niche strategy. It may be that the flowers grow back first before the trees. Facing trauma can give you new assumptions, new goals and new insights into where you fit in the world. Seeing the trauma of Wall Street's great minds, great organizers and great leaders, I can't help but wonder how many IBMs, Googles, or Walmarts will soon be birthed. And how the small will be favored over the large bureaucracy. Second, trauma often is a lesson in the strength of avoiding panic. The “miracle on the Hudson” seems to confirm. It is also a lesson in what constitutes a crisis. Trauma survivors can have a difficult time believing what others are willing to fret and worry and run around in a panic over. Losses rarely mean there is no hope. Third, they realize there is great gain in the effort. Some of the most entrepreneurial friends I know are soldiers. They are not afraid of failure. They are deeply afraid of not trying or of giving-up. They have seen those that lost, lose it all. However if soldiers tried, if they kept the faith, they did not fail and will not lose the war. 

For the last 4 years I have run the Memorial Marathon in Oklahoma City. From this I’ve seen how giving your best effort is a form of bereavement, to honor those innocent lives taken. You live your best, as you are living for them also. The fourth reason is the impossible becomes possible. The deep philosophical questions are asked, in times of crisis and the answer is often “all things are possible.” Some will see it in a vision; some will feel it in a near death out of body experience, some have felt or heard God’s answer to a prayer. Others like the POW's or Holocaust survivors have been given the strength to carry on. What was once a limit, an impenetrable wall, is seen as the “sword in the stone”, waiting for the right person to try. I’ve learned from the Kenyans I’ve raced against, the impossible is only achieved by those that don’t know it is impossible. But this is not the naive, magical mysticism of "the J#sus wants you to be rich", televangelist nor the 70 virgins suicide murderers. This is the reality of herculean strength coming from heroic effort. It is a deep belief in themselves, and the responsibility that ensue as it is a faith of God. The path down madness will always seem clear, but the path to life and growth can come from billions of unseen spontaneous generated seeds.


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