Amateur Stock Trading Is Tanking My Job Performance
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

Amateur Stock Trading Is Tanking My Job Performance

The first step to solving a problem is admitting that one exists. Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet. Turns out, there’s little time for self-reflection when your workdays consist of meticulously surveilling charts, Reddit forums, and investor corners of social media to make shrewd purchases and sales of stocks and cryptocurrency — all while the workload from your salaried day job steadily piles up.

I’ve always had an interest in retail investing from afar, but this past year has damn-near turned that curiosity into an obsession. An obsession that feels like a high-speed roller coaster complete with exhilarating peaks, unpredictable turns, and dips that make you want to throw up. And thanks to this newfound fixation, I’ve found myself pondering potential swing trades during work calls and compulsively checking my investment apps every two seconds like a teenager refreshes TikTok.

The reasons for the Covid-19 era awakening of the amateur investor abound: quarantine boredom, additional disposable income due to working from home and lack of social outlets, the stimulus payments that some of us so desperately envied. It was the perfect storm for a bunch of average Jamals to use investing as a means to combat the economic uncertainty of the past 365. I dove in headfirst.

Prior to the pandemic, my approach to personal finance was mostly passive — set-it-and-forget-it measures like maxing out my 401(k) contributions, stashing a healthy rainy day fund, and an interest-bearing life insurance policy that I’d increase a couple of times a year (not coincidentally after a heinous police killing makes the news). My wealth-building journey has gotten a hell of a lot more hands-on since and with it has brought some newfound stress.

At first, things were low stakes. Around the time that Club Quarantine and Verzuz were becoming must-attend digital events, I put some money into Netflix and Zoom — businesses that I correctly predicted would benefit from these new and uncertain times. I bonded with some colleagues who are also retail investors; we have a Slack channel through which we’d point out bubbling stocks to watch, celebrate our wins, and encourage each other to HODL through sharp price swings.

My zenful morning routines have slowly devolved into checking the temperature of the market, which has only made me more restless and irritable throughout the day.

As my profits grew, I became more invested. I was far from a Black Jordan Belfort, but I could suddenly understand the Wolf of Wall Street adrenaline rush that comes with seeing your astute decisions bear fruit. Even better, this was all perfectly manageable while staying on top of my day job.

And then GameStop happened.

I was a little late on the “meme stock” explosion at the start of 2021, led by the aforementioned gaming retailer and also including movie theater franchise AMC, perpetual coupon issuer Bed Bath & Beyond, and other companies that were heavily betted against by hedge fund managers. Stocks of that ilk have been volatile as hell this year, and with their emergence came my discovery of online communities like the Reddit forum WallStreetBets, members of which coordinated to drive much of the steep price action. Discovering that rabbit hole felt more like a descent — there I realized the huge gains that could be made by keeping an attentive eye on which stocks were next to be pumped, buying the damn dip, and selling before the bottom falls out. Or at least trying.

Of course, the stock market operates during business hours, so over the past few months, I’ve found myself in a constant state of multitasking on weekdays, giving less than 100% effort on Powerpoint presentations for the 9-to-5 while periodically checking the value of my sweet, sweet investments. I’ve only grown more frantic after dropping some bread on cryptocurrency, which is characteristically turbulent and has the distinctly anxiety-inducing quality of operating 24/7.

There have been wins — after capitalizing on the Dogecoin run-up earlier this month, I’m considering adopting a Shiba Inu of my own. But whoo boy, have there been losses (looking at you, Tesla). And not just the ones measurable in fiat dollars and crypto coins worth fractions of a penny.

My zenful morning routines have slowly devolved into checking the temperature of the market, which has only made me more restless and irritable throughout the day. At least a portion of after-work hours include watching YouTubers give analyses on the chart moves of key stocks or altcoins. I’ve mulled over past trades made too soon or too late and adopted retail trader lingo like “due diligence,” “tendies,” “stonks,” and “paper hands.” As much as I hate to admit it, I’m even following Elon Musk on Twitter, with tweet notifications enabled. I’m in too deep, word to Omar Epps.

Fortunately, swing trading hasn’t resulted in any serious drop-the-ball moments at work. But I’m not about to let it get to that point. Day trading with a day job is too damn stressful, so it’s time to cool off for a bit. Chasing the next shitcoin or meme stock to pop was fun while it lasted. It’s time to turn my attention to more stable, low-maintenance investments like index funds and ETFs. They may not blow up overnight, but they probably won’t send my blood pressure to the moon either.

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