The financial world is well known for being highly pressured, stressful, operating long hours and (in some cases) the inevitable burnout of employees living such a high octane life. But in the eye of the storm, one place is known for its pressure cooker environment more so than others, and that’s the trading pit.
No one knows the intensity of this world more than Tim Van Der Vliet, who swapped trading options for yoga and writing books. His first was Spiritual Awakening and his upcoming titles include The Art Of Zen Investing and Yogi In The City.
Tim, based in Amsterdam, occupies a particular niche; with 13 years of financial experience under his belt he can advise companies whose employees are on the brink of burnout, and even has advice around ‘mindful’ trading.
But to get to this point, Tim has to go through quite journey including losing his £600,000 fortune.
“I did the two most extreme jobs the financial world. First I was a trader in the trading pit yelling quotes – I worked for the Option and Futures Exchange for Shell – and I did that for six years. Then I had a big breakdown and hit rock bottom because in the space of six months I lost all my money.”
Tim’s breakdown started mentally, when he started building a house for his wife and then two kids (he now has four) and she moved back to Japan to give him the space to get the work done.
“From being carefree I started to worry. I got fearful of losing money I owned. I crawled into my fear. I started drinking every day although this is no story of pink champagne and Ferraris – but then an interesting thing happened. I lost all my money – which was the very thing I was afraid of and as my nightmare turned into reality – and after this happened, I was actually relieved.
“With losing all the money I had I also lost the fear of losing all the money I had. Then I had a breakthrough which was that fear is actually worse than the reality of it.”
After losing all of his money, Tim became a partner in a company his friend Peter founded called Source Amsterdam, which fused science with finance. Effectively, they were using computers to trade automatically with the Far East.
“We were predicting the market with models – black box trading, algorithmic trading, I worked working with scientists – they had a Phd in maths etc – and it was still very risky.
Tim had started to do yoga and meditation with his second job after reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist after he realised ‘I had to design my life’, but it wasn’t until he went to a spoken word event that he had a wake-up call.
“In December 2008, I was at a spoken words performance and I got a chill – a good music chill. I already knew that when I read something and I get a chill, this is a good thing.
“This chill lasted for several minutes and I didn’t know what it meant and the day after I woke up and sat in my garden and then I wrote my first thought down. Since then, I’ve been writing ever since.”
He was prompted to walk away from Source in 2010 after he saw signs that his energy levels were dropping.
“In the last month I was going to burn out. I remember coming to the office – I wanted to fall on my knees and start crying and run away.”
For him, this was a sign. He sold his stock and gave up his financial stability, which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“When I first quit my mind was in a struggle. I was worried about giving up financial security and whether it was the right decision. But this was proof that good things can come when you make intuitive decision and think with your heart.
“A few months ago I met my old colleague. He said ‘I was making 100K a year and making bonuses but the stocks cost 100,000’ so for last two years my old colleagues have been working for nothing.”
What has changed since he let go?
“I spend more time with my wife and kids – I have four now – I eat a lot more healthily, I have time to do yoga and my body feels 10 years younger. I walk on my bare feet – it’s a little thing that makes me really happy. I have a lot less questions about money.
“I shifted my perspective from me to us. There is less fear but there are still challenges. What is nice about a job is there is structure and now I have to do it for myself.”
Tim now makes his money by renting out his studio, writing and speaking at events. He also, of course, sells books.
What works with Tim’s advice is that he’s a realist – he doesn’t expect everyone to be able to get up and go like he did. “I think there is nothing wrong with the 9-5 – for some people a free life is perfect but it is not for everybody.
“But I’m an authority when it comes to economy and I have found out that the core of economic behaviour is an illusion. It’s based on theory that if you serve your own ambition that you are helping the world further, but this isn’t true. This is what I write about in my book about zen investing.”
If you don’t like your job or you feel trapped, don’t despair yet – it may all be for a purpose, advises Tim.
“You’re never at the wrong place. Even if it’s stressful and you hate your job – it’s perfect because at a certain moment you will quit and do it another way. I’ve heard from old colleagues that I was a great inspiration by leaving my company. If something doesn’t work for you, for instance your job, then you will figure out.”
Tapping into your dreams is also a good way of re-connecting with what you really want.
“Dream the biggest you can with no limitation and then take baby steps in real life. Make a dream list – what makes you happy? I like to make a cup of tea for my wife and massage my kids’ feet in the morning.
If you feel like you just don’t have time to start any of it, then get a sheet of paper and make a list with two columns. On left is ‘I can’ and on the right is ‘I want’. The left, you right all of the things you can do, and it may not be what you want but it makes you feel less lost and more capable.”
If you would like to share your story or nominate yourself for our Letting Go series, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and a short summary of what you gave up and what you gained. We'd love to hear from you!