The Thrive Questionnaire With Dan Nathan

The principal of RiskReversal Advisors and CNBC contributor opens up about his morning ritual, his secret life hack, and how staying close with family helps him thrive.

Photo by: Heidi Gutman/CNBC
Photo by: Heidi Gutman/CNBC

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Dan Nathan is the principal of RiskReversal Advisors. He has spent the better part of the last 20 years as a proprietary equity and options trader at hedge funds and within the equity derivatives group of Merrill Lynch. He has been a regular panelist on CNBC’s Options Action since its inception in Q1 of 2009, and a regular panelist on CNBC’s Fast Money since 2011.

In his Thrive Questionnaire, he opens up about his morning routine, his secret life hack, and the importance of family in his life.

What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed? 

Sadly for the last twenty years prior to the start of 2019, the very first substantive act of my day had been to check to see where U.S. stock market futures were trading and get up to speed on financial market news. In January of this year, I started a new routine Monday through Friday, meditate with the help of the Headspace app, followed by a 40-minute run while listening to a podcast and also watching Sportscenter.

What gives you energy? 

My 13 & 15-year-old daughters. There was a time when the energy emitted during their early childhood was that of pure joy, now in their early teens, there is no shortage of nervous energy to compete with the ongoing joy. 

What’s your secret life hack? 

Almost like a form of meditation, I plan my day, and the rest of the work week before I leave my home every morning (usually in the shower), this includes family and social engagements. An important part of this exercise is to avoid rushing from one thing to the next, where I find myself not at my best. I enjoyed learning the inspiration of Tom Friedman’s most recent book Thank You for Being Late, as I often find my best ideas come when I am on found time!

Name a book that changed your life. 

Liars’ Poker by Michael Lewis. When I was a junior at The University of Pennsylvania in 1994 I worked part-time during the school year and in summer for two financial advisors in Philadelphia. One was a classmate of Lewis at Princeton in the early 1980s, and as a way to contrast the experience I was having working at a brokerage house servicing retail clients, he suggested I read what quickly became a legendary account of life in the institutional fast-lane of a Wall Street trader. After reading, I knew then that “Equities in Philadelphia” (GIK) would not satisfy my ambition to be a trader on Wall Street.

Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you? 

Since my first mobile phone in 1995, I have had more than 30 phones. For years I was obsessed with experiencing how each new innovation would make users’ lives better. Ironically it’s as if the untimely passing of Steve Jobs in 2011 saw the revolutionary improvements of the prior decade ebb to what now feels like mere evolutionary advances. Mobile phones have now entered the utility phase, and users are forced to weigh convenience over the disintermediation of so many real-world connections that we used to make prior to their mass-adoption.

Like most, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with my phone, reminds me of the U2 lyric, “I can’t live, with or without you.”

My phone sits beside my bed on a wireless charger, it serves as an alarm clock, but also the thing to pass time when I can not sleep.

How do you deal with email? 

I try to answer email within a day and then file them into folders or delete them. I like to keep my inbox to 20 emails or under at any time.

You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

I try to connect with the people that are most important to me, my parents and siblings. We all have busy lives in different cities, yet we remain very close. The simple act of picking up the phone for a voice or FaceTime call or crafting an email with a picture or video of my kids in the chorus or on the lacrosse field helps maintain this closeness.

When was the last time you felt burned out and why? 

Mid-December, always that time of year, as if the whole year is just bearing down on me (professionally and personally) and it is a race to get out of New York City to get away for Christmas.

When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?

Last week, and the week before that, and probably the week before that too. Sadly I fail frequently, far more than most people I know would be comfortable with in a public manner. As a financial markets pundit on CNBC, I am charged with providing analysis of real-time events and to offer confident, hopefully, informed opinions of what might happen next to a stock or a market. Sadly there are times when my crystal ball is a bit cloudy and I am just wrong. To overcome these instances of failure I do my best to be direct with the viewer about my process, express my conviction level and be clear about my contrarian leanings. 

Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace. 

“Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is” — The Outlaw Josey Wales

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