The trader’s gap between novelty and mastery

Njabulo NsibandeLatest, Village Trader

A lush green valley of 1000 hills

DALL·E The lush green valley of 1000 hills

I’ve been trading consistently for about 4 years now, thinking that I’ve mastered the discipline of it. I also thought that making trading errors (i.e. deviating from my trading principles) was now behind me.

Towards the end of 2023 I made said errors. I took trades I shouldn’t have taken. I also caught myself starting to lose my head – and I knew this because I had seen that movie before. So I did what I had decided I would do, should I start losing my head again while trading, and that was to go flat. When I closed all positions, I gathered myself and then started trading again. All things considered, I reacted well to the situation.

What I realized from that experience is that the gap between novelty and mastery creates the illusion of mastery.

The illusion of mastery

Let me explain: Imagine you’re driving from Sandton to Durban. You’d first have to navigate Sandton’s roads to get to the highway which connects you to the N3 to Durban.  Once you get to Durban you then have to navigate Durban’s roads to your exact destination.

The initial navigation to get to the highway is similar to learning how to trade. You have to pay attention to a lot of things and be actively involved in the learning process. And this involves a lot of turning, stopping, changing gears, etc.

During this stage of our journey, everything we do is active. Our learning and lessons are active, our development is active, and we’re aware of what we’re learning while learning it.

But then when we reach the highway. There isn’t much to do now, other than to keep the car on the road. We no longer stop, turn or change gears as often as we did at first. We broke through the level of novelty and the learning becomes less active.

We’re not quite there yet but we’re not novices any more. We’ve entered the gap between novelty and mastery.

This gap can be dangerous and detrimental to your progress because it can trick you into thinking that there’s nothing else to learn once you’ve gone through the novelty. But that would be like thinking there’s no need to hold the steering wheel, watch the road for other cars or change gears now and then, simply because you’re on a highway that leads straight to your destination.

I realised I was/am in that gap in my trading journey – while my ego thought I’d already arrived. But my trading error(s) were like toll gates slowing me down.

This realisation was quite helpful in reminding me of the importance of humility when embarking on this journey. It also reminded me that the journey is long, that the learning never ends and that I still have to keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel.

Will I ever arrive? Well, I don’t think the destination is an illusion. But I’m enjoying the ride.


Njabulo Kelvin NsibandeTraders share a peculiar characteristic: they’re fiercely competitive, but only with themselves. In practice this means that they see every outcome as an opportunity to learn, and they’re brutally honest about both their failures and successes. This also means that they’re hungry for knowledge. They don’t sleep easy with unanswered questions. And they’re seldom satisfied with just one answer.

Njabulo Nsibande is a founder of Village Trader, and Sakha Ingcebo investment club. His interest in trading began in 2016, alongside a rash of Instagram ‘fx traders’…

Find him on Twitter: @njabulo_goje.


Golden years done right. Meet our latest retiree twenty years into retirement
The looming commodity cliff
First quarter ETF winners and losers
The basic principles of capital gains tax