"I arrived with nothing and I left with nothing." - How it feels to quit finance
We spoke (again) to Turney Duff, author of memoir 'The Buyside - a Wall Street Trader's Tale of Spectacular Excess', a book which rivals the Wolf of Wall Street for hedonism, but offers a more sobering vision of its aftermath. While Jordan Belfort, author of the Wolf of Wall Street, has been immortalized in the Hollywood movie, ex-hedge funder Duff is now a full-time writer with a flat in Long Island for which he “struggles to make rent.” He also says he’s never been happier.
The thing with Wall Street is that it traditionally attracted a, "certain type of person," says Duff. People entered the industry because they wanted to make a "quick buck" and to live the lifestyle.
Duff himself grew up in Maine and moved to New York City in search of a graduate job in journalism.However, thanks to an 'in' from his uncle, he moved into banking where his attitude to money morphed beyond all recognition: "Even when I was graduating from college, I thought that making $100k-$150k a year was all the money in the world, but once I got a taste of New York City and saw Wall Street, I realized that wasn't the case at all."
Like Sam Polk, the ex-Credit Suisse intern and CDS trader who described his wealth addiction in a New York Times article, Duff says he felt compelled to earn more and more and more money during his Wall Street career. "Back in 1996 I was making $24k," he says, "At that time, I said out loud to other people that if I could just make $50k a year all my problems would be set. In 2004 I was making $2m a year, and I honestly believed that if I was making $3m a year everything would be ok."
Ultimately, Duff says he was forced to confront his finance-neurosis and walk away from the industry. But it took a while for him to get there. After two bouts of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, he says he went back into the finance industry "because I thought I needed to make $500k a year just to survive."
Later, facing the repossession of his home and a custody battle for his daughter, Duff had the option of taking a seven figure job, and passed. "I went into the industry with nothing and I left with nothing - except a lot of perspective," he tells us. "It wasn't an easy decision - I had friends and family members who weren't exactly pushing me to go back to Wall Street, but nor were they exactly saying that becoming a writer was their top choice for me either - although in my gut I knew it was the right thing."
Having escaped Wall Street, Duff says he reverted to his "original passion" of writing every day. Suddenly, his addictions fell away. "It was as if this void that I'd been trying to fill for 15 years on Wall Street with money, sex, drugs and power, had been filled. I finally felt that I was in exactly the right place for me."
Nowadays, Duff advises young people alongside his writing career: "I've finally realized that happiness is a byproduct of how I live, rather than something I can achieve by owning beautiful houses or being with beautiful women - but I had to find out the hard way."
Even as a writer, he says he still slips into the old ways. "I caught myself thinking that if I could just become a New York Times best selling author, then everything would be set. But guess what? - I was on the list in the first week the book came out and two days later I looked at myself and thought, 'I'm still me, nothing's changed.'"