“So, I’m 44 years old now. I’m living on the first floor of a split-level house in Long Island and am a writer. Every day, I get up in the morning, do a little bit on social media and then try and get some writing done. At 3pm, I pick up my daughter from the school bus. And in the evenings, I usually try to go to a meeting for my alcohol addiction. I’m living month-to-month to get by. My priorities are staying sober, being the best dad I can be, and keeping on writing – but funnily, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
If I had a time machine now and I could go back and talk to my 24-year-old self just after I’d started at Morgan Stanley, I’d say to myself – not that my 24-year-old self would ever listen – that exterior things weren’t going to make me happy. That however much I had, it wouldn’t be enough – if I made $2m in one year, I’d just want to make $3m the next.
I got to the top of the tree. I had the apartment. I had the girl. I was making $2m. I had the NYC lifestyle – I was on every guest list, but I was still kind of empty and chasing this high. I kept thinking that if I just made a bit more my problems would be solved.
I guess things really started going downhill for me when I was around 30 and went to work for the Galleon Group. Call it the culture at Galleon, but there was a shift. I started to put more emphasis on power and money versus things my parents taught me - like integrity, honor and courage. The idea was to make as much money as possible, to have as much fun as you can and to live the dream. That’s what I fell for. There are plenty of people on Wall Street who don’t fall for it. I did.
Now I’m out of it and don’t have much to show for that time in my life. Even though I was making a lot of money, I fell for the same trap as plenty of other Americans – I bought a house that was far too big for me – my expenses were much higher on a monthly rate than they should have been and I ended up unable to pay my mortgage.
Some of the most interesting, funny and intelligent people I’ve ever met work on Wall Street and I still have a pretty large network of people who work there. I talk to a lot of guys aged between 35 and 50. Expectations have been managed and they don’t expect to make retirement money any more. They also realize that even if they’re earning half what they used to, it will be tough to leave the industry and make as much money anywhere else. There’s a large population just riding it out.
The culture on Wall Street is changing. It seems that a lot of the new generation coming through are genuinely passionate about finance and less interested in the lifestyle. Personally, I always wanted to throw up when people started talking about the markets on a Sunday night.
The requirements of the job also seem to be moving on. I was in sales, and wining and dining was a huge part of it. If you were good at entertaining, you could have a great Wall Street career. Now it seems that you need to be able to do some of that but that it’s become far more important to learn your financial ABC – without that you’ll get nowhere.
What would I want for my daughter? I’d like her to follow her passion. Sure – it’s possible to be passionate about finance. A lot of people are. That needs to be your reason for going into the industry. Long term, the lifestyle won’t make you happy – trust me on that."
Turney Duff is the author of 'The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader's Tale of Spectacular Excess.' His financial services career spanned Morgan Stanley and Galleon, the disgraced U.S. hedge fund. Duff left finance in 2007.