In 2003, Turney Duff’s total compensation amounted to $1.9 million.
At the time, he was the head trader at Argus Partners, a multi-billion dollar fund focused on health care stocks.
Today, his life looks very different.
“I’m living in the middle of Long Island, which is not my first choice,” he told James Altucher on a recent podcast. “I’m paying $1,300 a month in rent for the first floor of a split floor house. I’m driving a busted up Honda Civic hybrid … I try to get a little bit of writing done each day. And I’ve never been happier.”
Finance was never part of Duff’s life plan. “I have no idea what Goldman Sachs is,” he writes of his 20-some self in his bestseller, “The Buy Side.” “It sounds like a fancy department store.”
Despite heading to New York in 1994 eager to pursue a career in writing, he wound up with an entry-level job at his uncle’s firm, Morgan Stanley, after failing to land anything at a newspaper or magazine.
Less than a decade later, he was earning seven figures — and his lifestyle matched his salary. He lived in a $9,300-a-month apartment in Tribeca, partied every night, and binged on alcohol and drugs.
“Brokerage firms, clamoring for his commissions, showered him with gifts,” the New York Times reported. “One flew him on a private jet to the Super Bowl and got him seats on the 50-yard line. Another provided regular helicopter service to the Hamptons.”
But it wasn’t enough.
As Duff told Altucher, “I’m making $2 million, and in my head I’m saying, ‘If I could just make $3 million a year, all of my problems would be solved’ … Nothing was enough. I was discontent. I needed more.”
His dissatisfaction spiraled into a cocaine addiction, alcoholism, and reckless spending. As Altucher puts it: “He wasn’t just trading stocks. He traded sleep, health, relationships, money. All of it for drugs.”
He left Argus Partners in 2006 for rehab. In 2007, he got a job at another hedge fund, which he took purely for the salary.
“When I got back from rehab the first time, I didn’t think there was a solution,” he tells Altucher. “I had a mortgage, a girlfriend, and daughter. I had certain expenses. I needed to live a certain way, so there was no other option. I had to go back to Wall Street.”
Duff relapsed and found himself back in rehab in 2009. It’s not that Wall Street made him a drug addict, he tells Altucher — “Did it enable me? Of course.” — but the larger problem at play was constantly seeking more, instead of doing what he loved.
At the end of 2009, after 60 days of sobriety, he got another offer to return to Wall Street. “I probably could have made seven figures,” he explains to Altucher, but his gut told him no. “The second time around, I knew that if I went back, it was going to be just for the money. I don’t know where I got the courage, but I said ‘It’s not worth it.'”
He walked away from the seven-figure offer to do what he truly wanted: write.
Has the decision to pursue a more modest lifestyle worked out for Duff?
“Ten years ago, I’m living in a 3,000-square foot apartment in Tribeca, going out every night, and have millions of dollars in the bank,” he told Altucher. “The fact that I’ve never been this happy, tells me yes, it’s all worked out.”