In 1999, Jordan Belfort plead guilty to fraud for stock market manipulation and associated crimes, and served nearly two years in prison. In 2007, he published his memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, which was adapted in 2013 to the Hollywood box office film bearing the same name. In 2019, Belfort agreed to do an interview with the London Real, a video talk show, in which the topic of his drug abuse, including his abuse of cocaine, came up.
Why would anyone that rich and successful by mainstream standards engage in addictions typically associated with depression and mental health issues?
According to Belfort, part of the reason is that his success came about without him creating anything of value. He was a stockbroker, who profited from price fluctuations in the market; he was not an entrepreneur or an innovator or someone who added substantive value to businesses.
And yet an even bigger trigger for Belfort was his realization that the insecurities and unhappiness he felt before becoming rich and successful did not go away. Belfort’s illusion that success would solve his problems kept him motivated. However, after he achieved success, he learned that his expectation was built on a false premise. This realization prompted Belfort to “panic,” something he says happens to a lot of successful people who expected their success to transform them into happy people.
Fascinating take, and plenty of fodder for thought. Check out the video and my transcription of the clip down below!
And that’s what you see happen, not just on Wall Street, but in Hollywood, with people like the Lindsey Lohans of the world. They get so famous, and while they’re trying to get famous, they’re OK, because they say, “Well, I don’t feel great, but I know I’ll feel great once I get famous, because that’s my vision. When I achieve my vision, when I get that, then I’ll feel good.” Then you get it, and that’s when the real panic sets in.Jordan Belfort, Wolf of Wall Street
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Interviewer: Tell me about when you’re making all this money out there, and yet—I know the feeling—you don’t actually do anything. You don’t actually create anything. Is that why a lot of times the drugs come out?
Belfort: Sure. That’s one part, but there’s a bigger part of it, too. The bigger part of it is that most of us, and I’d be the first to admit it. I emerged from—my adolescence—I wasn’t the captain of the football team, the most popular guy, suave with girls. Like most of us, we struggled with those things when we were teenagers.
Interviewer: I was a science geek.
Belfort: Me, too. I was a science geek. I was going to be a doctor, biology major, scored perfect on my MCATs. I was that guy, so I go to my adulthood with these insecurities, and I said, “You know what. Once I get rich and I get powerful, then I’ll feel good.”
So while you’re at their striving for success and clawing for it—even though you feel insecure a lot, and you don’t feel like you’re really comfortable in your own skin. You say, “I know why. It’s because I don’t have success yet.” But then you achieve massive success, and you get everything that you always wanted, and then, uh-oh, I still feel the same way inside. “What do I do now?”
And that’s what you see happen, not just on Wall Street, but in Hollywood, with people like the Lindsey Lohans of the world. They get so famous, and while they’re trying to get famous, they’re OK, because they say, “Well, I don’t feel great, but I know I’ll feel great once I get famous, because that’s my vision. When I achieve my vision, when I get that, then I’ll feel good.” Then you get it, and that’s when the real panic sets in.
With me, I said, “If I ever get rich and powerful..” All of a sudden, I had every girl after me. I’m rich, and I’m still the same guy. That’s when I think a lot of the problems start. You start self-medicating, because, again, your success doesn’t change you. It just amplifies you, so any insecurities you have become even bigger.
On some level, you’re not creating anything, but also the cause—it’s a very lucrative industry—people make money very fast. The things that you thought would make you happy. You check a box and say, “I’m still not happy. What do I do now?” That’s when the panic sets in, and people really start to implode.