Jordan Belfort’s “The only thing standing between you and your goal…” quote (see below) seems to have inspired a lot of people. If you don’t get to the movies much, Belfort, nicknamed “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s most recent film by the same name. It’s been turned into countless memes and posted ad nauseam. Can’t say I find the quote, or Belfort himself, especially inspiring. Maybe after seeing the movie or reading Belfort’s book, also by the same name, it’s just the raw ambition that people admire, the way Blow portrayed George Jung’s twisted, blind ambition in an admirable way at times back in 2001.
Looking at it from that angle, I sort of understand the hype. What Belfort did was extraordinary. Extraordinarily bad, but still remarkable. The drug-crazed, sex-crazed Belfort defrauded over 1,500 clients out of more than $200 million before being indicted for securities fraud and money laundering in 1998. Then, after cooperating with the FBI, he served less than two years in jail (longer than anyone responsible for the most recent financial crisis, but nothing compared to many who have caused far less damage). Now Belfort is a motivational speaker, pulling in about $30,000 a speech. There’s no denying that he has an uncanny ability to adapt to any situation. Maybe there’s something intriguing about that.
It’s like at the end of Blow when George Jung, the infamous cocaine dealer played by Johnny Depp, says: “But I force a smile, knowing that my ambition far exceeded my talent.” Belfort could have said that exact same line at the end of The Wolf of Wall Street. Still, in both cases, it wouldn’t change the fact that their talents and ambitions were misplaced. Wasted, really.
The point of this post, which I’ve taken quite a while to get to, is that who you’re quoting is just as important as the quote itself.
Say, for example, that Bernie Madoff – basically just a more successful (during his run), ambitious Jordan Belfort – defiantly said something profound like: “Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.” He didn’t say that, of course, Albert Camus did. But what if he had? Contextually, the quote would likely take on a whole new meaning, even though the words would be identical.
Let me back up for a moment and say that Belfort’s quote isn’t profound. It’s motivational, but also shallow and somewhat meaningless. It’s something a high school football coach might say to his team when they’re down 21-7 at the half, or that someone might yell from behind a podium at a sales conference. Except, in Belfort’s case, it wasn’t a “bullshit story” in his way. It was 1,500 people.
Before you become a Jordan Belfort ambassador and start spreading other classics like, “Average fucking sucks!,” ask yourself: is this really who I want to be like?