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My biggest mistake on Wall Street

Turney Duff was an unlikely Wall Street trader: He didn't go to one of the usual Ivy League Wall Street feeder schools and he didn't eat, sleep and drink finance. He got his foot in the door (by luck, as he tells it) at Morgan Stanley and soared to the top of his game at hedge funds including Galleon and Argus. He also fell prey to all the trappings of Wall Street: money, sex, drugs, alcohol and power. He chronicles the spectacular rise and fall of his Wall Street career in the book, "The Buy Side." In this Q&A with CNBC.com, he talks about everything from how his life is different now to his biggest mistake on Wall Street — and what's next.

Give us the :30 second version of what your book is about.

It's a coming-of-age story set within the most dramatic period in the history of Wall Street. "The Buy Side" is a cautionary tale with an insider's view of a business filled with secretive, Gatsby-like characters, unprecedented greed and an attitude of impunity. Some people have called it a symbol for a generation who fell prey to the belief there are no limits.

(Read more: Strippers, dwarfs & coke: The real Wall Street)

Tell us how your life is different now vs. when you were on Wall Street.

The biggest difference is I now know that I don't need as much as I thought I did. In 2003, I made almost $2 million. There wasn't a place or thing I couldn't do in NYC. But yet I was filled with discontent. Now, I don't have nearly as much, but I'm filled with gratitude for what I do have.

Do you regret your career on Wall Street?

Not at all. I'm lucky to have gotten to experience everything I did. And I've learned so many lessons from my past mistakes.

What was your biggest mistake?

Returning to Wall Street after my first drug and alcohol rehab. I knew it wasn't the right move, but I thought I needed to make a lot of money.

(Read more: After a dazzling early career, a star trader settles down)

What was your biggest lesson?

Thinking exterior things would make me feel better on the inside. I chased this idea of the American Dream for 15 years. I never caught it, until I lost everything and my dreams changed. But I'm so glad I made this mistake. Cause now I know.

This book is really an expose of a lot of stuff — some of it illegal — that occurred on Wall Street. How have your Wall Street friends responded to the book? Were you surprised by their reaction? Did you care?

There was a lot of fear pre-publication. But once most people read it, everyone was fine with it. But I'd have to say the most common reaction from my Wall Street friends is, "Dude??? You can write."

Sounds like Wall Street was a thrilling ride. What do you do for thrills/adrenaline rush now?

I spent 15 years trying to fill this void with money, sex, drugs, alcohol and power. I was never able to do it. But strangely enough writing fills that void for me.

(Read more: Tips for dating on Wall Street — yep, she thinks you're a jerk)

What's your advice to young traders starting out on Wall Street?

Make sure your moral compass is in check. Know the difference between discontent and driven. Find things you like outside of your job.

If you had it to do over — would you do it all again?

Yes. Of course, I wish I didn't hurt people along the way and leave wreckage in my wake, but there is no way I could be the person I am today if I hadn't gone through what I put myself through.

What's next?

Hopefully more books, film, TV and speaking circuit. But my priorities today are:
1. Stay sober.
2. Be the best dad, son and friend I can be.
3. Keep writing.

The rest is just details.

— By Turney Duff

Turney Duff is the author of "The Buy Side" and is currently working on his second book. Sony recently bought the rights to his first book to turn it into a movie or TV show. Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.

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