“This is what complete freedom looks like.”
Those were my thoughts after watching The Wolf of Wall Street for the first time. 1Spoiler alert for the rest of the article. It’s not that I want to live a life of drugs, hookers, and multiple wives, built on scamming people out of their money, but it was a pretty cool display of freedom. 2The irony is that he ended up locked up.
The movie received a lot of negative feedback for glorifying the lifestyle of a corrupt Wall Street stockbroker. The movie has been criticized for displaying his lavish way of living in a way that makes people say “Hey, I want to live like that” instead of “That son of a bitch ruined people’s lives”.
Regardless, it’s a great movie and acknowledging that fact doesn’t mean you acclaim frauding people, just as liking The Godfather doesn’t mean you condone mafia. Movie in question will simply be a basis for interpreting dangers of taking content such as movies, TV shows, and books too literally, as well as displaying ways to consume it in a way that will enrich your life.
Because you are most probably doing it the wrong way.
WHAT IS THE WRONG WAY?
Despite his excessive way of living and unethical practices, Jordan Belfort was a smart and capable individual who has envisioned a certain lifestyle for himself and did everything in his power to obtain it. He wanted to be rich, and not for the good reason. He wanted to be so filthy rich that he could buy yachts, sports cars, and throw out fun coupons while cursing out the FBI.
When eager minds see this movie, they suddenly get a rush of inspiration to achieve that kind of lifestyle. That exact lifestyle.
They blindly try to copy a desired way of life from a fictional character and follow it religiously. Jordan himself admitted to this; his first paycheck was spent on white Ferrari only because Don Johnson had one on Miami Vice.
Following anything without question will ultimately lead to your demise, especially when it comes to fiction.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
— Oliver Wilde
Some years ago, character Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother was at the height of his popularity. Everywhere you went, people would be saying his catchphrases like “suit up” and “legendary”. 3An example.For those of you who’ve never seen the show, Barney is a rich womanizer who wears suits, drinks scotch, and contemplates amusing rules about life and dating.
At the time, I’ve just gotten out of a crappy long-term relationship and took the character to heart more than I should’ve. I started comparing my real-life situations to what he faced on the show, tried to copy his persona and way of living. In every other sentence, I would use some phrase of his and would often quote his stories.
It was ridiculous.
I’ve completely changed myself around since then, but so many people do the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with relating yourself to a character from a work of fiction, but whenever you do, do it in moderation. None of those characters are perfect – in fact, they are usually flawed and highly dysfunctional.
PERSONALIZING THE INSPIRATION
In real life, you need to be your own person. That includes choosing the lifestyle you want, not just copying someone else’s. Define what you enjoy doing and find ways to make it true. Let characters inspire and motivate you, but take only the things you can use from them.
A big role model in my life has been Batman. Not because I want to dress like a bat and jump off of rooftops, but because what I take away from the character is what I can directly apply to my life.
Batman traveled the world for over a decade to get himself to the pinnacle of human perfection, both physical and psychological. He is constantly improving himself and testing his limits. He is an expert in numerous fields including chemistry, criminal psychology, and forensics, which enabled him the title world’s greatest detective.
I may be inspired by his journey, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to impersonate his origin story verbatim. I’m certainly not going to study those fields just because he does, become a vigilante, or even a police officer because it’s not the lifestyle that suits me. What I will do, however, is apply his methods to my life.
I will test my limits. I will constantly improve myself. I will perfect myself in areas which suit me.
While writing this, I’m staring at the promotional poster for one of my favorite movies — Brian De Palma’s Scarface. ((I know, having a Scarface poster is totally basic).) It’s not my favorite because I love gangster films or because I’m a die-hard Al Pacino fan. It’s because I can relate to the main character.
Protagonist is from a lesser-developed country, trying to get a green card for a better life. He always tells the truth, doesn’t screw people over, and keeps his word.
At least that’s what I take away from the movie.
Notice I didn’t say that he’s a drug addict who kills people, chooses money over his own life, and even murders his best friend. What happens on the screen, stays on the screen. You need to carefully choose which elements you’ll bring back into the real life.
Coming back to The Wolf of Wall Street, don’t look at it as the exact guide to becoming rich and successful. Do realize that Jordan was very motivated and able to inspire other people, was ready to work hard, and that he never gave up.
Alternatively, don’t outright hate the movie or curse it out for the way the story was presented. See it as a cautionary tale because, as this Honest Trailer perfectly described it: “In the end he was a miserable wife-beating drug-addict who lost his business, family, and fortune”.
Don’t try to copy others, whether real people or fictional characters. Take away from them only the elements which suit your own personal goal and desired lifestyle.