A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a world famous actor. Before my terminal leave was over, I was already working for a major motion picture studio in Hollywood. My acting class was filled with young celebrities who starred in some of the most popular TV shows of the day. I had been cast as an Israeli soldier in a play for a two month run in North Hollywood; after a performance one night, an Israeli woman approached me from the audience. “I can tell you are Jewish, and you really were an Israeli soldier,” she said with an accent as thick as Challah bread. Being an Irish-Catholic from Boston, I considered this a high compliment.
My nine-to-five regularly put me in the offices of studio executives, film and television producers, and the head of the story department. I should have been happy, but I was miserable. My boss was a terror - a manic depressive who yelled at me one minute, cried her heart out to me the next, and forced me to have lunch with her every day. She nearly fired me when I received a summons for jury duty and got assigned to a murder trial. When I realized my three weeks on that jury were the best three weeks I’d spent in California, I knew it was time to leave.
For the second time since I separated from active duty, I had made a significant career change.
Back in Boston after six years, I found myself an unemployed veteran. I took a job working retail at the mall and interviewed as often as I could. I missed the sense of purpose that serving in the military had given me, so I knew I wanted to help people and do something positive in the world. Unfortunately, non-profit organizations don’t pay well or nothing at all. They sought candidates who already had their Bachelor’s degrees, but I didn’t. They wanted those who could live off a salary of $27,000 a year, but I couldn’t.
Clearly, the time had come to go back to college. Friends from high school were already several years into their first career while I was color coordinating Le Creuset pots at Williams-Sonoma. Despite my lack of a diploma, Northeastern University hired me for an entry-level position in their financial aid office. As an openly veteran employee, I was a rare breed. The ink on the Post-9/11 GI Bill was still wet, and we had signed up to participate in something called the Yellow Ribbon Program. Young veterans started pouring into campus, and all eyes were on me. I volunteered to help out and very quickly transitioned from “the loan guy” to a resident expert on all things military. I founded our Student Veterans Organization as well as a veterans’ success committee. I had never felt so busy in my life, but somehow I’d also never had as much fun in a professional setting. A piece of advice I’d once heard came back to me: “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
The university eventually created a position working with veterans, and my new career had officially begun. Over a short period, the position blossomed, expanded, and took me places I never expected. It’s been an absolute honor to be both a witness and participant in their transformation from service member to student, from active duty to veteran.
The desire to do something meaningful that benefits veterans is an admirable pursuit, and I truly hope more prior-service men and women will happen to find themselves on this path. I shared my story because things happened rather organically. A foundation had to be laid; a position had to be created. The process was slow and purposeful, the work purpose-filled.
The fact is, though, that working with veterans began as a job, an occupation. A collection of functions and responsibilities that I thought I was shaping has, in reality, been shaping me. No longer just “a job,” serving this outstanding population of men and women has revealed itself as a calling. How lucky I am to have heard it.