*this piece was written by a third party and may not be indicative of the opinions of Kinetic Syndicate*

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What you think you look like after being handed your DD-214

Disclaimer: reservist. That being said, between deployment and augments I ended up with a little over 3 years on active duty doing random nonsense. I was artillery by trade, cross-trained into a wannabe grunt, then deployed as an MP to Iraq in 2006. When we got home from deployment the unit had transitioned to Echo Company 4th Recon, but I had already been so jaded by the higher up nonsense (I promoted quickly) and just the beginnings of the political BS that I had no intention of going to RMAT or BRC, so I became the supply chief for the company (completely OJT, they never sent me to Jacksonville to learn the job…because, money) and got out.

So, skills I learned while I was in: discipline, some leadership qualities that don’t matter when you transition out because, while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was going to have to start from the bottom again. 

After getting out in 2008, I enrolled in college (again, though I was a reservist, I didn’t go to college, I did as much augmenting as I could). I was the oldest person in all of my classes, including the TAs. My only elders were the professors. I know this is a huge fear for a lot of people getting out, being the old person in college. However, you’re only going to get older, if you even think you’d like to go back, start the process now, it’s only as bad as you allow yourself to believe it is. 

My first year and a half in college, I was a recluse. Everyone knew that I was a vet because I wanted to validate being a 24 year old freshman to all the 18 year olds, however, I made absolutely zero effort into building any substantial relationships. In fact, the only people I opened up to, were also veterans. During this time as a full-time student, I was also bartending 5 nights a week in Chicago and/or nearby suburbs.

Early on, I decided I was going to major in political science with a focus on law. This decision was made during the presidential election cycle in 2008, and I hate to say it, but it was a major reason I went that route. If I had a mulligan, I’d have majored in a field related to technology; something I not only had a great interest in, but something I was already proficient in. Going the route I went, certainly did not help my life easier after graduation.

I was in school year-round which allowed me to graduate (cum laude, I might add) in 2010, a year ahead of schedule. In my last year of school I started studying for the LSAT while also studying law schools and their job placement rates. At the time, even the top law schools around me were only placing 1/3 of their students, but the average debt was almost a quarter of a million dollars. I know that I’m a pretty smart guy, but I was not going to hedge a quarter million dollar bet on myself, even though I had no idea what else I was going to do.

Post-graduation, I was 3 years deep into a relationship with a very successful woman who is now my wife, and 2 time baby momma. I had military experience, I had a degree (WITH HONORS, BITCHES)! I had the world by the balls….until I didn’t. After months of job searching, I talked to my girlfriend, packed up my shit, moved to Arizona because I had a solid lead to get hired at Hensley Beverage Company. My girlfriend gave me 500 bucks and I started the interview process. I interviewed 3 times and mostly lived out of my car (by choice to save money) during the month I was able to afford staying down there. After not getting an offer letter, I ended up driving back to Chicago, dejected, broke, jobless. I should add that Hensley called me back 2 weeks after I moved back to Chicago. Apparently, my reference, the CEOs daughter, Emily, totally forgot to tell her dad I was coming. My girlfriend, again, was still successful, but I also know that she wasn’t expecting to take on being the care taker for a 27 year old man-child at that time in her life. I was losing my shit. I reached out to my cousin who ran an airplane teardown crew out of Gary airport and he brought me on for a few bucks an hour. I also started applying to every god damn bar in Chicago (as well as IT, because why not diversify my talents, right!?). Between March 2011 and July 2012 I worked for an IT company as their Mac OS expert, doing at home consultations/installs, as well as large projects at schools integrating new Mac computers onto old Windows Servers. I also worked at 3 bars, as well as continuing working for my cousin tearing apart airplanes. It was also during this time that a friend of mine from the Marines told me his Fire Department was testing and that I should try it out. He knew I wasn’t sleeping, lived off of Monsters, I was driving when I wasn’t working, and there were plenty of times when I showed up to work without remembering how I even got there. He told me the fire department was a longshot (and also completely cliché with my military background), but it was also my best shot to improve my situation quickly.

I ended up number 3 on the list, the first guy turned it down and I became number 2. The FD ended up hiring three people. I got the call in May of 2012 and was sworn in in July of 2012. This made life much easier, it certainly didn’t make me successful, but it eased the pressure enough to where I could start focusing on me again. I started working out, I married my wife, I ended up having kids with her, all wonderful things. But…I was a firefighter, I had all the time in the world on my off days, so, after buying a house, I reached out to the guy who had wrote my mortgage and asked him if he had any interest in teaching me to do the same. Luckily, he did.

I became a mortgage lender in April of 2015, which is really when I was able to start taking control of my own success. The FD income was solid, it would always be there unless I fuck up bad, or quit, neither of which I intend to do. My success has come from realizing I knew nothing about VA loans when I went to buy a house, and I thought that was a problem. I started reaching out to people, other veterans, guys I’d served with, or got put in touch with guys who had questions that they weren’t getting answers on. Through very basic outreach and sharing some of the most basic information regarding not just VA loans, but the full spectrum of retail loan products, I began building a strong base of trust among a very influential group (not just veterans, but firefighters, cops, teachers, nurses, even doctors) that has allowed me to truly control my future. While many of us live and die by the market in this industry, many of those that die, die because they have one goal, close the loan. My one and only goal is to make sure that whoever I am working with understands what is going on, that they are comfortable with it, and that they’re comfortable with me. I can realistically say I talk to almost every person I’ve worked with at least once a month, just to say hi. They become my friends…and thus, also become my new referral sources.

As I re-read the paragraph before this, it sounds salesy as fuck, that is not the intent. While 4 years between getting out and starting at the FD does not seem like a terribly long-time, it was eye-opening. The one thing I did best was never turn down an opportunity. I worked at Jimmy Johns for about 2 weeks before I found the IT opportunity (Jimmy Johns never paid me, by the way). Then my ability to network helped me get into some bars in Chicago, and of course, having a cousin who was willing to give me a shot taking apart airplanes was great. WE ARE NOT BETTER THAN ANYONE OR ANY JOB. Leave your sense of entitlement at the door, if anything, we are in a climate where it hurts us rather than helps us. I know plenty of people in hiring positions that are terrified of hiring veterans because of possible PTSD issues. My suggestion, go out, meet people, try to avoid using the word ‘no’ unless it’s related to drugs or crime. Everything is a stepping stone to the next. I’m not done, I see my next stone in the distance, and intend to be standing on it in 2020.

-Joey Mathews​