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It’s 1979 and a young man from Scarsdale, New York is having the typical academic difficulties that many freshman encounter during their first tour of duty in the college ranks. He’s just failed one of Syracuse University’s core course requirements. Since the University does not allow students to participate in on-stage performances without successfully completing all of the Drama department’s core requirements, it’s a tremendous setback for the student. After all, his sole ambition is to become successful in theater. So the young man retrenches and launches into sophomore year more determined than ever. Fast forward to 1983, filled with immense pride and ambition, the young man readies to graduate with a Bachelor Degree of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. With the wide-eyed look of any graduating senior, he is ready to take on the world.
But the post-graduate years did not encompass the swift, linear stride to stardom he had expected; plagued and frustrated by an inability to find steady work in his chosen career path. Though he managed to stage an academic comeback at college, he was now spinning his wheels in the mud. The new graduate found employment in such indistinguished jobs as telegram delivery singer, limousine driver, and T-shirt folder for the play Cats. So close but yet so far. These positions were certainly not the capacities of occupations the graduate envisioned upon disembarking from Syracuse. Once upon a time he hoped to become the next David Mamet. Now, the fog of despair was slowly rolling in.
One rainy, Friday night in Manhattan, the young man was house sitting at a friend’s apartment. Finding nothing of interest on television, he sat himself down in front of his friend’s semi-automatic typewriter. And there he began to type. But more than simply typing, the directionless young man became completely engrossed in the unexpected moment. He “felt a phenomenal confidence and a kind of joy that [he] had never experienced before in [his] life”, he would later express. In the course of merely a few hours, in this phenomenally fulfilling contextual moment, he had stumbled upon his passion, and it wasn’t theater acting. In one random evening, that career trajectory of certainty, theater actor, was unexpectedly nudged into another track: playwright.
And so it often goes in life that what we consider to be our certain career calling is, in reality, simply the corridor we currently inhabit – just until we no longer inhabit it. Things change, and the forces that nudge us may be internal or external in nature. The key is to remain open to life’s plentiful possibilities and opportunities when they present themselves. The real challenge is possessing the vigilance to identify them when they appear and the wisdom to capitalize on them before their ephemeral natures take hold, just as that writer-in-the-making did.
Our friend did go on to become a professional writer, and a marvelous one at that. He would eventually pen some rather stupendous works for television, the Big Screen, and Broadway: A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The Social Network, to name just a few. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. His name is Aaron Sorkin, and by some measures, he’s become even bigger than Mamet. It’s certainly a long ways away from folding t-shirts for a living.
John Brigantino is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Business Management & Leadership Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. He enjoys writing, non-fiction books, traveling and the many cultural and leisure experiences Manhattan has to offer.