By Ann Cleven
While studying at Oxford University in 2004 as a Rhodes Scholar, Wes Moore got a phone call from an old friend he knew Moore after serving as officers in the Army Reserves together years before.
At the time of their conversation, Moore’s old friend had been deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan, while Moore had not.
“Are you ever going to join the fight?” his friend asked Moore.
A year after Moore quit his new job on Wall Street and volunteered to fight in Afghanistan, where he served as a Captain of the 82nd Airborne Division starting in 2005.
“It was game time and I needed to be on the field,” Moore said, when he talked to the Politics and Prose audience Monday night about his new book, “The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters” and other experiences that have gone on to shape him.
“The Work” is filled with stories similar to Moore’s narrative to enter the war, decisions that have changed his plans and put his life in a different direction. Moore’s book reflects on his life’s path and gives encouraging stories about him and others who “wander and wonder,” through life, as Moore says, until they pursue a career they are passionate about.
Although his book is a memoir, Moore includes the stories of people who have inspired him. He tells the story of veterans Dale Beatty and John Gallina who served in Iraq together and went on to start their own organization, Purple Heart Homes.
Beatty lost his legs in a blast and his friend Gallina suffered from brain and back damage and PTSD after the war. The two teamed together to start their organization, Purple Heart Homes, that builds housing solutions for disabled veterans. Gallina would build the housing solutions and Beatty organized it. The story of Gallina and Beatty is just one example of people who are doing work that matters, Moore said.
While discussing his book, Moore gave additional stories about career decisions he has made in order to pursue a job that is fulfilling. Moore has worked at a number of prestigious jobs, from a fellowship at the White House, to an investment banker for Citibank.
Yet, instead of pursuing a career as a White House staffer or investment banker, Moore chose to write two books and start his own nonprofit organization, BridgeEdu, to help college age students.
Moore said a turning point in his life occurred on the train home from his job on Wall Street when track 14 of Lauryn Hill’s album came on, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
The lyrics read,
“And every time I’ve tried to be
What someone else thought of me
So caught up, I wasn’t able to achieve.
But deep in my heart
The answer it was in me
And I made up my mind
To define my own destiny.”
“I realized the name on the front of my business card shielded me” Moore said. Even though he was working a reputable job, Moore didn’t feel he was doing work that mattered. “I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” Moore said.
In order to do work that matters, Moore says, a person must ask,
“Are you willing to have your eyes open enough to see your treasures intersect with the world’s greatest need?”
Moore believed his talents were needed in Baltimore where he started an organization called BridgeEdU, a program that helps college freshmen “navigate through college,” according to Moore. BridgeEdU offers one to two classes to students at a time, along with assessments and internships as a means to guide students through the beginning of college and get them on track to finish a degree.
Another point of discussion on Monday was Moore’s first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” a memoir about his life and the life of another man from Baltimore with the same name. The other Wes Moore, however, is serving life sentence for killing a police officer in an armed robbery.
Moore was fascinated that another man with his same name, living in the same city, had a life that turned out so differently. He reached out to “the other Wes Moore” and soon collected enough stories that he was able to write a book about both of their lives.
The Other Wes Moore ends abruptly in 2000, with Moore winning the Rhodes Scholarship, and the other Moore starting his prison term. His newest book is almost a sequel to his first, choosing only to continue his story, and not the story of the incarcerated Wes Moore.
According to Moore, he could sum up the past fifteen years of the other Moore’s life in a paragraph, as he just completed year fourteen of a life prison sentence.
He remarked that though he does not continue the story of the other Wes Moore in his newest book, he took away something very important from his relationship with the other Moore. Moore always believed that people were products of their environments, but the other Wes Moore had a different opinion. “We’re a product of our expectations,” said the other Moore who is living in prison.
“The real shame is that we both lived up to our expectations,” Moore said.