On Doing Something

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’m not a likely pick for a research and evaluation job at the Pentagon. I didn’t grow up around anyone who served and my understanding of the military was formed by listening wide-eyed to my grandpa’s stories of World War II. I am one of the many people whose daily lives are largely unaffected by our nation’s current foreign conflicts, while others suffer because their loved one is never coming home. So when people asked me on my first day of work why on earth I left sunny California to come work for the Army in the middle of winter, I surprised even myself with the convincing, confident tone of my answer. I’m here because I believe people deserve high-quality programs that can help them thrive during challenges — and I want to use my research skillset to help make that happen.

A pretty intense answer for water-cooler chit chat. But I’ve never felt more certain of anything in my entire life.

Growing up, Memorial Days meant a day off from school, grilling with my Dad, watching the parade, and some small effort to honor our fallen servicemen and women — sometimes only a fleeting thought or a mental thank you. To be honest, Memorial Day felt nebulous and far away from my day to day life. Which is why I couldn’t make sense of a completely overpowering desire to do something the first Memorial Day I spent after undergoing a treatment program for an eating disorder in 2014. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed to try.

I remember sitting cross-legged on my couch with my laptop perched on my knees googling how to contact a Congressman. Ok, well first I googled who my Congressmen from Rhode Island were, and then I googled how to contact these representatives. I spent two hours crafting a message about how each time I heard another Veteran had committed suicide, or how the VA was broken beyond repair, I wanted to scream out that it didn’t have to be that way. This is a problem that HAS to be fixed, even if it feels too big or too complicated. I wrote about how I didn’t know where I’d be without access to my treatment program, or my kick-ass therapist, or the numerous other resources available to me while I was struggling. Actually, I do know. I’d probably be dead. Which is why these people — of all people — deserve the highest quality resources possible. And I know we have the tools to make that happen.

I remember feeling really good after hitting that Send button. I felt validated in reading the automated “thank you for contacting your Congressmen!” message. I had done something- and then I woke up the next morning and resumed life as usual. Not worrying about a loved one who might never come home.

This same urgent call to action hit me each Memorial Day thereafter. I kept vowing to do something. I even started researching possible program evaluation jobs for Veterans programs and asked a few graduate school colleagues if they knew of any opportunities like that. I thought something was wrong with me because to be honest, I didn’t find much. So I researched other jobs while this urge kept gnawing at me every time someone said how strong and brave I was to have beaten an eating disorder. I firmly believe that personal strength is critical for recovery — but part of me wanted to say that congratulations wasn’t due. The resources I had are what made recovery an option in the first place.

I’m here in this job because I realized I am driven by a sense of duty. A duty to use this powerful research and evaluation skillset I built in graduate school to improve programs that help thousands of people. This sense of duty is what allowed me to pick up and move across the country without hesitation, even though I had been living in fear that I would never feel strong enough to leave my safe haven. In the short time I have been at this job, I quickly learned that many of my colleagues are also compelled by duty. Whether it’s serving as an Active Duty service member, a civilian, or a consulting scientist — duty called us here. I understand that my call to duty might be very different than an Active Duty service member’s, and I don’t intend to equate our experiences, but I believe this core feeling is similar among different people. The feeling of I’m here because this feels right. I want and need to do this.

On this past Memorial Day, I finally sat down to get these thoughts out. It will feel good to hit that “post to Facebook” button, and it will feel validating to get those Likes. But I won’t wake up tomorrow and return to life as usual. I want to keep finding ways to use my skillset for affecting as much positive change as I possibly can.

Maybe I’m not a bad fit here after all.



I write about joyful moments and lessons learned from challenging life experiences.

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Emily Warren

I write about joyful moments and lessons learned from challenging life experiences.