Before landing the life-changing role of Don Draper in 2008, Hamm taught English at his high school alma mater, John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Missouri. After a year of teaching Ukrainian literature, Hamm abandoned his pedagogy, packed his bags and headed west, chasing warmer climates and Hollywood dreams in Southern California.
In a letter to Esquire writer Tom Chiarella, Hamm described his trip as a penniless combination of couch-surfing and scrounging: “I left St. Louis with $150 in my pocket and a wallet full of dangerously overdrawn credit cards. I drove out from St. Louis over the course of four or five days (staying on friends' couches in various western states, as well as on the side of the road in Carlin, Nevada) in a 1986 Toyota Corolla that would regularly blow a radiator-fan fuse and overheat.”
Hamm arrived in Los Angeles in less than a week, but it was 15 years until he finally "made it." Hamm couldn’t secure any roles due to his older look. Eventually, his agency dumped him and he was resigned to perform in local theater plays and make ends meet as a waiter.
The turning point for him was in 2000. Shortly after his 30th birthday, Hamm booked the lead role in the NBC series Providence. The show didn't last long, but the string of small roles in indie films and television series that followed eventually led him to Mad Men.
If there is anything to be learned from Jon Hamm, it is that tenacity is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Not only should we never give up, but we should be willing to take big risks, even if those risks include your junkyard-bound Corolla breaking down on I-40W.