John-Ivan “J.I.” Moquete signed up for the military at 17 to help pay for college, where he planned to study acting. He hoped that experience would give him a leg up as an actor: “How am I going to understand the human condition if I’m just reading it in a book or seeing it on TV?” he says.

But after the Marines, which brought him to both Iraq and Afghanistan, he ended up dropping out of college. And he was later charged with a felony assault, serving three days in jail before being bailed out by his older brother. Needing money, he got into stripping, and he struggled with alcohol addiction.

His acting career stalled too, as fear plagued him. “I’d rather shoot a gun, get shot at, than go to an audition,” he said. “That’s how crazy psychologically it was for me.”

Eventually, he told himself he could do better. He promised his mother he wouldn’t drink for a year and started on what he calls “the actor’s journey.” He’s still on that road, sober now, going on auditions for theater and television roles, working as a personal trainer and saving with his girlfriend to move out of the apartment they share with Moquete’s mom, stepdad, younger brother, uncle and grandmother and into their own place.

Watch Moquete as he looks for work as an actor in the latest episode of the Moneyish series The Search.

Jennifer Weiss contributed to this story.