After waiting on the register for almost a year and five months, it was on this day in 2014 that I received “the call” to join the U.S. Foreign Service. In other words, I was invited to become a diplomat. It was my favorite Cinco de Mayo ever, and one of the most exciting days of my life. Accepting the offer marked the end of my three-year quest for the professional opportunity of a lifetime – my chance to be a part of the 178th Generalist A-100 Class at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Arlington – and the beginning of a whole new career and lifestyle. Finally, my candidacy had been successful and I was in! The last six years haven’t been perfect, but given the chance, I’d do it all again.
The past week has been one of the strangest and most fluid in recent memory. We had a national emergency, a roller coaster stock market, travel restrictions, and the World Health Organization declared a global health pandemic. We even got in a full moon, time change, and a Friday the 13th for good measure. But it wasn’t just strange in an abstract way; witnessing panic-buying behavior and empty store shelves, coupled with news of school closures and rippling nationwide event cancellations drove the potential catastrophic impact uncomfortably close to home for many.
Last week I took my End of Training (EOT) test in Spanish. Although the testing experience was pretty much what I expected, I have to say that the outcome was not.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot (and feeling all the feels) about the issue of work-life balance: why does balance going sideways seem to happen to some people more often than others? And is getting the balance back really as simple as just “leaving work?” I can’t say that I have all the answers, but I’m getting closer to my own personal solutions.
In early 2018, I got hooked on a Harvard Business Review podcast called “Dear HBR” that a former Peace Corps colleague and LinkedIn contact recommended.
During each episode, hosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn read three listeners’ letters on workplace dilemmas and talk out solutions with a relevant industry expert. Some of my favorite topics have focused on toxic workplaces, getting sidelined, job-hopping, hard conversations, dysfunctional teams, poor communicators, ineffective leaders, personal rebranding, performance reviews, annoying subordinates, lateral moves, career transition, and bad bosses. I’m always happy to see a new available episode of “Dear HBR.” A couple of weeks ago, the third letter on a new episode called Benefits and Perks got my attention. It was about managing the crush of work email upon returning from leave, and that topic is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
On Saturday, December 22, 2018, the United States government underwent a partial shutdown due to a lapse in appropriations, and V and I became two of the 800,000 federal employees furloughed without pay. This was my fourth furlough in 13+ years of federal service, but this one felt like it could potentially go on a lot longer than the others. Five weeks later, the longest shutdown in our nation’s history came to a temporary end with the passage of a continuing resolution, days before we planned to miss our second paycheck and our dental and vision plan (paid for through payroll withholdings) was about to start direct-billing me.
As I have said many times, I do not publicly discuss politics or comment on U.S. policy in my personal capacity. That is not going to change. There are a million people out there already doing that, and some even with considerable acumen. However, there are some takeaways I would like to share on the shutdown from my overseas perspective.
Over the last month, work has been exceptionally busy. Between holidays, short staffing, high-level visitors, and a number of extra projects, there has not been much downtime. As an introvert, I have been trying to manage energy and pace myself in order to say “yes” to the maximum amount of personal and professional opportunities. Sometimes I don’t really have a choice, because, work. Not only do many aspects of my job require a high degree of extroversion that I can’t opt out of (managing my political contacts, public speaking, delivering policy talks on a range of issues with little notice, and the list goes on), when you serve as an FSO overseas, the line between work and personal time often gets blurred. After-hours rep events. Visitors from Washington. Travel. Conferences. It goes without saying that there are times you have to say no in the name of energy and self-preservation. But there are other times where if you can (or must) rally just a little longer, it will help you leverage the most of your limited time with key others. I have surprised myself lately with the ability to overcome that dreaded sense of “I don’t feel like doing this just now,” without becoming totally drained.
This month I am marking 13 years of federal service, and reflecting on some of the professional and personal lessons I’ve learned since coming into the federal workforce.
In 1996, the United States Senate designated the first Friday in May as “American Foreign Service Day.” It is on this day that members of the Foreign Service around the world come together to recognize the work that our nation’s diplomats do. It is also a day to pay tribute to those we’ve lost; today at high noon, we at U.S. Embassy Canberra gathered at the chancery flagpole for a few moments of reflection and remembrance.
At our embassy here in Tashkent, there is an active Federal Women’s Program group that meets once a month for a brown bag lunch discussion. The group is inclusive, made up of Americans and Uzbeks, men and women – usually embassy staff but sometimes spouses, too. Participants take turns facilitating discussions on topics we want to deconstruct or bring more awareness to, like maternal and gender bias in the workplace, perceptions of power, communication, diversity, work-life balance, leadership and management, and more.
A colleague and friend of mine who works as a management officer in the embassy recently posted on Facebook about how many different kinds of jobs she performs under the umbrella of “diplomat.” Some of the positions she mentioned were curator, travel agent, pet shipper, motivational speaker, lawyer, property manager, financial manager, party planner, and operations research analyst. As I read the post, I thought, “That’s so true!”
It’s been two weeks since we returned from our trip to Samarkand. I am currently working on a half-baked theory that the life of a diplomat is especially suited to extroverts, although according to what I’ve heard and seen, many of us in the State Department (myself included) are in fact introverts.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what an introvert actually is – some people categorize introverts as shy, socially awkward, or bookworms. That may be true in some cases. However, the introversion-extroversion scale is more about where one receives their energy.