The Foreign Service Journal - June 2017
Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  49 / 112 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 49 / 112 Next Page
Page Background



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160



JUNE 2017


On Launching a Rewarding Career

Thanks to the recruitment

lunches that AFSA hosts,

I’ve met hundreds of entry-

level personnel over the last

two years.

Some have reached

out to me for advice, and

responding to such requests

has crystallized my think-

ing about what new Foreign

Service employees should

keep in mind as they launch

what will hopefully be an

incredibly rewarding (both

personally and profession-

ally) career.

I am putting some of my

thoughts in writing here

in the hope that our more

junior colleagues may find

them useful.

First, don’t try to game

the system.

I’ve seen

people work themselves

into a near-panic trying to

calculate which job(s) they

“must” take in order to be


Go where you (and your

family, if applicable) will be

happy. If you’re happy, you

do better work, and when

you do your best work, you

thrive, making it easier

for others to notice you. If

you get promoted, that’s

wonderful. If you don’t, it’s a

moment of disappointment,

followed by a return to your

otherwise happy and fulfill-

ing life.

On the other hand, if you

go somewhere you don’t

really want to be because

you view it as a means to

getting promoted, but then

you do not get that promo-

tion, you risk ending up not

only unhappy, but also bitter

or resentful. Which scenario

would you prefer?

You are the only person

who has to live your life, so

make decisions that suit


Conventional wisdom

may tell you that you



do a desk job, that you


to come back to Washing-

ton, D.C., for your third tour,

or that you


to serve

in D.C. to become a deputy

chief of mission.

Each of these so-called

rules has been broken by at

least one successful mem-

ber of the Senior Foreign


If the timing isn’t right for

you (or your family) to come

back to Washington, then

don’t. So what if it slows

down your promotion rate?

What do you care more

about, your happiness or

your grade level? The former

should not depend on the


Stop rushing and enjoy

the journey.

Some of the

best Foreign Service jobs

out there are at the FS-2

level, including some amaz-

ing details and training


If you slow down and take

advantage of the lessons

you can learn along the way,

by the time you eventually

reach the senior ranks, you’ll

be much better prepared

and have much wider experi-

ence than someone who

shot up through the ranks

but had virtually no supervi-

sory experience by the time

he or she became a principal


Set yourself up for future

success by allowing yourself

time to grow and develop as

a leader and manager.

Your supervisor(s) can

be more important than

where you work.

There are

a few mentors whom I would

enthusiastically work for

again, no matter how unap-

pealing the location.

This holds true even on

your first or second tour.

Working for one of those

individuals can shape the

rest of your career, not only

in terms of whom you model

yourself after, but also in

terms of who speaks up on

your behalf as you seek out

later assignments.

Don’t just look at loca-

tions on your bid lists—ask

around about your potential


Remain open to chang-

ing your plans.

I joined the

Foreign Service as an Ara-

bist, convinced that I would

spend my entire career in

Arab countries. Twenty-five

years later, I’ve spent about

a third in the Arab world,

a third in South Asia and a

third in Europe.

Thrice I lobbied so hard

for a job that it bordered on

humiliating, only to end up

with a completely different

job that wasn’t even on my

radar screen. Each of those

“surprise” jobs turned out to

be exactly the right place for

me—I just didn’t know that

until I got there.

Some of the above advice

is easier said than done, but

this final tidbit isn’t: have


Just because you’re

doing important work in

difficult and/or dangerous

places doesn’t mean that

you can’t enjoy the experi-

ence. If you do so even a

fraction as much as I have,

you’re in for a wonderful



Set yourself up for future success by

allowing yourself time to grow and

develop as a leader and manager.