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A Roadmap for


30 Rules to Survive and Thrive



An experienced FSO ambassador identifies the unique attributes Foreign Service

personnel should have and offers a guide to acquiring and perfecting them.



ou’ve arrived at post. You’re learning

about your current responsibilities

and where you fit in the section and

the embassy. As challenging as it can

be—especially if it’s your first tour,

or your first embassy—you will learn

quickly, and you will start to contrib-

ute as a member of your team.

But there is much more: this is

also the time for you to learn about your broader vocation and

your career goals and interests as a Foreign Service officer or

specialist; about embassy interagency operations and how to

navigate the different agency cultures and tribes; about how to

understand, influence and negotiate with foreign governments

and groups to advance U.S. interests; about how to lead—from

below, as a peer, as well as from above.

You will learn to sharpen your habits to be more effective and

resilient under adversity, stress and danger. You will get to think

about the best ways to keep learning and to improve throughout

your career.

Finally, you will develop professionally at a truly demanding

time for U.S. foreign and national security policy and for the For-

Stephen McFarland is a retired U.S. Foreign Service of-

ficer (1976-2014) and former ambassador to Guatemala

(2008-2011). He is currently chief of party for USAID’s

Access to Justice project in Colombia. His career, spent

mostly overseas, focused on conflict and post-conflict

countries, and on supporting democratic transitions, peace processes,

rule of law and human rights, and counterinsurgency. His earlier tours

as human rights and insurgency reporting officer and as political coun-

selor in wartime Peru and El Salvador motivated him to take a more

activist approach as a diplomat. He served in Afghanistan and in Iraq,

where in early 2007 he set up a provincial reconstruction team (PRT)

embedded in a Marine regimental combat team in Al Anbar province.

McFarland grew up in the Foreign Service in Latin America and the

Middle East, and in central Texas. He speaks native Spanish and more

limited Dari, French, Guaraní and K’iché. He is a graduate of Yale Uni-

versity and the Air War College, and attended the Marine Corps Pla-

toon Leaders Course (JR). He and his wife, Karin, who works at USAID,

have four children. He likes to play soccer, hike, dive and ride horses.

Note: This article contains the author’s personal views, drawn from

advice he provided to new personnel during 21 years as ambassador,

chargé, deputy chief of mission (DCM), PRT leader and political coun-

selor. The views are based on experience at 12 overseas critical-threat

and hardship posts during a 38-year career. These views do not neces-

sarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Foreign

Service, USAID or Checchi and Company Consulting, Inc. Comments

and questions are welcome at