life after diplomacy

With Under Secretary McHale announcing she’ll be leaving State in June, and my A-100 colleagues discussing the logistics of resigning mid-tour, talk of quitting seems to be all around.

No, I’m not planning to quit. A year and a half in I still can’t imagine a better career for me. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of my A-100 colleagues feel the same way. Not a single one of us has resigned so far, and I’d be surprised if anyone does soon. There are a lot of great things about this career, which is why the State Department is consistently ranked among the country’s top employers.

Nonetheless, these days I find myself thinking for the first time about life after the Foreign Service. Mostly because of Flynn. Sure, I’d heard the stories and read the articles (like this recent one) about the stresses of this lifestyle on family members. But fortunately Andy passed the Oral Assessment, solving the question of what he’d do in the long-term, and luckily he got a job at the Embassy in Benin, solving the question of what he’d do in the short-term. Now, though, there’s this other tiny person to worry about. For the time being all he needs to be happy is a pacifier or a bouncer, but I’m sure things will get dicier soon enough.

There are certainly some amazing advantages to an international upbringing, but there are sacrifices too. Already I’m worrying about how Flynn will adapt to a nomadic existence. Will he feel like he has a home? Will he consider himself an American? Mostly, though, I’m feeling guilty for moving him far from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins — not just for their sake, but for his too.

The Foreign Service still excites and makes sense for us now, but for the first time I can imagine a future in which it doesn’t. I hope that isn’t ever the case, but it might be. And what if it is? What then?

Going places. But where?

Under Secretary McHale surely has a number of rewarding (and lucrative) private sector options. Many of my A-100 colleagues could return to former careers in law or finance. But what about those of us who don’t have another profession to fall back on (me), or who do but don’t want to return to it (Andy)? “Diplomat” isn’t a job title you find in the classifieds, so where do people like us go if one day down the road the Foreign Service life isn’t working out?

(That’s not a rhetorical question.)

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7 Responses to life after diplomacy

  1. don says:

    No worries. Careers are about the people you meet that learn your abilities and character. I am sure that for both of you, people will come into your lives that will always help you find what you want career-wise.

  2. Kaitlin says:

    I feel the same way! Also enjoying the job, also not having a career to fall back on. But don’t worry about Flynn. As a military brat that went to 10 schools and lived in 10 houses by high school (9 years of that overseas) I can say it’s not that bad! He won’t know what it’s like to constantly live near extended relatives so he won’t feel the pang of being apart. Also, moving between various international schools, and the international environment of Washington, DC is not like switching schools around the US. Everywhere he goes it will be easy to make friends because everyone is in the same boat and constantly moves themselves. Plus he’ll have some sweet college entrance essays. Watch out for the smoking though. American kids abroad love to take up smoking, haha

  3. Inga says:

    On a totally different note…Andy, way to rock the Latvia t-shirt. I’m Latvian! 🙂 You don’t see these shirts every day…

  4. Cathy says:

    Having been raised in the FS, I spent 19 years on the road with my family. Now an FSO for 17 years, I raised three daughters in the FS. My childhood was difficult; moving around so much gave me no sense of grounding, of identity. I knew I was an American, and at a time when Americans were almost universally respected (black passports were a pass to special treatment). But, the hardest time for me was having to attend three different high schools on three different continents in three years. I vowed never to do that to my own daughters, and it worked for two of them at least. They now tell me – at 20, 22, and 24 – that they wouldn’t have had it any other way. They appreciate their nomadic upbringing, even if it was difficult at various stages in their life. Let’s face it, even nomads travel in extended family groups or clans. As nuclear families traveling on our own, the ties to home are tenuous and need to be reinforced with our children.

    One main difference between my childhood experience and my daughters’ was that my parents didn’t get involved in the feelings around moving. It was just, “Ok, we’re going to Zaire next. Isn’t that exciting?” with very little concern about the loss we might feel in leaving friends and somewhat familiar surroundings, plus the fear and trepidation about facing new, unknown territory. I cried a lot in my bedroom, then bucked up to face the new home. With my own children, it’s not as though they were given the choice of deciding where we would go, but at least I discussed it in detail, tried to point out the cool things they could do, and told them it was ok to feel sad and to cry. I acknowledged it was difficult to leave and to become part of a new peer group in another country. I paid great attention to their emotional needs during a stressful time of change and it paid off. I also ensured they were able to come home as much as possible and spend time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They knew where their extended family was and it gave them the courage to strike out on new adventures, knowing that family would be there when they got back.

    The FS life is manageable and children do learn to appreciate it and blossom in it when they’re older, at least most do. Shy and retiring children have a difficult time, so its important to take that into account. To try and ameliorate the upheaval in their children’s lives, particularly in middle and high school, many families send their children to boarding schools. Its another option; I just never considered it. We get precious little time with them anyway (mine still live at home 🙂

    I’m getting ready to retire at my minimum retirement age in a few years, and can’t wait to stay in one place for a while. Not sure what I’ll do, but it won’t be a career of travel. Call me a stick in the mud, but I prefer to call it coming down to earth, gently, contentedly and finally.

    Good luck!

  5. Cathy says:

    And one more thing…when I was young, keeping in touch with family and friends meant crackling telephone calls once a month or hand written letters that took a month to arrive. Our children now have Facebook, Skype, Chat, and others to maintain connections throughout their travels. I think that’s a major development that helps children ease through the transitions of life, particularly in the foreign service.

  6. Jo says:

    I am in a similar situation and I was disappointed to see that no-one made suggestions for alternative careers!!

  7. Sarah says:

    I came here also hoping someone had made suggestions for alternative careers (not that I’m anywhere near that point in my career yet, but was just thinking about it in general).

    My inexperienced guess, however, would be to look at the things you’ve done on your tours, and find the public sector equivalent. This might be easiest for the management and PD cones. Being PD myself, if I were to ever leave the FS I would probably look for jobs in PR, advertisement or event management, since there is a lot of overlap there between private sector job qualifications and experience in PD.

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