Saturday, July 28, 2012

A-100 Week Two In The Bag

Last night Tim and I joined a bunch of classmates packed into someone else's apartment to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies. Tacked to the wall of the living room was a bedspread-sized world map, with each of the posts from our bid list carefully labeled with tiny slivers of sticky notes. When I commented on what a great map it was, our hostess noted with pride, "And it has South Sudan on it, too!" to which the entire room responded, "Ooohhhhh!" 

And we were in no way being sarcastic.

It's so nice being among people who feel the same way about things like politically accurate maps.

However, as I get to know my classmates, and I hear them talk about their backgrounds, what they were doing before the start of A-100, and the types of things they've already accomplished - it makes me wonder if I just had a really good day last May when I passed that Oral Assessment. During the past two weeks, we have had opportunities to hear from and meet with senior members of the Foreign Service, and they frequently ask about where we'd like to be posted. After we answer, the next comment is often something along the lines of, "You'll be able to do very important work there; really exciting stuff going on."


I mean, it sounds good, doing really important work, right? But it also means that we, you know, understand what to do, how to do it and then actually do it well enough so that it does end up being "really important."  I should note here that I don't consider myself a big risk-taker. I like to step onto ice that I know is thick enough to support me. And I'm fairly certain that I'm the only one in my class with an Associate's degree in Equine Studies. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm the only one with an associate's degree, period. Right now (and by that I mean for the next few years), I'd prefer to be doing something moderately-important-but-if-you-totally-mess-up-it-won't-cause-an-international-incident. Where can I sign up for that?

I see how my over-achiever classmates eat this stuff up, but sometimes I just want to blend in until I can get into the swing of things. I remember my first three months in Bogota when I felt like a goldfish on the carpet, grasping for breath and feeling like I was really sucking. My supervisor told me not to worry and that my predecessor got things figured out, "after about a month." That month passed and I was still lost and beginning to question whether I had been kidding myself all along. But then yesterday, as I wrote a quick email to the young man (a summer hire student) who is covering my position in Bogota temporarily, I found myself telling him that if he wanted to know how to do anything, just drop me an e-mail and I'd be happy to fill him in.

I guess I finally did figure it out. I'm sure that this current phase of self-doubt will also pass.

Meanwhile, we've been getting some really interesting training on the skills we'll need to have when we hit the ground in our new countries. Besides being in these classes full-time, outside of FSI, we're still also wrangling with our bid list priorities and all the research that entails and doing our best to balance the pushing and pulling we feel from our personal lives. Things like spouses and their work opportunities, kids and appropriate schools, pets and import restrictions, language requirements and timing for training, security, health and climate of the host country - and let's not forget that we also have to consider, "Do I want to DO this job for two years in this country?" For those of us with any or many of the aforementioned complexities in our lives (the majority of us), often the latter consideration slips to the least priority behind the others.

I find it rather ironic that this life takes people who are extremely self-directed, self-motivated, take-charge, mover-and-shaker types who have successfully steered their lives towards bright and shiny horizons... and then puts them in a situation where the most important aspects of their lives and careers are reduced to chance and placed completely into the hands of others. We do as much planning and predicting as we can, but in the end - we're going where they send us and we're making the best of it.

I'm surprised there's not a reality show about this yet. 

But today is Saturday and it's sunny and summery. Tim and I are relishing the warmth after a year of 64 and partly cloudy and the Tabbies are sprawled out on their balcony. For the time being - life is pretty good.


  1. *hugs* That treacherous inner voice is stressful. Don't let it get you down. I think most people at State would be lying if they said it hadn't whispered in their ears, raising vicious self-doubt at every cochlear opportunity. It's just as important for our colleagues as well as as our foreign audiences to realize that American diplomats are supposed to represent all of America - not just those who got fancy degrees at expensive schools, or who come from The Right Families. While it is stressful at times, we're stronger for presenting a multifaceted face to the world!

  2. “It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” - Dumbledore

    You could be in my shoes. Choose money or happiness. Why must a little kid like me be faced with choices that are so efficacious?

  3. Thanks for the support Hannah! I'm just a cautious type, which fortunately isn't a life-threatening illness and generally passes with time.

    And CC - don't be so sure that your two choices are so clear as you could limit yourself from being surprised when the money route turns out to be filled with happiness or your happy route is less-than-imagined. All you can do is make a decision and then make it the right one.

  4. I read your blog vey carefully .i think it is very knoledegable information for everyone

  5. We had a lot of "imposter syndrome" at first - I think everyone does. Amen to Hannah. You'll be great!