Today FSI welcomed the 127th Specialist Class and the 169th A-100 class and as I stood at the balcony above the Wood Lobby, overlooking the traditional spot for the welcome breakfast of the incoming classes, I noticed that many of my new colleagues-to-be were, well, my age. It wasn't a surprise, as my own A-100 had maybe a dozen new FSOs who fit this demographic, but it made me think of how starting such a career and all the training and life changes it entails might be a totally different experience for those over 40, as opposed to those who are 25, or even 32.
Here is one person's perspective, some postives and some (what are we supposed to call them now?), oh yeah - "challenges." I suppose I could have interviewed my classmates and presented a truly well-rounded point of view, but frankly I've had a bunch of homework lately and I'm tired. And it's Tuesday, and except for the weekly BBQ here at our Oakwood - I don't do anything on work nights. So with that preamble, you just get my opinion. And it brings me to my first point:
1. It's TIRING!
Being in A-100, Specialist Orientation, language training, ConGen or any of the other permutations of FSI training is truly draining. Because I don't like it? No way! Quite the opposite! Because we all worked so hard to get here, sometimes after years of efforts, we just want to do well. We want to be successful in our new careers and they are giving us a LOT of new information. And for the most part, we have to be seated in too-stuffy or too-air-conditioned classrooms to receive it. Or basically immobile recipients of lectures for hours at a time. It's just plain tiring to one's brain to be on the receiving end of this much important information for an extended period of time. And not only are we learning about our new jobs, but also our new lives. Which brings me to...
2. It's harder to pack up and move all your stuff when you're no longer 25 because, frankly, there is simply more of it to move!
Before joining the FS last year, I had to go through an attic and a garage full of my childhood. Boxes of childhood "treasures" that were packed when I moved away to college had to be opened and each item had to have a decision made as to its fate. Decades worth of worldly possessions had to be sorted. For some of us, houses had to be sold or prepared for rental. All this is far more mentally and physically taxing than for those of us who merely had to not renew a rental agreement, drop off a few boxes of text books at mom's house and get on a plane.
3. What about the significant other?
I see two sides to this situation: over 40 and attached, you're either asking them to leave a career at its peak - or if you're lucky - they're on the nearing-retirement side and can easily make the graceful slide into probable unemployment. Do the family members try to continue growing their career, or accept that this new phase in life is going to be about valuing different types of rewards? Of my classmates, many have chosen the semi-retirement route and seem to be far less stressed and more excited about accepting options that take them waaay off the beaten path.
3. But what about your kids?
The over-40s could easily have to support college tuitions about now - harder to do on suddenly one income. Or the teenagers are still in school and you're faced with explaining to them why they're learning French (to move to the Congo) and how great it is that they'll meet so many new friends (that they'll leave in two years). Our solution: I waited to apply for a FS career until my youngest step-child was about to graduate from high school and head for college dorm life, only then did we feel "available" to leave the country.
4. Let's add some advantages:
In my brain right now, alongside all the new material I've been shoving in under the cushions, are decades of memories and experiences from many different careers, jobs, travels, accidental learning moments and lessons from watching others. I can honestly say that my five years in an urban police department has prepared me far better for this work than if I'd chosen to study International Business somewhere. And being self-employed as a riding instructor taught me about customer service, managing my own schedule and handling crises. I wouldn't have all that if I chose this path fresh from college. And I wouldn't have all the role models of great managers and co-workers that have been picked up along the way (and their opposites).
5. And on the other side of that coin...
Next to the aforementioned experiences come 40-something years of memories taking up vital gray matter byte space. Things like the lyrics to 1970s pop hits ("Sky rockets in flight...afternoon delight!"), every Brady Bunch episode ever filmed, the Denevi Camera commerical from the San Francisco Bay Area circa 1976, what Bubble Yum gum tastes like and how much a pair of jeans cost in junior high. This stuff is taking up a lot of room that I could be using to store all this new information! Is it physically possible to be 56 years old (I'm not - I'm jus' asking) and absorb six weeks of A-100, six weeks of ConGen, ten weeks of GSO training with its 2000 page procurement regulations guide and a full course of Arabic? This is not a rhetorical question - there is a real possibility that this could happen to you!
To summarize: while I know that I gain from my experience and history and general life knowledge and have the more relaxed demeanor of someone who doesn't feel they need to go out and conquer life, I do feel at a disadvantage in terms of stamina. Let's face it, it's a lot harder to get up off the carpet after tying my shoes in the morning and I'm just not up for Wednesday night Happy Hours and going out clubbing on ladies' nights ("but it's only $5!" isn't such a draw anymore). We just get tired faster, and that's okay.
Next up: I'll see if I can wrangle some classmates to help me with FS at 25.
I'm sure I'll find them in the gym.