Our clueless ambassador in a war-torn country where guerrillas were targeting and killing foreigners ordered the embassy staff to travel into the lawless interior to monitor people's attitudes toward UN-sponsored free elections (Why I Write), an irresponsible order the staff refused to obey. My wife experienced a complicated and life-threatening pregnancy after MED -- the State Department's medical unit -- refused to authorize business class travel to the destination where she would give birth (Love, Romance and Sex in the U.S. Foreign Service - Part III: Making Babies). My boss in a communist country violated security rules in his emails, resulting in the host government's harassment of one of our best sources. The promotion and assignments processes were becoming an even more uneven playing field. . . .Time to leave the Foreign Service.
There is nothing like a Foreign Service career: getting paid to travel the world and live in foreign countries representing one's country; dealing with Big Picture issues; working with some of the smartest people on the planet; a variety in work content virtually unmatched in any other career. Twenty-three years in the U.S. Foreign Service gave me no end of challenges and adventures and opportunity to apply my brainpower toward history-making events and to meet presidents, kings and high-caliber intellectuals. I had the time of my life. But too many shortcomings in the system compelled me to make the decision to leave my government career early and to find reward in greener pastures.
As one advances in the ranks, one hears the refrain, "Is there life after the Foreign Service?" -- accompanied by much wringing of the hands. Contemplating the end of one's diplomatic career is akin to those 15th century folk who saw monsters and oblivion at the edge of world's end. It's understandable. After decades of working in a profession, what else does one know? And how do you apply airie-fairie statecraft skills to making money on the outside? Many turn to academia, think tanks, independent consulting, NGOs and international organizations. Logical fits.
Sorry. Not for this free spirit. Determined, against the counsel of family and friends, never to hold down another job again, never again to don suit and tie for work, never again to answer to a boss, never again to commute to an office, I made the wild and crazy decision to return to my roots: work on the family farm. Oops! Nope! The family farm was sold years ago. I mean my later roots: being a writer and making a living off of it. I turned down a lovely offer from a college president to be a "diplomat-in-residence," teaching a couple of courses and assisting in setting up a nascent international relations program. Then I declined a nice offer from a London-based political consulting company to take on assignments from them. The reason? I was too preoccupied with selling my spy-mob thriller, Permanent Interests and my war criminal thriller, CHASM. And my literary agent was expecting much more of me after the 2011 release of my Afghanistan thriller, Tribe. Teaching college and political consulting, simply put, would interfere in the marketing of my twisted fantasies.
Rather than doing the "right thing," this ex-FSO decided to follow his dream: fiction writing. I sit in my armchair at home or in my favorite cafe dreaming up and writing down plots involving Machiavellian politicians, lustful doyennes, mad generals, ruthless spies, flawed heroes and world-threatening events -- drawing from my rich motherlode of Foreign Service experiences (see Inspired Insomniac: Voices in the Night).
And it's worked! All three of my thrillers (My Books) and have been Amazon bestsellers, topping the lists for Political Fiction, Spy Stories and Action & Adventure. My agent also represents Stieg Larsson ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," etc). I've received positive blurbs/reviews from NYT bestselling authors and have been featured on NBC's Today Show, the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post and other media. Nice exposure for selling more books. I'm winding up my fourth novel, a spy tale set in Cuba. I'm actually making a living doing this. Of course, it ain't easy when you lack full first amendment rights (Why I'm Censored).
The lesson? "Do the right thing" doesn't necessarily apply. You've done that for years as a buttoned-down, team-playing, don't-rock-the-boat bureaucrat. Try something new. Listen to your heart and follow your dreams. I did.
Life After the Foreign Service, Part II
Greta Garbo & Me
How To Get Ahead in the U.S. Foreign Service
Why I Write