|Escape from Devil's Island|
Clusiot: You're Louis Dega. I'm Clusiot. How come you ended up in a place like this?
~ Papillon (movie, 1973)
Nary a day goes by that I don't find among the Key Search Words of my blog stats variations on the following:
"life after the foreign service"
"careers after the foreign service"
"deciding to leave the foreign service"
"leaving the foreign service"
Of DIPLO DENIZEN's hundred, or so, blog posts thus far (approaching 100,000 hits), Life After the Foreign Service ranks fourth in popularity. This tells me that a sizable segment of my reading audience comprises U.S. Foreign Service personnel and that many of these are actively contemplating leaving the service, but are anxious about timing, life plans and post partum depression. Some of you Foreign Service folks are on the threshold of retirement. Others of you are unhappy and simply wish to turn a new leaf, finally make an honest living. Still others have personal reasons ranging from relationship commitments to health issues to children's needs, etc. In Life After the Foreign Service, I said, "'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." This is clearly easier said than done. Being a cautious, rick-averse sort, with two toddlers and a foreign-born wife, I chose a decade ago to give up a government salary for a secure career in fiction writing. Next, with the help of some friends, I plan to break into Hollywood, also a no-brainer. The Foreign Service prepared me well for these pursuits, with Daliesque career turns, personalities straight out of One Flew Over of the Cuckoo's Nest, Kafkaesqe bureaucracy, and a personnel system that could keep Rod Serling at his typewriter for decades. My leap has yielded success with three Kindle bestsellers, national media attention and now selected among the top 20 percent out of 10,000 entrants in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest with my fourth novel. Yes, next stop, Hollywood.
Camp Commandant: Make the best of what we offer you, and you will suffer less than you deserve.
For those of you who feel trapped on a bureaucratic Devil's Island and with the desperate need to escape, you may wish to be bolder than I: take that leap into becoming a trapeze artist with Cirque du Soleil, a male stripper, or starring in your very own nationally syndicated cooking show. But if you're a hopeless prisoner of the nothing-ventured-nothing-lost Foreign Service culture, go for those lucrative UN consulting jobs, diplomat-in-residence teaching posts, or processing FOIA requests in the basement of SA-137½. Foreign Service people have a wealth of training and experiences to draw on to take the next leap into the private sector or other areas. I think many may undervalue the transferability of their skills. This is a possible shortcoming that each individual must overcome. I chose to take the unusual step of following my passion for creative writing. I did not want a "paycheck job," and eschewed forever bosses, commutes, dress codes and office politics. Others are comfortable in that world. If you are, go for it. But, if, like me, you're not, don't tie your hands.
Dega: If I stay - here in this place - I will die!
While serving as Charge d'Affaires in Phnom Penh in the early '90s, I had the mixed fortune of hosting Richard Holbrooke for a weekend. Bored in the private sector, Mr. Holbrooke was angling for a position in the Clinton administration, so went on a "fact-finding" jaunt to SE Asia. But that's another story. Anyway, the garrulous former FSO leaned forward while we were having drinks one evening, locked his eyes on mine, pointed his index finger at me and said, "The Foreign Service will always break your heart." (In his Scarsdale accent, he said, "haht.") I'm sure he had his own career path in mind when he said this, having quit the service after a decade to pursue a meteoric rise in foreign affairs by way of journalism, business and government.
I knew too many colleagues at State who were locked in bitter resentment in a career they no longer enjoyed. Their corrosive attitude wore on the rest of us, sometimes hindering the goals we needed to accomplish. They stayed in out of the need to pay the bills, reach that twenty years to be able to retire early, or the simple lack of courage and imagination to take the leap. I felt sorry for most of these people and occasionally tried to counsel them friend-to-friend. Others, with an inborn malignant streak, I ignored. If you detest what you're doing, but feel trapped, weigh the toll it may be taking on your health -- mental as well as physical -- and on your relationships with your loved ones. And while I greatly appreciate your reading my blog -- really! -- I don't want to write any more "Life After" posts. And you will find the answers not in cyberspace, but in your own heart.
Maybe the past is like an anchor holding us back. Maybe, you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be.
~ Carrie Bradshaw, Sex And The City
So, if your passion is trapeze, stripping, or cooking, and you're either leaving the service, or desperately wanting to leave, focus on the possibilities more than the hindrances. Everybody I knew thought I was nuts (some still do!) for not taking a safey post-FS route, having turned down a college teaching position, a consulting job, gigs teaching regional studies to spooks, and stiffing Mother State on WAE assignments. Call me crazy. Meanwhile, I collect royalties. And then there's Hollywood…
Miles: Joel, you wanna know something? Every now and then say, "What the f---." "What the f---" gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.
~ Risky Business (movie 1983)
See also --
Life after the Foreign Service