I started this blog as a new mom, in a new job that suited my desire for flexibility and family time, but that I did not find meaningful or fulfilling. This tension between my professional aspirations and my new family priorities was a major impetus for this blog. If I was no longer defined by what I do, what determines my identity? The obvious answer was my family, but that identity did not include much of the person I was before having a child. In the years since, I have concluded that I am both “mom” and “me,” even as it is becoming ever more difficult to distinguish between the two.
For the past six+ years, I have told myself (and many others have told me) that the ability to regularly work from home, take long vacations, and adjust my work hours to meet my family’s needs was worth compromising my professional ambition. I reminded myself how lucky I was to have colleagues I liked, tasks I was good at, an easy commute, and great work/life balance. At the same time, I placated my nascent ambition by taking advantage of every opportunity for growth available at my agency. During my time there, I was promoted to the highest level, offered the top position in my legal speciality, and completed an intensive leadership development program. The more I accomplished, however, the more clear it became that my work did not contribute to my personal identity. It was a good job, but not a career that I could see myself in for the long term. Thus, it became increasingly clear to me that at some point, I would leave behind my mom-friendly job for something better suited to me.
In sixth grade, we each had to choose a carer that interested us, research it, interview someone in the field, and write a report about the profession. I chose the U.S. Foreign Service. I threw myself into my research. The more I learned about the diplomatic profession, the more I was sure it was for me. My parents even helped me track down a retired ambassador to interview. He assured me the job was more politics than parties, with a heavy dose of principled leadership. I took the Foreign Service Written Exam as soon as I was eligible, but chickened out after the Oral Assessment because I was afraid I’d be lonely and might not meet my soul mate.
Now, more than a decade later, with my soul mate by my side and three small kids tagging along, I have finally joined the U.S. Foreign Service. It was an inauspicious start. After being sworn in at a nearly-empty State Department, the other new Foreign Service Officers and I were instructed to conduct “self study” about the history and practice of diplomacy while our instructors were furloughed. I was happy to have quality time with my family, but many of my colleagues had flown in from far away and left their families behind. After two weeks of readings, online courses, study groups, and lots of uncertainty, we began our training at the Foreign Service Institute two weeks ago.
I’ve always been drawn to public service because it feels meaningful, but also because this inglorious work attracts talented, dedicated people who make inspiring colleagues. The Foreign Service exemplifies this general rule, and I am proud to be among some of the most exceptional individuals I’ve ever met (I’m suffering from some impostor syndrome). Right now, I am being paid to learn, which is literally my dream come true. But during my four hours of commuting each day (round trip), I have lots of time to question whether I made the right choice in leaving my mom-friendly job. The intense schedule (and long commute) of the training is temporary, but being a diplomat is a 24/7 job, often in very challenging parts of the world. Worst case scenario, my family could be ordered to evacuate from our post (see, for example, the recent ordered departures of diplomats’ spouses and children from Venezuela). Even if my family loves where we are assigned, this career means that we will need to pack up and move in two years, and again two years after that. This constant disruption will be hard on me and my husband, but we are looking forward to experiencing many different countries and cultures in a way that is impossible when just visiting as a tourist. I am not sure my children will embrace the frequent re-starts.
Circling back to my 2019 resolution, however, I cannot know how joining the Foreign Service will impact my family until we try it. Over the past seven years, I have constructed a strong foundation with each of my children that I will continue to build upon daily, even if I have less time. I, my husband, and my young kids will all suffer some growing pains as we stretch to fit this new lifestyle I have thrust upon each of us. Guilt plagues me, both for having less time with my family on a daily basis and for imposing my career choice on them. Still, I believe this growth will benefit each of us in ways we cannot predict. I hope that this career jump will turn out to be inspiring and fulfilling for me, but also a valuable gift I can give my children.