Joining the Foreign Service is Plan B

This has been quite the day… and it’s still going.

I’m currently writing to you from inside a plane where we have been sitting on the runway for 45 minutes and counting. Right before take off we were grounded by air traffic control because of an impeding storm of, what must be, epic proportions (no estimated time of departure is being given to the pilots either). To look at the dark clouds rolling in, it just might be. Why we are not allowed to return to the airport and sit it out, I do not know.

Being the second flight I am trying to take out of DCA tonight, all I know is that I’m going to miss my connection.

It might be the dark clouds that are bringing these dark words to the page (Game of Thrones fans a reference, “dark wings bring dark words”), but then again, it might also be that I took the FSOT this morning and I do not feel confident that I passed.

Do not think what follows is terse and depressing thoughts on the FSOT process.

(Also, I’ll keep you updated on the weather with parenthesis)

As I wait for takeoff, I thought this would be a good time to keep to a promise in my last post and write about why becoming a FSO is Plan B.

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer is Plan B

I have done a lot of personal research on the Foreign Service and have posted some of it on this blog. From it, I have come to realize something about my aspirations to become an Officer: career wise it has to be Plan B.

(Still no rain but nearly dark outside)

Plan B does not mean that I am putting my goals of becoming a FSO on the wayside. What it instead means is that I am not going to hold my breath for the job. I am not going to put all my hopes into becoming a FSO. I am not going to hold back from advancing in another career.

For some this might seem like common sense, for others you may not agree. Even though I know I have been stating this mindset to myself for the last year, it has only been the last few months in which I have truly allowed it to sink in and believe it.

(Drizzling now, completely dark)

Becoming a Foreign Service Officer is not easy. Many will try to become one but only a few will succeed. A few months ago I met with a recruiter who told me that only 4% of people who take the FSOT will become a Foreign Service Officer. That’s 4%. I run two highly competitive fellowship programs in the field of education that have better odds (index funds have a better return even).

(Raining, I have definitely missed my connection; they still think it will be another twenty minutes…)

I am not going to hold my breath for the job

It is important to note that I am writing this not because I think the process of becoming a FSO is too difficult and I am looking for an excuse. It is difficult for a reason. I am writing this because it is a mental state I think is important to hold.

Becoming an Officer is a very, very long process. If you are lucky enough to shotgun through it then I’ve heard it can be done in just under a year. For most, it takes about a year. If you have lived or traveled extensively overseas, like myself, it will take longer as State Department officials look into your background and try to collaborate your history (if I ever get to that step I really wonder how long it will take).

Let us average it out to a year to make it simple. It might not seem like it, but a lot can happen. You can get promoted in your current job, you can get fired, you can get married, have kids, get a dog, break a leg, learn a new hobby. The list is extensive. All this and more is possible if you allow it to become possible (though I hope you don’t allow yourself to break your leg…).

In other words, you cannot hold your breath with the ONE goal of becoming an Officer, for you will turn blue in the face! You cannot put your life on hold. Go marry that special someone. Go take that trip. Go ahead and sign-up for classes. Have kids if this is something you want.

Again, the process is a lengthy one, so go enjoy life and not stall it.

I am not going to put all my hopes into becoming a FSO

This one is simple. Do I want to become an officer? Yes I do. Will this be my one hope in life? Not at all.

My career goal since college has been to work and travel overseas, if I can get paid doing it then even better.

(Pilots just got the ok, 1.5 hours later…. Yup, 1.5 hours sitting on the runway…)

This is what I am ultimately aspiring and hoping for. The Foreign Service is one option, but not the only. All I need to do is find the alternate. If anybody is actually (still) reading this, I welcome your suggestions.

I am not going to hold back from advancing in another career

This is a mix of the above two and as such I will keep it short.

Keep advancing in your career.

There are many roads and avenues that will lead to the achievements we want. It is up to you to facilitate it and not to turn down other good opportunities while you are working towards becoming an FSO.

Concluding thoughts

Since last June when I took the FSOT (a year ago now), a lot has happened: I moved, my relationship status changed, I was promoted at work, Costa Rica nearly beat the Netherlands (insert negative comments about the 2014 World Cup Dutch team here, yes I am biased, and here’s to a successful 2015 Women’s World Cup) and more.

Things change and the future is uncertain. Go live it and “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

This might seem counter to what you would expect on a Foreign Service blog, where the purpose may be to just promote the FS, but unlike other blogs where the writer is already an Officer, I am one who is aspiring to become so. As such, it is important to keep all possibilities open.

Again, I don’t want this to be seen as a breakdown, or a loss of hope, or anything negative. I believe this is an important mental state to have, and one I was going to write about regardless of my thoughts on the June 2015 FSOT.

I will continue to pursue this career, and I hope you will too.

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21 thoughts on “Joining the Foreign Service is Plan B”

  1. Katrina Louise

    hello! i would like to ask what are the other jobs you got into while pursuing your job as a FSO

    1. Hi Katrina! I am an education program manager and have made a career in this field. My background is in political science and I have the long term goal of becoming a FSO. 😀

  2. Would you consider a pursuing a career in the military or intelligence community? What cone of the FS had you wanted to pursue?

  3. I hope you did better than you think. I’m about to walk out the door for my second FSOT. I’m much more nervous this time than last, hoping I don’t perform worse, and praying I don’t make the same mistake as last year. Safe travels.

    1. I think it got a little harder this year, at least the questions I received. Maybe last year’s was recycled stuff due to the ACT to Pearson changeover, or maybe I just grew in my stupidity. I was super anxious going in, but that all disappeared once I was started and on task. Perfectionist mentality makes it a real challenge for me.

      1. I hope you pass Colby! I think we have another week of waiting before the results come out. I’m trying not to think about it much, which probably explains my lack of new posts. Keep going!

        1. Thanks. Hoping results come out before Independence Day. I’ll be able to celebrate in disheartened relief or ecstatic panic instead of anxiously refreshing my email.

        2. I’m just going to guess, with results being out the past five days and no ecstatic post, that you didn’t make it this time? If that’s the case, I wish you all the best and hope you hold to your statement that you will continue to pursue this career. Good luck!

  4. I think I can empathize with the anxiety you’re feeling. I describe it as driving into a wall and then repeating it annually. I have passed the FSOT three times, making it past the QEP round once (my first attempt, ironically). That day in D.C. still stings badly, I never got over it. In the meantime, I’ve worked other jobs (including a year overseas) and lived FSOT to FSOT, reading more books, mags, blogs like yours, learning languages, and applying for parallel career paths. (Georgetown’s Careers in International Affairs book is helpful, BTW). Debating getting a masters in foreign relations as I’ve already read much of the curriculum. My family is now older so that changes the calculus a bit, but I’ll be back in the testing center in November to drive my car toward the wall again. If none of it works out, I’ll likely stay in my current job and find other ways to apply myself. But there’s that apparently true story of the guy who applied for 25+ years before finally getting in.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story JTapp. Hopefully the November exam and following process will be your ticket! I will look into the suggested book, that might actually be a resource I will find of use. I look forward to hearing your progress!

      1. Hi, I passed the OA last Friday. We’ll see what happens from there. Keep plugging away, perseverance pays off. There was a 10-year veteran Ag FSO taking the exam as well, he found it challenging.

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