Saturday, December 31, 2011

This was the year....

...that I turned the corner.

I started 2011 in a bit of a down spot. I'd just come off of a fabulous 9-months working at the State Department and was faced with settling back into the job that brought me to D.C. in the first place. A job that I love and is absolutely perfect for me, but one that didn't quite feel the same after my short stint as a world-traveling enviro-diplomat. I knew that I still had lots to learn back at my old desk, and was grateful to have such a rewarding place to work, but I also felt in my gut that I eventually was headed back to State.

Thankfully, 2011 also brought some issues to my work that kept me busy and challenged while I decided how and when I would make my way back to the diplomatic world. I also moved into my very own grown-up one-bedroom apartment and had a full itinerary of travel for fun and work planned. In March, I bounced around Spain for 10 days with one of my best friends, drinking wine, sampling tapas, and admiring Picasso and Gaudi. After a short 20 hours back in D.C., I turned around for a work trip to Copenhagen that allowed me to get a quick fix of the international side of my job and also gave me a chance to see how Scandinavia celebrates St. Patrick's Day. At the end of April I headed to Costa Rica for a good friend's wedding festivities. It was the first time, probably ever, that I had gone on a vacation with the goal of sitting in one place and letting someone else figure out my activities. It was bliss.

The summer kicked off with a week in June in Denver for leadership training topped off by a weekend with my sister. Then 4th of July weekend in Seattle/San Juan Islands for a friend's bachelorette party. Another week in August for family camping in the North Idaho mountains, where there wasn't any huckleberries or cell phone reception but there were plenty of bugs. In September I headed way north and way west to experience Nome, Alaska for a work event with a quick stop in Anchorage on my way back to D.C. A few weeks later it was back to Seattle in for a wonderful wedding of two amazing friends. In October I turned 30, a low-key cabin affair with breweries, wineries, and waterfalls. I then managed to stay out of an airplane until December for my recent Christmas trip home.

Between all of the traveling and working, I also started to settle into my current job while paving a course for my future. This is where the corner turning really happened. After two plus years of working, I started gaining more responsibility and confidence in my career. All of sudden I was the go to person for certain things, and I loved it. Going to meetings and not only having something to say, but being expected to lead.

And finally, as I've documented here on this blog, my quest towards the foreign service has gone forward surprisingly smoothly. I took the written test in June, passed, was invited to the oral exam, and then passed that in November. I'm now on the register to be a foreign service officer, which was pretty unimaginable one year ago. Quite unexpectedly, 2011 turned out to be an amazing year filled with a comfortable combination of settling down in my current life while seeking out my next life. And so 2012 begins...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the register!

Well, that was fast! In this whole journey to be a Foreign Service Officer, I've been warned that waiting, delay, and uncertainty is the norm. So after passing the oral exam back in November, I figured that getting my medical and security clearances complete and through the system would take a few months. Even with a current security clearance, I assumed that the holidays and the general slow trod of the bureaucratic machine I have come to know so well would put me on the register sometime in January or March. So I was pretty stunned last Friday when I got a letter (not an email) letting me know that I had been placed on the register exactly 30 days after passing the oral!

The upside is that all of the process stuff is out of the way and all I have to do now is concentrate on learning Russian. But the downside is that right now I have over 50 people ahead of me, with more being added as they pass the oral with higher scores or add language points. But, if I pass the Russian phone test sometime in the next year, I would probably end up in the top 5, pretty much guaranteeing me a spot in the next class. Of course, I could still get called up into an A-100 without the language points with the black box of budget + hiring needs + other factors (need for last minute class fillers) = an offer. This equation means that you're number on the list isn't always the end all be all. But I'm not one to rely on chance, so я буду учить русский язык.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Women in Public Service

While trolling around the twitterverse a couple weeks ago, I came across a project that seemed so obvious and simple, yet so clearly needed, that I had to share it here on my public service focused blog. The Women in Public Service Project was started "To build a generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership in their governments, and change the way global solutions are forged." One of the key goals of the WPSP is to bring up and coming women leaders from around the world together for training, mentoring, and network building.

On December 15, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton kicked off the WPS Project at a colloquium that featured an all-star line-up of female public servants, including Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State; Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations’ Development Programme and former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo; Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services; and Gloria Steinem, a preeminent feminist activist and author. One student blogger from Bryn Mawr  did a great summary of the key messages, with five pieces of advice for young women aspiring to be public servants that rang particularly true for me:

1) "Have confidence and belief in your vision

This is probably one of the hardest thing for young women to do, and while I am completely confident in my personal vision, transferring that belief to my work vision is not always easy. I always imagine that I will walk into a meeting and state exactly what I believe is the right course of action, but of course I often don't. However, as time has gone by, I've realized that my insight is valuable, whether I'm new to an issue or well-versed in the topic, and that there is little risk to speaking up.

2) "Seek out and foster relationships with mentors"

Absolutely. I have some amazing mentors in my life and am now working to be a resource for other young women. And I've also learned that building relationships with peers is equally important. Having a network of friends and colleagues, and working to maintain those connections as everyone moves up and out, is key. I am now very lucky to have friends both in and out of the government whom I know I can turn to when I need career or life advise, or if I just need someone to grab coffee or a drink with after a long day of work (so important!).

3) “Test your limits

In my short time in D.C. I've been able to be a part of things that I never in a million years thought would be possible. I've traveled around the world on behalf of the U.S. government and I've sat at a negotiating table and spoke into that microphone. I've participated on committees with dozens of people twice my age and I have stepped up to lead major efforts, despite my age and inexperience. Even when I don't think I'm ready, I stand up and do what needs to be done, and have been rewarded immensely for taking these chances.

4) “Grin and bear it

This advice came from Secretary Clinton on the criticism and scrutiny that women in positions of power face.  I don't think she was talking about being quiet at meetings or work, but rather she was telling women to grow a thick skin when it comes to how you are perceived. For women much more than men, who you are in public seeps into your work, and vice-versa. Our personal lives, who we date, our friends, our family, all become more ways for people to judge us at work. This may not be fair, and I hope it changes, but in the mean time I've become very cautious about how I live my life. New York Times Columnist Gail Collins recently highlighted a case of an Ambassador failing to receive confirmation because of her relationship decades ago.

In her column titled "The Ghosts of Boyfriend's Past" Collins paints a tongue-in-cheek picture of Mari Carmen Aponte's blocked nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador because of the objections of a few conservative Senator's over her boyfriend 2 decades prior. The situation would be amusing if it weren't downright discouraging to women seeking to be in positions of power someday. While I'm just at the beginning of my foreign service career, I have high aspirations and so am trying not to spook myself by thinking about the potential ghosts in my closet.

5) "Develop a strong understanding of economics"

At first glance this piece of advice seeks esoteric and out of place in a list of aspirational tid-bits, but I whole-heartedly agree. I started with a solid foundation in economics from graduate school and have since added to that by working in an economic-focused office and keeping up on current policy issues. Even though my passion is the environment, I fully appreciate that addressing climate change or preventing oil spills cannot be done without taking into account trade, business, and the global economy. In fact, I believe doing so will best be done through the economy, along with the right set of policy incentives. As a future Economic FSO, I'm betting my career on my understanding of economics and I think as a woman, this sets me apart.

So thanks to the Women in Public Service Project for keeping the ball rolling and providing a forum and tool for future women leaders.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tis the Season

One of the great things about living in Washington D.C. is that I'm never bored. There is always a concert, gallery, museum, or happy hour and great friends to accompany me to whatever random event pops up. And it seems that the longer you live in this city, the more people you know who can get you into the "good" events.

Over the past couple of weeks my social calendar has bulked up as the holidays descend on our Nation's Capitol. The Christmas season was officially kicked off by the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. Tickets to this annual event are available by lottery only, and this year I entered but did not receive tickets. Lucky for me, a colleague at work had the fancy seating-area tickets that are only available to a select few, and she had two extra seats. So instead of standing in the back, freezing, I was up near the front where I could see the President, Michelle, their girls, and of course Kermit and Santa. We even ran into Carson Daly, the host, on our way out.
Picture from Huffington Post/Getty Images of the lit tree and White House. 

Just after the Christmas Tree lighting, a friend and I walked over to the Newseum for the launch party for Coca-Cola's "Arctic Home" initiative. Both of us work on Arctic policy from the government side of things, so we were interested to see what Coca-Cola was planning to do with the iconic polar bears. As part of their awareness raising effort, they changed the can from red to white during the holiday season, which has apparently caused all sorts of confusion and outrage. Can color aside, it seems that Coca-Cola and WWF are partnering to help preserve the last areas of the Canadian Arctic that will experience melting due to climate change. Basically, ensuring that an "ice-refuge" will be protected for the threatened species. Of course, it's more complicated than that, but the party they threw in the polar bear's honor was lovely none the less. They had specially themed drinks, polar bear cookies, yummy appetizers, and a preview for a forthcoming Imax film that brought be back to my elementary school field trip to see Blue Planet on the Imax screen.

The Christmas extravaganza continued this week with a invite to the Danish Embassy's "Creative Christmas" party at the Ambassador's residence. It was great fun, like hanging out in someone's very large Danish Modern living room, but with fabulous catering, three bars, and live music. Once again there was an Arctic theme, with Greenland (which is under the Kingdom of Denmark) providing the inspiration for food and drink.

Finally, the week ended with the annual Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) holiday party. This was my third RPCV event in D.C., and it's always a great event. Unfortunately I didn't walk away with any of the silent auction items I was going for (there was a large basket that someone kept out-bidding me on), but the event was still a good showing of like-minded world travelers.