Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Responding to a comment

I got a comment on my entry Here's a More Accurate View: The Foreign Service, A Rewarding Life But It’s Not for Everyone.

Anonymous said...
"So here's my dilemma - I've made it to the top of the Econ register, but have asked for a "temporary postponement" while I sort out my family and current job options.

My concerns include: as a female potential FSO in my early 30s, I'm worried about my young family's safety and about my husband's job track. He's been a steady career guy all his life and is nervous about following me around into the Great Unknown.

I'd also be giving up a much greater salary (not to mention my husband's income). So here's the question - just how great is the FS? Is it worth it for me to take the risk(s) or should I pass? Is it all it's cracked up to be, or is it a lot of bureaucracy and not as much on the job learning?

Any insights from other FSOs would be greatly appreciated!"

I started to respond on that post, but thought Anonymous would be better served by me reposting it here and opening it up to everyone for comment.

For me, it is a very personal decision, and not one that I regret even though I gave up a career I loved. But it isn't for everyone.

The running joke in the State Department is that the answer to every question is "it depends," and that is certainly true here. Is it worth it for me? Yes, but for you, it depends. Yes, you will get experiences you would never get anywhere else. You will experience countries in a way no tourist can. You will have the chance to do meaningful work and make a difference. But it is also a bureaucracy.

Will your children be safe? It depends. Some 85% of folks in the Foreign Service, me included, have been the victim of crime. I felt very safe overseas, but there are some who don't. Some spouses find meaningful work, some don't. I found being a Member of Household unacceptable, so I joined the service, but not everyone can make that choice. So it depends.

I hope others will weigh in. All I can say is that for me, I love what I am doing, can't wait to go back overseas, and don't regret my choice.

For me, it is definitely worth it.


A Daring Adventure said...

Good heavens. That 85% thing that you just mentioned. I want to say FOR REAL? But I know if it wasn't for real, you wouldn't have posted it.

Does that number include the spouses and children also? Or just the employee?


Digger said...

That was the number we were told in security overseas seminar when I joined. And of course everyone in the room thought they'd be in the other 15% (me included). But of course, M and I were robbed at knifepoint and the apartment was robbed before she joined me at post.

Anonymous said...

Everything Digger said is right: "it depends." But the person postponed her entrance to the FS and expressed grave doubts just in looking at her own salary situation. "Heard it was bureaucratic." Yeah, it is, by definition. Big time. And her write-up suggested no real support for the idea from her husband. She should keep postponing til he really supports the idea.

A Daring Adventure said...

Hello, Anonymous,

Before I say anything, you do need to understand the source: I am a mid-30's married girl in what can only be described as an 1800's marriage (I was about to say 1950's, but probably 17-1800's is closer! LOL!). I am the "trailing" spouse.

This works great for all of us... I stay home with the kids... and homeschool them... and my husband is the sole breadwinner. It's too cold to be barefoot and we're unable to be pregnant but, yes, I spend a heckuva lot of time in the kitchen!

That said, I will say that the minute I read your message my first reaction was concern for your husband. I am not at all trying to project any of my situation onto you or anyone else - not AT ALL - but we're been married for a very, very long time and our children are approaching adulthood and I have learned through the many years we've been together that, in our lives, almost THE most important thing in the family dynamic is for my husband to love and value his job.

The darkest days of our lives together (and we were high school sweethearts, so we've been together a Very. Long. Time.) have been when my husband was trapped in job positions or job circumstances that didn't utilize his true potential, life experiences, and talents.

The brightest days have been when my husband was happy and challenged in his job, and felt happy in his job circumstances. I cannot imagine that he is the only man to feel this way. But that's not at all to say that ALL men do. Your husband may be completely different from mine! But you must be discerning in this matter.

I'm hoping that maybe David of EF'M... or Andy of Travel Orders... or perhaps the Scrivners or Ryan from Ryan & Lori's Exciting Adventures may have some input here, for they are all gentlemen who are trailing spouses... but in the end, if I may be so bold, I do believe that they feel that they have the ability to maintain their careers whist still "following" their wives. Some try to join their wives in State - they go tandem - others just have portable interests and careers...

... but as a married woman (in an 1800's marriage!) I would very much caution you to make completely sure that your husband has the ability to maintain a promising, involving, enriching career *even if* you join State. Otherwise, the cost may be too high.

And please don't think that finding a job for him overseas will be easy. The statistics are rather grim. Something like 66% of all trailing spouses (male and female) want to be working overseas at any given time, and something like 25% of them actually *are*. Jobs that travel with you and that can be done remotely with good internet access are promising, but sometimes good internet access is impossible to have... just ask Jill of The Perlman Update!

That said, one cannot deny that State is a fabulous opportunity. Knowing nothing of either of you, perhaps you would find peace in the knowledge that you will not be laid off... that you will have steady health insurance and a dependable retirement package... that you will get to travel and try new things... that your children will have access to great educational opportunities... there are many "pros" to State that cannot be ignored and that I would NEVER try to reason away.

Furthermore, life's instabilities cannot be ignored. A position with State would secure you, career-wise, for a lifetime. Should your husband fall ill or should you both ever go your separate ways, you would have a steady, dependable, dynamic career of your own, and that is very, very important.

As for our family, we are incredibly thrilled to be a part of State and you can be very, very proud that you have made it to this point! Few do. And many try.

Blessings to you - I do not envy you both this very difficult decision. And please forgive me if I have overstepped any gender/marriage boundaries.

jc said...

"It depends." I think it's the right career for me at this point in my life (the Department may not agree), but it may not be for you.

Expect frustrations:

It can be a hard life for families - particularly for the trailing spouse.

It can be hard mid-career to take an entry level position and be expected to "pay your dues". Those cones that give more authority responsibility sooner may not track you towards the top of the career.

It's likely that at some point you'll come under pressure to take an unaccompanied post. You can say no, but no one will give you credit for the sacrifice you made joining the service.

There are countries in which diplomatic status can put you in a bit of a bubble - separated from local society. There are countries in which you (and your family) may appreciate being in that bubble.

With all that said - it's an amazing career. I find the work extremely rewarding - it may sound cliched, but it does make a difference. I trully appreciate the colleagues I've worked with (the Americans are impressive, but it's really the FSNs I'm referring to.) It can be a wonderful career - but go in fully aware of the challenges.

Bfiles said...

I wish more FSOs would chime in...this is a great post. I am only a candidate, but it does seem to me that the EFM spouses I read about have to want this life and be willing to endure a lot of challenges. Some seem more frustrated by those challenges than others. I tried to convince my husband to be an EFM and have time to pursue other life goals (writing a screenplay, etc) and he nixed that idea definitively (we're now trying to be a tandem couple). I do think some men have more identity wrapped up in their careers than women, and if your husband is one of those, it could be a challenge. Good luck figuring it out.

A Daring Adventure said...

It's Friday, and that means that the Two Month Blogiversary of the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

(If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


Anonymous said...

As someone who is on the way to entering the service (but who is admittedly not in yet) I would say no. Don't do it. Your husband needs to be 100% on board. Besides that, the pay is not THAT great that you can just pack up a family and live off one salary if you have student loans, and housing responsibilities back in the States.

I always ask female FSOs about this. One FSO's husband had to be her driver. It was the only job available. He was an engineer by training. Your husband will resent having to pack his life every few years for your career. Additionally, if you (or he) eventually decides to leave, the huge gap in formal employment in his resume will only make it harder for him to find a job in his field (think of it like the mommy tax in reverse). And just going on what Digger said, you have little choice on that in the first four years anyway. What if you are posted in a place where he can't speak the local language? What if you are given an unaccompanied tour?

I know I would balk at the idea of following a man around the world as a highly-educated woman with huge earning potential. Why would I expect a spouse or significant other to do the same?

Sorry, it's harsh. But i say no.

Anonymous said...

In this case, I am the husband. We been married 5 years, we decided to be a tandem couple. Long story short my wife passed the test and I did not. Therefore we have to decide if she is able to make it through the selection process what to do with my career. This is something we want. Maybe my career would be in the backburner. I am willing to take that step in order to achieve this. Our idea of marriage is that of equality. My wife supported me during my two MBA’s being in her shoulders to provide for our family. Today she wants to pursue a career with FS and It doesn’t make sense butch that objective in sake of my career. I have a fulfilling job and no complain about the money, but the FS career is something we want to do, even if she is the only working as a FSO. If you are in a similar position, go for it. Seriously sometimes scares me to see that there is a double standard between the husband’s vs. wife’s career this the 21st century. Seriously, upgrade, I will do whatever it takes to make my marriage a happy one, and I know money does plays a role but should not be the only element.