“I should have done this ten years ago.”

Today was my first day as a Foreign Service Officer. The day was spent in the State Department’s main building in Washington, D.C.

Now, I wish that my day was as impressive and exciting as those two sentences imply. Actually, most of the day was spent waiting in line, filling out forms, having my picture taken, learning about my health insurance options, and being lectured about safeguarding sensitive and classified information (wise advice, such as “don’t write your password on a piece of paper and tape it to the bottom of your keyboard”).

The people in my cohort (80+ people) are pleasant, and probably as curious/excited/nervous/starstruck as I was. One guy put into words a feeling that I have had ever since I got the call. He said he kept expecting someone to contact him and say: “Oh, sorry, we made a mistake. You shouldn’t have been on the list after all.”

But when I checked in, they had a packet of information with my name on it, and they didn’t kick me out when I went through security, so I guess they really did let me into the Foreign Service.

At lunch, I introduced myself to an older man who was eating alone in the cafeteria, and asked if I could join him. I struck up a conversation with him and asked about his career. He told me that he entered the Foreign Service as a “Specialist” about five years ago. He was an architect, and decided to join the State Department as a construction manager. He builds embassies around the world.

As this is my second career too, I was very interested in his impression of working for the government. He said that it has been a great adventure, and even though there is some frustration with bureaucracy and inefficiency, he has had opportunities to travel and work with people who he never would have met if he hadn’t joined.

He will reach the mandatory retirement age (65) in a few years. He sounded wistful when he said that. Our conversation was interrupted by a phone call from a friend of his, another specialist who entered the Foreign Service as a medical doctor at the same time that he did. He said that they have kept in touch after their training class, and still get together when they are both in the same city.

He had to excuse himself to go meet his friend. As we shook hands, he congratulated me on the start of my new career, wished me luck, and said that he wishes that he had made this move ten years earlier. I hope that when I face retirement, I will have the same feeling.

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