Seeing lots of family this past weekend got me thinking about mine.
My father died at the age of 55, when I was 24. He was a Foreign Service officer, and I wanted to be like him.
When I was an undergraduate, I was very unfocused, taking courses in wildly differing areas and not doing anything very well. I was spreading myself too thin (who takes German, French, Spanish and Portuguese, all in the same semester?). I was distracted by sex, and other things. My grades were only fair (some of them were quite disastrous).
One spring, I asked my dad about summer internships at his agency, and he said, “We don’t need any mediocre generalists.” Instead I got an internship with the Department of the Army, correcting mis-fed punch card inputs.
My senior year, I took the Foreign Service written exam. Later, when I worked at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, I discovered how hard most people prepare for this exam, but I didn’t know any better (I was the only person at my school to take the exam that year), so I took it cold. I did very well. At the time (don’t know if it’s changed) you were graded in a number of different areas, corresponding to different career tracks: Administrative, Political, Economic, Commercial and Consular (or something like that). I passed. I scored well in all areas, and my highest score was in Consular.
When I showed my dad my results, he said, “That’s fine if you want to spend the rest of your life stamping passports.”
For some reason I didn’t go on to the oral assessment.