Sunday, August 03, 2014

Katie's DC Assignment Survival Guide

Fear not!  The keys to your Washington success lie below.

1. Mind Your Lanyard:  there aren't many ways to assert your identity in a faceless, black-suited bureaucracy.  Your choice of lanyard provides a rare means of self expression.  Whether you intend to impress ("Embassy Kabul First Responders") or distract (your name handwoven in beaded lettering by indigenous Guatemalans), this strap is your opening gambit and should be carefully chosen to set the stage for your professional interactions.  Good to keep a length of beaded chain on hand as well, however, for when you want to look fresh out of A-100 and thus completely abdicate responsibility for the events around you.

2. Learn to Read Subtext:  in bureaucracy as in diplomacy, it's important to develop an ear for what's really being said.

"I'm the acting lead for antarctic issues for WHA/RSA."
[Check to make sure your packets include a page 5 -- they've only just started letting me collate copies.]

"I'm the deputy director for LAX/IAD."
[My boss thought this meeting was beneath her.]

"I'll have to see what the Counselor thinks."
[I expect you'll be working for me someday.]

"I'm Bob."
[I assume word of my importance has preceded me and no further introduction is necessary.  Oh, is the glint from my cufflinks hurting your eyes?  You'll get used to it.]

"I handle Pol-Mil for the Egypt Desk."
[The extent of my working knowledge is 50 different synonyms for 'coup'.  Missile, anyone?]

3. Know the Building:  nothing impresses more than intimate knowledge of the halls and institutions of Main State -- and nothing will serve you better than being able to correctly identify which of those halls to duck down when you see that cloying guy from your TDY to Latvia heading your way in the cafeteria.  Bad day in the office?  Try a trip to the basement area off the parking garage.  No one will EVER find you there.  "I have a meeting in SA-9" is also a good foil.  (If pressed, this is "by the alternate Pentagon shuttle stop.")

4. Seek Confirmation from Reliable Sources:  who better to ask whether your DC performance is up to snuff than the person who knows best -- you.  Don't allow capricious promotion panels or distracted office colleagues to dictate your sense of value.  Tell yourself, "I'm capable, people like me, and darnit, my Information Memos are changing the world."  It helps to look into a mirror when saying this, preferably one mounted over a liquor cabinet.

5. Relax:  finding yourself irritated (again) that they ran out of kale early at the salad bar?  Has the latest forced office happy hour left you jittery and drawn?  You ignore these signs of stress at your peril.  There is a persistent myth that only overseas tours come with R&R.  Not so!  Even DC denizens occasionally need to get away.  The R&R options for your Washington tour are as endless as the 'Now' bidlist.  Sana'a?  Lovely in the spring.  Baghdad?  People are literally fighting to get there.  Tripoli?  Stellar company come summer 2015!

If I can survive two years in DC, so can you.  Go get 'em, Tiger.

2 comments:

Tom Navratil said...

Quite insightful - if only I'd seen this earlier I might have decided to stay in the Foreign Service a bit longer. But what about memo formatting? (Apologies if this is covered in an earlier post.)

@TomNavratilism

Katie said...

Memo formatting and the clearance process are indeed addressed earlier in the blog. I once found myself (without irony) admiring one of my clearance pages; that's when I knew I needed to get back overseas.