Dreams of A Diplomat: Redemption

by Just Juan

“It’s my life and my dream…nothing’s going to stop me now” – The Perfect Strangers theme

In the June 24, 2016 entry of Triumphs & Tribulations XVI, I wrote about redemption. At the time, I was 2 days away from getting married and redeeming myself of a moment I thought was lost forever after the events of Halloween Night 2003. I wrote about the experience of overcoming all of the heartbreaks during The Lost Decade of Dating to arrive at the point where I would be awaiting my bride at the altar. That wasn’t the only story of redemption I wrote about that early summer morning. I also wrote about redeeming myself in other areas…most notably, the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. I was 2 years removed from failing the assessment by the slimmest of margins. I had watched an episode of Perfect Strangers the night before and the theme song resonated with me. That last part—“The rain and thunder/The wind and haze/I’m bound for better days/It’s my life and my dream/Nothing’s going to stop me now”—struck a different nerve with me. I wrote about that in the entry back then. I wrote about it last night in the November 4, 2019 entry of Triumphs & Tribulations XX.

As you’ve probably noticed from the featured image to this post, I passed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment yesterday. My overall score was 6.00 and I scored at least 5.25 in all 3 sections. The gist of this post is that I redeemed myself of the career-low moment from 2014 and I am—at least conditionally, for the moment—a Foreign Service Facility Manager.

So here are the juicy details from one of the best moments of my professional career…

EARLY JITTERS. I left my home in Maryland on Sunday evening to check into my Hilton-brand hotel in Downtown Washington. While going over all of the paperwork, I noticed that 4 of the documents I needed were missing. Back into The Red Wolf I went and 45 minutes later, I was back at home and in possession of the missing papers. Another 50 minutes and I was back in my hotel room. After confirming that I had all of the paperwork and that my suit was pressed and ready to go, I relaxed for an hour. I just sat in the still quiet of that room and calmed myself. I was obviously nervous. After calming myself, I went to sleep and it was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve gotten this year. Whatever nerves I had going into the assessment were absorbed into that very comfortable bed.

THE ASSESSMENT. Just as I did in June 2014, I arrived at the oral assessment center well ahead of my appointment. The setup was just like the last time. They called me up at 7am and I filled out the NDA paperwork…just like last time. After a brief wait, they got me started with the case management exercise: 45 minutes to write a memorandum outlining my response to a situation. Having written many such memos for USACE and especially DOI over the past 5 years, that was actually pretty simple. I was finished with the document and my first 2 checks in 30 minutes but I wanted to be absolutely sure of my work so I checked again before submitting the document with 15 seconds to spare. Case management exercise finished. Back to the lobby I went for a 15-minute wait. I swear the calmness I felt was unbelievable. I felt like I was in a zone. Next up was the online competency exam…an hour to measure my knowledge, skills, and abilities as it relates to the facility management field. Unlike my 2014 attempt, I felt really good coming into this portion of the assessment and it showed immediately. I had to be about 30-35 minutes in before I arrived at a question that gave me trouble. I didn’t answer every question but I would guess that I answered more than 75% of them before the clock expired. Online competency exam finished. Another wait in the lobby…this time 28 minutes. I was called back for the grand finale: the structured interview. For this last portion, I was in a small room with 3 other people (the moderator, the FSFM SME, and a trainee sitting in on the process) proving that I was the man for this job. Everything I learned in the FSOA briefings was on full display in that interview. All of the advice I got from the FSFMs in the field was on full display in that interview. The 3 years of speeches I’ve given before the Interior Toastmasters and the cool under pressure I developed as a result was on full display in that interview. For 65 minutes, I felt really good. As one of my old Air Force colleagues would say, I was “a Black Mamba moment”…something he fashioned after Kobe Bryant. Personally, I think it was more of a Tim Duncan moment…mostly because I kept it simple and effective with the fundamentals. Structured interview finished.

THE AGONIZING WAIT. When I took and failed the Foreign Service Oral Assessment in 2014, I was in that waiting room for 50 minutes after I finished the structured interview. A 50-minute wait only for an anvil to be dropped on me 3 ½ minutes later. My wait yesterday was 42 minutes. Of course, thoughts of what happened 5 years ago entered my mind. Other things entered into my mind like others who had been successful with the oral assessment telling me that the wait for them was no more than 25-30 minutes. Every minute that passed, the more anxious I became. Finally, they called me back.

THE MOMENT. When I re-entered the interview room, it was just the moderator and the FSFM SME. Like last time, I expected some pleasantries and small talk about the interview. The moderator had different plans: she got the elephant in the room out immediately. I’ll never forget her words: “Mr. Thomas, we all know what you’re here for and I’m not going to delay that. You passed the oral assessment”. In a day in which I had shown the kind of expressionless demeanor that Kawhi Leonard would be proud of, I let out a soft “yes” while clenching my right fist. I apologized immediately for it after remembering I was still in a professional setting. The moderator said it was perfectly fine before she handed me the official memo with my score and explained my next steps. Honestly, I didn’t hear anything she said except that my score was high enough to suggest that I wouldn’t be waiting long on the register. It was like the weird silence in the midst of everyone clapping for me when I won Airman of the Year in 2010. The SME closed the exit interview by telling me it was a pleasure to interview me and that he looked forward to working with me in the field.

I finished up my oral assessment experience by meeting with a representative from Diplomatic Security to get started on the security clearance process. After that, I grabbed my belongings and was escorted out of the building. Foreign Service Oral Assessment finished. 5 hours and 52 minutes after walking into that building, I walked out with a conditional offer to be a Foreign Service Facility Manager. And not only that, I apparently left no doubt judging by the 6.00 score I received. As I was walking to the parking deck, my first call was to my wife to tell her that I accomplished the mission. She congratulated me and told me that she was proud. When I was safely inside of my Jeep Renegade, I cried. Unlike the moment when I was on the floor in my Opelika, Alabama apartment, these weren’t tears of disappointment…these were tears of joy. For 7 years, I’ve chased after this job. Everything I’ve done professionally has been for this job. From leaving the Air Force to taking the position with the Corps of Engineers to turning away from TRANSCOM and going with the Department of the Interior to going back to school to investing over $5000 in training materials and conference fees has been for this moment.

I still have the security clearance, medical clearance, and suitability review to get through but those are about as close to foregone conclusions as you can get with me. I’ve been nothing but clean from a security perspective since I got my first Top Secret clearance in 2012 and just 2 months ago, my primary care physician told me that people actually pay a lot of money to be as healthy as I am. As for the suitability review, I’ve been a Federal civil service employee for 6 years. I don’t think that’ll be an issue. Nothing’s going to stop me now.

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10 comments

Ivan M. Jose July 22, 2021 - 4:13 am

Congratulations! I once dreamed of joining the foreign service corps but I just didn’t have the resolve to start. Maybe I wasn’t dreaming big enough. Anyway, a lot of people are saying that it’s a rewarding career.

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Jenjen Balatico July 22, 2021 - 7:51 am

Always pursue your dream and live your life no matter the circumstances. Good luck on your journey

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Heather July 22, 2021 - 8:07 am

Congrats! It’s always an incredible feeling when we are able to fulfill our dreams.

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Melissa Dixon July 22, 2021 - 9:22 am

Congratulations! I love to see others living their dreams. You are an inspiration, thanks for sharing!

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Melanie Varey July 22, 2021 - 12:22 pm

All the best on your journey. It was great to read about it and all that it involved.

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MELANIE EDJOURIAN July 22, 2021 - 2:54 pm

That’s great news congratulations! You got a great score there. I bet your wife was over the moon when you told her.

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Luci W. July 22, 2021 - 4:51 pm

Congratulations, Juan! You clearly worked so hard and invested so much to get to this place – it is well earned that you passed the exam and interview process. Good luck in enjoying your dream job as much as you hoped.

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Windy July 22, 2021 - 8:01 pm

Congratulations! Continue to pursue your dreams for you and your family.

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Rhian Westbury July 23, 2021 - 5:12 am

Congratulations. Proof that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams and if you want something enough you’ll get there x

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Melissa Cushing July 25, 2021 - 4:21 pm

Congrats to you and it looks like you did an amazing job and deserve all that you have worked so hard to achieve for both yourself and your family! I also love your story and love that you served your country and so much more! God bless and will be back to learn more 😉 Congrats again on an amazing job!

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