This past Wednesday, as I was driving home from a fairly routine day at the Main Interior Building, I got a notification alert on my mobile phone. When I checked, it turned out to be what is arguably the most anticipated email I’ve ever received: an official offer of appointment and invite to orientation into the United States Foreign Service. As I was in the stop-and-go gridlock on I-95 South between Lorton and Woodbridge, I read through the email and I let out a loud yes…kinda like Marv Albert always says. It was a no-brainer that I would accept the appointment and the orientation invite, which I did officially this morning. My time at the Department of the Interior will be ending in a few weeks and my career in Foreign Service—hopefully, the final stop during my time in the workforce—will be getting underway. As I write this post, I’m reminded of what I was feeling around this time 6 years ago. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the failed oral assessment.
How I first came across this moment? I first came across the moment on June 18, 2014. I was in Washington, DC to take the Foreign Service Oral Assessment: a 3-part deal that included a written assessment, an objective exam, and a structured interview. It was the literal demarcation line between me continuing my job at the Corps of Engineers and me ascending to the Foreign Service. A successful assessment would consist of me getting the minimum cut-off score, a conditional offer of appointment, and starting the security and medical clearance processes. I didn’t get the minimum cut-off score. I scored 0.01 points short. I failed the assessment.
What it meant to me then? As I alluded to in this post, my initial feeling when the lead assessor told me my result was shock. Historically, I had always performed extremely well in interviews so this was definitely a change of pace for me. While the assessors were instructing me on the next steps, I casually looked at the rejection letter, saw my score, and frustration settled in. For 50 minutes after my assessment ended, I was all alone in the lobby waiting for them to call me back. There was no phone. There was no computer. There was no tablet. I didn’t even have a notebook and pen to write with. It was just me and my thoughts on my performance the previous few hours. To have gone through that nerve-racking wait post-assessment only to fail said assessment by 0.01 points was absolutely frustrating. Disappointment and hurt settled in when I arrived at Reagan National Airport a little over an hour later. I was emotionless on the flight back to Hartsfield-Jackson. I was emotionless on the shuttle ride back to Opelika. When I got back to my apartment, I cried. I definitely felt like I lost my opportunity. After my period of mourning, I decided that I would still pursue the job. I decided that I couldn’t go through that experience again and that I needed to be better so I sat down and laid out a plan for me to pass the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. The 1st step in the plan was to use the June 2014 failure as the ultimate chip on my shoulder.
What it means to me now? That disappointing late spring day was over 6 years ago. And though I made true on my plan to pass the Foreign Service Oral Assessment, which I did in dominant fashion last November paving the way for Wednesday’s moment, what I felt on June 18, 2014 still lingers. As I ready myself for the Foreign Service Specialist Orientation Class next month, I am absolutely grateful for the opportunity but I will be taking that oath of office with a lot to prove to the Department. Part of me feels like I have to make up the 6-year gap just to show them I’ve always been the right guy for this job.