Confessions of an Oklahoman in the Foreign Service

The Oklahoma Education System has failed me. What history did I learn in middle school? Oklahoma history. What history did I learn in high school? Well, we watched the musical 1776 a few times and I self taught myself enough to get a 6 in Higher Level International Baccalaureate History. A 6 in HL History is a pretty good score. How did I pull it off? I studied for the test. I knew what types of questions they always ask. And then I got lucky. Incredibly, incredibly lucky. My history paper during the IB test had one big question on a quote from Robert McNamara. One week before, I just so happened to randomly watch the documentary where the quote was pulled from. Luck. To study for the Foreign Service Test, I had to reread basic history books three times.

Maybe history just isn’t my strong suit. Or maybe my education should have left a more lasting impression. Yesterday, this could not have been more evident. Our first class in the morning was the third part of our Diplomatic History module. The speaker seemed entertaining, but he used words I didn’t even know what they meant. He completely lost me when he said bifurcate. After that all I could think of was bifrost and Thor.  Why did he lose me so quickly though? Because I had no idea what he was even remotely talking about. He was referencing things I should have learned in school. He was alluding to times in history I should have been aware of. But I wasn’t. I had no idea. That history class and our previous offsite activities really struck a chord with me. A very out of tune and sad chord. They ferreted out my insecurities and put them on display.

During offsite, I was the black sheep in our group. During one of the activities, I had to rely on part of my team to give me direction. I had to trust them. I could not for the life of me figure out what they were trying to tell me. So I took a big misstep and I felt shattered. I felt like I let my team down and I felt so alone and isolated. I was exposed. Later in the day, we were blindfolded and put through another exercise. While everyone else quickly figured out the puzzle we were trying to solve, I was sitting there trying to speak up. But the loud people in our group kept talking over me. When I did have a chance to speak, I questioned the assumptions everyone else made so quickly. But they laughed at me. Later, a few people told me I must have trust issues. Damn straight I have trust issues when I’m blindfolded. Throughout the offsite, I felt exposed. This past week has been the most insecure I’ve felt in many years.

I’m constantly surrounded by people who are smarter, more educated, and more experienced than I am. It is hard to not feel insecure about my own shortcomings. I don’t feel like I need to prove myself, because I feel so insignificant that it isn’t necessary. I know that everyone in my class has strengths and weaknesses. I know that for the management track, that I’m going to do great. But throw me into the ring with my peers and I start to question that. People keep reassuring me that I’m going to do fine, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking I’m not supposed to be here.

I’m just a lost girl from Oklahoma trying to play dress up as a diplomat.

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12 thoughts on “Confessions of an Oklahoman in the Foreign Service

  1. You don’t give yourself enough credit Caitlin. You have so many qualities that I admire that make me feel inadequate sometimes in your presence. You are awesome and you are meant to be here. Remember – you were tested on 46 different capabilities in the structured interview alone and you were picked. Out of the thousands. BEX doesn’t make a mistake 46 different times in one section. Trust that BEX who truly knows what makes a good diplomat knows what they were doing when they brought you here. You are a rock star.

    • Thanks Tiffany! You are my inspiration. I am so glad we are in this class together, because you make me stronger. I think we are both going to have long, fruitful careers because we want it. We’ve wanted this for so long.
      I’m so glad you are my friend!

  2. I’m from Oklahoma too – Muskogee is where I “grew up” but that’s just the easy answer. In actuality I had moved 12 times before I finally went to high school there. And since then I’ve moved another 14 times….my e-Qip was loooooooads of fun to fill out! Oklahoma is home to me though, and always will be. I don’t have much to say in the ways of reassurance – but if you made it this for then OF COURSE you deserve to be there. It’s a very difficult thing to get into the FS, and you’ve clearly earned it. You have something valuable to bring to the table too 🙂

  3. Hey, pull up your big girl panties and get to work! You are one of the most motivated, intelligent, articulate, beautiful and independent people I have ever had the pleasure to know. You can do this! We love you!

    Kathy & Ben

    • Thanks Kathy and Ben! I pulled up my big girl panties today and felt much better. I think I just needed to write down my thoughts so they would get out of my head. I appreciate the reassurance though!

  4. I just found your blog (hope you don’t mind)–I just want to say, everyone thinks you’re awesome. The other day at Lily’s birthday, I was chatting with some people and at one point there was literally an entire conversation about how cool you are. It was fun sitting next to you last week–glad you switched your name tent. 🙂

  5. Many times in your FS career, you will be thrown into situations about which you know nothing, and that’s (a) inevitable and (b) totally ok. The only time being ignorant will cause you to lose the respect of your colleagues is if you are willfully ignorant and not open to learning and improving. So don’t sell yourself short!

  6. That feeling of occasionally being overwhelmed, surrounded by people who seem more eloquent, more knowledgable, more “in”? We’ve all been there. I completely agree with feeling insecure, especially in A-100 where the caliber coming in is competively drive to be high. But remember, you got in there too, you passed the same tests as the rest of them. It’s ok to not know everything, that’s part of teamwork (unless you’re the Watson, the supercomputer). It’s also ok to not feel your best sometimes. My personal talent 0.5 cents? Fake it till you make it. 🙂 As long as you’re willing to not be afraid to look silly or get something wrong, no one else will ever care about how you “look” as much as you do. Good luck on Flag Day!
    And props on a bifrost joke.

  7. I just found your blog and this struck a chord. As others have said, you will have this feeling again, but I agree on the fake it till you make it. One of my very first meetings in the FS was with someone who spoke very fast and with a different accent that I had been trained on, and I spent most of the meeting seriously reconsidering my life choices while pretending to take notes. 🙂 But two years later I had a conversation with the same person he was surprised that I felt that way because he thought the meeting had gone very well and never had any idea I had struggled. This is not to say there aren’t a few hyper-ambitious, loud, not always pleasant types in the FS, but you can learn to tune them out.

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