Posted: 13 June 2008 in work

Normally, I dole out points at the end, but I recognize my posts have had a dark tone lately.  That said, I offer points for just being here.  Congratulations – you’re in the lead.

I’ve waited so long to write this post, I find I don’t know where to begin.  I turned in my resignation this week.  Officially, I resigned last month, but the paperwork required to get out of a bureaucracy is as bad as it is to get in.  I don’t think Secretary Rice is going to be shedding any tears over my loss and in fact, it frees up a spot for someone who really truly wants to represent their country overseas.

This was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made.  After ten years, this job has become who I am.  It’s not as if I’ve been bringing work home.  It’s that work is home.  We live diplomacy.  Our friends are diplomats.  Everything we do is what country we’re assigned to.  When September 11 happened, I was in Africa.  Africans provided solace and other American diplomats provided the tiny circle of grieving.  That night I watched French television broadcast the same shot of planes and buildings over and over with a woman who I am friends with, was friends with, will always be friends with in part because she sat with me and shared my shock.  She has since left the Service also, and I’m sure is happier for it.  When I scrubbed Anthrax from the walls of our little mailroom in a bright green bio-hazard suit, identified a friend three days in the river in a hot African morgue, hid under my desk as molotov cocktails shattered on the walls and flames licked American flags, I took those feelings home, assuming I’d be better for it. 

But here’s the bottom line: I’m not better for it, I’m worse.  I left for DC ten and a half years ago energetic, normal-sized, happy.  All the Foreign Service has given me is weight, pain, bruises in my mind, heart and soul.  I’ve spent half that time trying to get myself back; to find the woman I recognize in the mirror and convince her to stay.  When I stopped getting glimpses of her, I knew it was time to go. 

Sometime this summer, I’ll have my last day.  I don’t know when it will be yet.  I don’t have a job, although I’m working very, very hard to get one.  I’m sure that wherever that job is, I’ll find a missing person: me.

  1. Digger says:

    For what it is worth, I share in your struggles. I joined the service four years ago and was a member of household for two years before that. I consider leaving almost daily, and lately my partner and I have gotten pretty serious about finding something else to do. I think it takes as much courage to leave, and maybe more, than it does to stay. I wish you all the best.

    I have quoted and linked to you here:

  2. backlist says:

    Thanks for commenting. I’ve been holding off on posting this news for months, knowing it was inevitable but not knowing when it would happen. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is having to weigh in the Iraq factor, like you do. I may post my resignation letter here eventually – I attributed my resignation to the Member of Household policies (or lack thereof).

  3. Mark says:

    The most difficult hurdle to cross is making the decision. As you say, being an FSO becomes one’s identity. But having made the decision, you will find that there will soon be a day when you no longer identify as an FSO, and you will wonder why you ever did.

    Life is short. Live it well.

  4. backlist says:

    Thanks Mark. I appreciate the forward-looking optimism. I did feel better – the second I turned in the paperwork.

  5. Thank you for your service, you made a difference.

    Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  6. backlist says:

    Thank Consul-At-Arms. I’m not certain I ever moved diplomacy or made a global impact. However, I can say that the relationships I formed with local staff did more for me than I could ever have imagined. I hope I gave back at least a fraction of that.

  7. rye says:

    Best of luck with this new path you are taking. I can only imagine how difficult a decision like this must have been – I have a hard enough time making little, insignificant decisions, so points to YOU for going with your gut. I hope you are able to find that “missing person” soon.

  8. backlist says:

    Thank you! You know, I conidered dog walking, but I think I’ll heed your advice and stick to being a librarian 🙂

  9. linaria says:

    I’m late, of course. But congratulations–I’m happy for you, and for D., and your puppy, and for whatever place will be lucky enough to employ you next (I expect the fine establishment I work for will have a few openings for recent graduates, how odd would that be?). Good for you.

  10. Shawn says:

    Best wishes to you. It took a little reading and deduction, but I figured out who you must be. You certainly gave me a great introduction to the Service and I’ll always appreciate that. I hope you’re moving on to something great.

  11. backlist says:

    Thanks Shawn. I knew the cat would be out of the bag sooner or later, though I haven’t shared the word widely. Ha. Well, not widely with people I actually know. I’ve enjoyed following your blog over the last year or so – our dogs are the same age! Good luck to you – you’re a great officer.

  12. Liam says:

    I’ve quoted and linked to you, with admiration, here:,0729-schwartz.shtm

  13. Helen Hui says:

    Your article opened my eyes and mind to FSO issues and moved me. Thank you.
    Maybe you’d consider becoming an immigration lawyer?!
    Good luck!


  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for having the courage to follow your decision. Keep up the good work whatever you do next.

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