Friday, January 20, 2023

Miscellaneous Bidding Advice Roundup

I've written a few posts consolidating advice that's helped me when bidding, the term we use for applying for our next assignment in the Foreign Service. Now that the main bidding season is winding down, I wanted to do one last post with other tips I received that didn't make it into previous posts.

  • If the incumbent is lousy, it might be worth keeping the job in consideration. My friend S pointed out after my last blog post on bidding that it might be smart not to write off a job with an unimpressive incumbent. Because that person will turn off other bidders, you may have less competition for the role. In addition, replacing a mediocre employee will give you more opportunities to shine, clean up any messes they left behind, and make an impact in that post or office (as well as in the minds of your colleagues).
  • Your bidding doesn't have to be a secret. Some people keep where they're bidding close hold, but I like sharing it with as many people as possible. Multiple times, that has led a colleague or friend to say, "Hey! I know someone there" or "The hiring manager is great" or even "I don't know about that post; they've had a lot of toxic workplace complaints lately." Insights like that have led me to informational interviews, a deeper dive on some of the issues at that post, and even to people lobbying (i.e., advocating for and recommending me to the hiring manager) on my behalf for the job whom I never expected to do that for me. You'll miss out on a lot of informal networking and information gathering if you keep your bids a secret.
  • Bidding success is not necessarily reflective of your competence as a diplomat or worth as a person. Some people are better at bidding than others. I personally think bidding strongly favors extroverts (like me) who enjoy talking to people, interviewing, and networking - even when those aren't the most important traits for a particular job. Every year, there are plenty of awesome diplomats who don't get a handshake (i.e., job offer) on handshake day (when offers are traditionally extended by in the main bidding season). There are also awful employees who seem particularly adept at getting great assignments through our bidding process. It happens. So although I've done well and been very lucky in my own bidding experience, I don't agree with those who suggest Foreign Service bidding is a pure meritocracy.
  • Don't take a job just because someone else says it's a good career move. You have to actually be in that job day in and day out doing the work, so choose work that you're actually interested in at a post or office where you actually want to be. If you're passionate about the work, you will more likely excel and be your best (and happiest), but if you take a position you're not interested in then you won't be at peak performance or job satisfaction.
  • Sometimes hiring decisions will be opaque or unfair. It's extremely frustrating to experience and watch, but don't let one closed door prevent you from looking for other open ones. There is always more than one fantastic job available at any given time.

Best of luck to everyone still looking for their next assignment and every office still looking for a great candidate! I hope you find your match soon.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

New Year, New Resolution

I can't believe 2022 is over and 2023 has begun! If you're a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that I always make (and keep) New Year's Resolutions. In 2022, my New Year's Resolution was to do less. I needed a bit of a break after my intense 2021, plus I knew I'd be having a baby and wanted to make sure I enjoyed my time with him. The way another parent described it to me was, "The days/nights are long, but the months/years are short" and I thought that was some of the wisest insight I received for these early days of child-rearing. I wanted to soak up every minute I could with baby S and take time for myself without feeling overextended by other obligations.

I think I did a pretty good job of doing less in 2022. There were multiple temporary duty (TDY) opportunities at work involving extensive travel that I didn't go for, and there were other optional roles and projects I passed on because I knew I didn't want the extra commitment. I made a concerted effort to truly relax and reduce my stress levels with every vacation and holiday, and I took more leave on random days. I put less pressure on myself for my hobbies, so although I played video games, read, wrote, and did the things I enjoy I didn't set any specific goals for those things and didn't beat myself up when I went a long time without doing them.

One thing I haven't blogged about yet but might someday is that I also use a free productivity app that gamifies habits I want to build or maintain. It's called Habitica, and I find it very motivating. I have a party on a quest, and we fight monsters by building good habits, avoiding bad habits, and getting all of our daily responsibilities done. But if anyone in the party fails to do their dailies, for example, we all take damage from the monster. To keep my positive streak going and avoid letting my party down, I've been very diligent at the things I put on Habitica. But in keeping with my 2022 New Year's Resolution, I checked into the in-app tavern for the entire year, which disabled all the penalties we would have otherwise experienced from me skipping things on my to-do list. I broke pretty much all my streaks and missed plenty of things here and there, but it was a relief to give myself that space to be imperfect and rest from my usual grind. (As of today, I have checked out of the tavern so we'll see how this year goes in that regard.)

My new resolution for 2023 is to exercise, something I love but wasn't able to do much postpartum due to my long physical recovery. I'm ready to resume now, so I set a goal of exercising more days than not for the 365 days of 2023. I wanted to be as flexible as possible, so I didn't specify the exact type of exercise or time I need to work out each day. I'm excited to challenge myself with this resolution, try some new types of exercise, and to move more in a way that brings me joy and helps me stay healthy and active.

If you're reading this, I hope you had some fond memories of 2022 to reflect on and some things you're excited for in 2023. Cheers to another journey around the sun!

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Time flies when you're home for the holidays! It's so rare that we get to spend our most precious holidays with family and friends, so we're trying to make the most of it. After all, by this time next year, we'll be abroad again.

It's been really fun to celebrate baby S's first Christmas, though he's too young to appreciate our annual traditions. At the same time, certain things just make the season feel right and I'm sure I'll indoctrinate him soon enough. For example, I like to put up a Christmas tree and start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving and go all in on the Christmas spirit until New Year's. That's just how it was in my family growing up, so I've carried that on in my own home. As an adult, I also somehow gravitated towards a specific jam thumbprint sugar cookie recipe with white chocolate drizzle that has become my go-to recipe for cookie exchanges. (And I always participate in at least one cookie exchange.)

My sister C and her husband even visited Virginia from Colorado, and we spent a weekend at Massanutten Resort that went by way too fast. Unfortunately, they had to cancel a lot of the outdoor activities due to the uncooperative weather. But we still enjoyed our time together, got a spa day out of it, and took S to his first-ever escape room. We all love games and puzzles, so it was a blast.

I also visited the DC Temple's Festival of Lights, an event my church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS church) hosts every December with beautiful lights, free concerts every night, and a display of nativities from around the world. (The first photo in this post is of the Temple.) This was also the first year I've ever seen with a Giving Machine, which is like a vending machine for charity. I'd heard of these and watched videos about them online, but it was my first time seeing one in person and using it.

Being home also gave me the chance to participate in a time-honored tradition I haven't been able to do for years while overseas: making a live Christmas wreath! The women's organization of my congregation started this Christmastime activity years ago and it's expanded more and more over time to a multi-night production. This year I made three wreaths: one for me and one each for two friends of mine who just had babies and couldn't make it. I love the opportunity to exercise my creative muscles and make something imperfect but beautiful. They also had a dirty soda bar at the event this year, which was a huge hit.

Memories like these are part of what makes our holiday season so special for my family. (I've tried to make a conscious effort to acknowledge that although this is my holiday season, it is not the holiday season for everyone. Someone at work even pointed out I had made that assumption when I referred to this time as "the holidays" - and they were right! So I'm trying to be more aware going forward, especially for those who find this time of year isolating.) We're excited to be home this year and celebrate with so many of the people we love most. And I would argue that knowing we won't have that every year helps us appreciate it even more when we do.