Finding My Fit: My Eight-Year, Multiple-Road Block Journey To Get to My Dream Job

“Workplace culture is changing,” said Preston Peterson, the facilitator for my office’s offsite in November 2008. “Baby boomers are in the highest ranks leading millennials who are joining the workforce. The gap between them is wide, which is why we need to discuss it to help bridge that gap.”

I was a 23-year-old millennial myself, and I agreed with Preston’s point. But it didn’t seem like anyone else did; they were dead silent. There’s dozens of people here, I thought to myself, how come no one else is saying anything?

So I spoke up.

“I think one of the most important things to consider is the underlying reason why different generations took the jobs they did,” I said. “Many baby boomers were just happy to get a job when they started out in the 1970s, while for us millennials, the job market is better and more diverse, and we have a desire to be a part of global change.”

I added a few more thoughts as the group discussion went on, but the one thing I noticed over everything else was Preston’s ability to command a room. He beamed with confidence and energy, and he always seemed to know the right question to ask or the right thing to say. Preston was the first role model I had at the Central Intelligence Agency, and much to my surprise, Preston came up to me after the session.

“Thanks for starting off that conversation,” he told me. “It was like crickets in there until you made some really great points.”

“Thank you, I really appreciate that,” I responded. The compliment was humbling coming from someone like him, especially because it was one of the first meaningful compliments I’d received at CIA in the year and four months since I started as a military intelligence analyst. When I returned to work after the offsite, I immediately researched and signed up for two leadership courses taught by Preston: one the following March on “young leaders,” and another in August, called the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the eponymously titled course to Stephen Covey’s hugely successful book on leadership. I couldn’t wait for the courses and almost counted the days until I attended each. During the Seven Habits course, Preston walked us through modules of self-reflection, teamwork, values building, and motivating teams, one of which caused me to shed a few tears.

Up to this point in my career, I had been working at CIA as an analyst for two years, but I knew that I wasn’t very good at it and lacked motivation. My colleagues wrote better papers than me, completed them faster than me, and came up with more strategic analysis. It was a tough realization, but it was true. I just wasn’t cut out to be an analyst. I wanted to be in front of people, teaching and leading. By the end of the Seven Habits course, I felt like I found my true calling at CIA: work with Preston and his team, the Professional Development Group.[1] and I wanted to make the change and would do what I needed to do to make it happen.

When I returned to my office after the Seven Habits course, I sent Preston an email, a paper copy of which I still have today. I wrote about how much I enjoyed his class and how I was already applying lessons I had learned from the class in my life. In the sixth paragraph, I shared my intention of working with him.

“If you ever needed an assistant or an apprentice of any kind, let me know and I’ll come running.”

I had no idea how long it would take me to get to Preston’s group, but I was determined. I knew there was bureaucracy and red tape and that timing would play a huge factor.

Preston responded later that day and told me that it would be great to have me over on his team, but he didn’t know of any open positions at the time. So I spoke to a mentor, Deb, a former manager in my office with whom I had an instant connection as we had both graduated from Ohio State. I told her about my goal to work with Preston.

“Before you run out on analysis, you should try another analytic team,” Deb said. “Because maybe it’s the team you’re on and the issues you’re working. It might be better on another team.”

I didn’t really want to, but with no openings on Preston’s team, I decided to heed Deb’s advice. She introduced me to a team chief in her group, and I liked the guy enough that I applied to an open position on his team. Any change is exciting, but that excitement quickly faded. About two months after I joined the team, I wrote an analytic paper with a teammate, and we were getting lots of push back and clarifying questions from our team chief and other senior managers. It was hour upon hour of back and forth and by the end of it I felt like I couldn’t think anymore. My brain was fried. I knew plenty of analysts who got energy from those types of debates, but not me. I just wanted it over and I didn’t even care what the paper said anymore. I just wanted to go home.

When I finally left work around 7 p.m., I was so angry that this type of work had taken such a toll on me. 25 years old at the time, I was supposed to feel young, strong, and healthy. Instead, I felt weak and helpless. As I drove home, I cranked up the volume on my car radio and sang along to any song to which I knew the lyrics. I found solace in music and the tunes aided my catharsis. All of the anger and pent up energy I had from that day was flowing out of me through music. I was getting close to home, with only three more traffic lights to go.

Then it happened.

BANG!

As I drove through an intersection, a car turned in front of me, crossing my path from left to right. I hit the brakes and tried to swerve to the left as my anti-lock braking system pumped the brake fluid into my calipers, jerking my car to a halt. But it was too late. My Honda Accord hit a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I somehow collected myself and got out of my car. I saw a woman, perhaps a few years older than me, step out of the Jeep. She seemed shaken up.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she responded. “You?”

“Yes, I’m alright. Thanks.”

The damage to our vehicles wasn’t as bad as I initially thought, and we were able to move the cars out of the intersection onto the shoulder. The Fairfax County police officer who arrived on the scene cited me for causing the collision, as the Jeep had the right of way. But that was crazy to me. I thought I was the one with a green light, and if I didn’t have one, I obviously wouldn’t have gone through the intersection. But then I realized what happened. The set of traffic lights for the intersection I was crossing appeared almost in alignment with the next set of lights for the next intersection. The green lights I saw were for the next intersection; my lights were red. Like the officer said, the collision was my fault.

I was barely able to get the car the additional mile back home before it died in the parking lot of my housing complex. The damage to the engine compartment was clearly worse than I knew. I began to bawl. It shouldn’t be like this. I had had enough with analysis. Two years of trying and this is how it ended. I couldn’t do it anymore. The events of that day led me into a dangerous situation, and I wasn’t going to let it impact me anymore. I decided that terrible December evening would be the final cataclysm of my analytic career. It was time to make the push to work with Preston and join his team.

When I returned to work, having driven a rental car, I met with Deb and my team chief.

“I can’t do it anymore,” I said. “I’m done with analysis. Yesterday pushed me over the edge.”

“Parker, I know you’re upset,” Deb replied. “It’s just not that easy to just switch into something else.”

“Deb, I could have killed someone!” I yelled. I was making my stand.

I made my case, and I was articulate and passionate. I told them how I wanted to work with Preston, the support I had from him, and my passion I had for that kind of work.

“Anything other position outside of analysis would be a rotation, and that would need to be approved.” Deb was talking about one of the human resources processes at CIA, in which each person was owned by what the Agency calls “career services,” a cohort of employees that all did the same job. CIA, just like any other Fortune 500 company, is made up of hundreds of career paths, but if you wanted to work in a job outside your career service, it would have to be approved by the “career service board” that oversaw you. Preston worked in a different career service, so the CSB, as we called them, would have to approve my position on his team. Therefore, as an analyst, I was governed—essentially owned—by the analytic career service, and they had the final say in approving any positions to which I applied. In the end, Deb and the other managers were not in a position to let me go from the office.

About a month later in January 2010, I received an email asking if anyone in my office was interested in working a six-month assignment in the CIA’s Operations Center. I knew other analysts who had worked there, and it seemed better than what I was currently doing, especially because it would get me out of analysis for six months and afford me dedicated time to figure out how I could get to Preston’s team. Because the position was a requirement for my office to fill, I didn’t need approval.

The six months came and went, and I came up with nothing. I had no course to get to Preston’s team and found no other options to transfer out of analysis. When I returned to my office, I met with Deb.

“Parker, we’re glad to have you back and get you writing again,” Deb told me. “We want you to keep it up.”

“Keep it up” was like the cliched definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I had tried being an analyst for more than two years and it wasn’t getting better. I talked to Preston about it and he had a great idea.

“Did you read the book The Four Agreements I told you about?” he asked, referring to a book written by Don Miguel Ruiz.

“Of course, I found it really fascinating,” I responded, telling Preston about how I was already trying to incorporate some of the lessons from the book into my personal life.

“What do you think about helping me develop a leadership course based on lessons from the book?”

Me working with Preston on a leadership course? Was he kidding? There was no question about it! I was thrilled at the offer to collaborate. It might not have been a position on his team, but it was the next best thing.

Preston and I worked together for about a month, coordinating through emails and phone calls to talk about how the book’s lessons should be incorporated into an educational lesson on personal and professional leadership. At the end of the month, we had our finished product: The Four Agreements, a two-hour seminar as part of Preston’s leadership seminar series he called Leadership Now! Building the course with him was a great experience, and I felt grateful and humbled to be able to produce something that was still being taught at CIA nine years after we created it.

From 2011-2013, I worked in a few different positions, including a military deployment the Middle East with the US Navy (I was a reservist called to active duty). I returned from my deployment in December 2013 and went back to work in early 2014, keeping my eye on my goal and staying positive that I could get to Preston’s team. I never lost my motivation, and positivity had always been one of my strongest characteristics.

Never give up. Never quit. Never stop.

About a month later, a friend of mine wrote me a one-line email: “What do you think?” Attached at the bottom was a link to a job vacancy that had been posted for a position in the Office of Public Affairs running the CIA’s internal news platform. On the surface, it seemed like a good fit for me. I’d be able to write interesting stories and learn about content strategy and strategic communications. And again, with no options to join Preston’s office, I decided this would be the position I would pursue in the meantime. But just like four years before, the new position wasn’t part of the analytic career service, which meant that I needed approval to even apply, so I spoke with my team chief.

“Do you think this is it?” he asked me in a point-blank manner. While it seemed like a strange question, my intuition suggested his underlying premise. He wanted assurance that he wasn’t going to have to deal with me anymore. No more going back and forth from this job to that one, on and off his team, as I had done for the past few years. He didn’t want me there. I didn’t want to be there. Nobody wanted the situation to continue.

“Yes, this is it.”

He routed the request up the management chain, and I waited for an answer. I don’t know what made this position and situation different than any other time I tried to make a switch, but whatever it was and for whatever reason, they approved it. I applied, was offered the job, and started in April 2014.

While I figured the job would be good fit for me, I had an underlying reason for applying to this specific position. It was part of a career service called Executive Staff Officers, a hodge-podge of employees who performed what the CIA considered “staff work” in the Offices of Public Affairs, Congressional Affairs, Military Affairs, the Operations Center, and a few others. In addition to those offices, a few executive staff officers filled positions in across CIA in other offices, and I knew that Preston’s office had one or two. If I could do a good job in public affairs and get into the new career service, I would substantially increase my chances of getting an assignment on Preston’s team.

As my first year in the position was coming to a close, two important things happened.

First, Preston told me that he and his teammates were running a day-long Leadership Now! course, which consisted of presentations, group discussions, and self-awareness activities, as well as wrapping up the event with back-to-back-to-back presentations on leadership by members of the workforce. The three representatives would come from the three groups of Agency employees: the Senior Intelligence Service (SIS), supervisors, and non-supervisors, the latter of which would be selected through an application process.

“You should definitely apply,” Preston told me. “Betsy wants you to apply, as well,” he added, referring to the chief of his team.

“No question about it.”

Excited for the opportunity to work with Preston again, that night I developed a 10-minute presentation on the difference between leadership and management. It came from personal experience, taking lessons I learned from the military, public and private sector, and books I had read. It didn’t seem like anyone else had the philosophy I did, so I thought my presentation would be unique and give me a leg up over others. I don’t know how many others applied, but I was thrilled to find out that my presentation was selected for the seminar. I prepared relentlessly. This was my time to shine.

Following the presentations from the senior officer and the supervisor, it was my turn. I took my spot in front the 100 or so people in the room.

“How many people here think there is a difference between management and leadership?” I asked.

About three quarters of the attendees raised their hands.

“And of you with your hands raised, how many of you can define that difference?”

Most hands went down.

“So leadership is like love? You can’t define it but you know it when you feel it?”

Most of the attendees smiled and some laughed. I began to roll.

“To me, management is the process of planning, organizing, coordinating, directing, and controlling,” I said. “Leadership, on the other hand, is the art of ensuring people have the motivation, preparation, and confidence to do their jobs.”

People’s heads were nodding. I told them about how I developed these philosophies, how they impacted my life, and provided examples of how we could use these principles in the workplace. When I finished, I received a round of applause and had several people at the event, including Preston, tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation. I was proud that I could do something that resonated with so many people, especially my old friend. The praise didn’t stop for a few days. When I returned to work the next day, I passed a woman in the hallway who stopped me.

“I was at the Leadership Now! event yesterday, and I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your presentation,” she said. “It really resonated with me.”

Humbled, I thanked her for her compliment and told her to keep in touch if she ever needed anything. A few days later, Preston’s boss, the chief of the Professional Development Group, sent my management team an email about how impactful my presentation was and thanked me for my participation. I thrived on feedback, and it was so great to know that my 10-minute presentation was so appreciated by others. Not that I needed more motivation for my ultimate goal, but this provided even more, and it all happened at the perfect timing for the second important thing that happened in early 2015, the call for officers to apply to join the Executive Staff Officer career service.

It was my chance to get out of the stranglehold of analysis and finally be in control of my own destiny. All I had to do was meet the minimum criteria, have a successful application, and rock an interview, and the selection board would have no choice but to select me. If I was successful, I’d be once step close to joining Preston’s team.

Red tape hampered me before, and red tape would hamper me again.

“Applicants must have 12 consecutive months working in an ESO office,” the requirements indicated. I didn’t have 12 consecutive months; I had only been in the Office of Public Affairs for 10. But hold on. I had worked in the Operations Center for six months and the Office of Military Affairs for about three months, and both of those were ESO offices, giving me 19 months of experience across three ESO offices. I know the requirement said consecutive but surely 19 months in three offices was more appealing than 12 months in one office. I submitted my application and sent it in, nothing my situation.

“I’m sorry, Parker,” she responded. “We have discussed this and have denied your application. The requirement is 12 consecutive months, as it is written in the policy.”

I was pissed. I clearly brought more to the table than most other applicants and the only reason I couldn’t apply was because of a technicality in the policy. This was really important for me and the future of my career. They wouldn’t budge. They wouldn’t change the policy. They wouldn’t accept my application. There was nothing more I could do, except wait for the next call for applications, and I had no idea when that would be.

At least I was good at my job and felt good about doing it. I was learning new skills and having fun. And then I got the email for which I’d been waiting for a long, long time. It was from Preston’s boss.

“Parker, we just posted a vacancy to be Preston’s deputy. Please apply.”

Seriously? Was it finally happening? The position was vacant, and they were seeking my application for it? It was incredible. My dream position was finally available, and the group’s management wanted me in it. I immediately went to my boss’s office.

“I know that you’ve been trying to find your way in this organization,” she said. “And I know that working on Preston’s team is something that has always been important to you. Let me talk with the guys upstairs,” she said. The fact that she would go to bat for me made me feel like I finally had someone who understood me and appreciated where I wanted to go. A few days later, she told me that everyone agreed it was the best place for me to be, even though my leaving would leave her team down an officer in the short term. She was placing my interests before her own, and I was very appreciative of that. While I was still owned by the analysis office, I wouldn’t think it would matter as they had already let me go to public affairs. If the public affairs office was fine with me leaving my position early, the analysis office shouldn’t have a problem either.

Unsurprisingly, Preston and his team selected me for the position. As the process worked through human resources, everything seemed to be going smoothly, until I received an instant message from a guy named Eric, a group chief in the analysis office.

“Parker, I saw that you applied to another position. We’d like to meet with you to discuss your plans. Please let me know when you’re available tomorrow.”

“My plan is very simple,” I typed. “I’m going to work in the Professional Development Group and I just need you to approve it in the system.” His request for a meeting seemed silly to me. I was already out of his office, so I was just a name on a paper. My current managers, who would be shorthanded without me, supported my move, so why did it matter to Eric? Nevertheless, he persisted, so I agreed to meet him at 2:30 p.m. the next day.

When I walked into Eric’s office, he was sitting down with two of his colleagues: one guy named Bob, and a woman named Susan. While I knew Bob, but never worked for him, I didn’t know Susan and had never met her before. I sat down across from the three of them, Bob to my left, Eric in front of me, and Susan to my right. My back was literally against the wall.

The three of them exchanged glances for a few seconds until Susan spoke, breaking the silence.

“Parker, we have denied your application.”

What? My mind started racing. She must be kidding. This must be a joke. But she can’t be joking because jokes are made amongst friends, and I wasn’t friends with these people. None of them are laughing. No one is smiling. There’s no “gotcha!” She was serious.

I smirked, started to shake my head back and forth, and looked at the ground.

She spoke again.

“We are short on military analysts, so we can’t approve you or anyone going on back-to-back assignments outside the office. The only way that this assignment can happen is if you’re not part of the analytic career service.”

This seemed so crazy to me. “I tried earlier this year,” I said. “But I wasn’t allowed because of the policy.”

“Well that may be the case, but we still stand by our position.”

I couldn’t believe it. It’s like they wanted me to return to the office to be an analyst again. I didn’t want that and it’s not like I ever provided anything of real value. They just wanted a warm body in a desk chair.

As I was processing, Susan broke the silence again, saying something that stupefied me.

“Parker, we think it’s in your best interest to return to analysis.”

What.

The.

****.

What?? My best interest? How do you know what my best interest is? I had never worked for any of these people before, and somehow, someway, they knew my best interest better than I knew my own. They weren’t my parents, mentors, advisers, confidants, or my spouse. The only relation we had was the fact that I fell under them administratively.

Before I did or said anything I would regret, I stood up and left the room without saying anything further. I went back to my office, told my boss about the meeting, and told her I needed to take the rest of the day off. The next day I appealed the situation to the human resources department and was told the only option I had was to join a new career service, something I had tried before but was snubbed by the system.

Another day. Another roadblock. But I knew myself. I wouldn’t give up. Stay positive, and I’ll make it happen.

A few months later, as 2015 was coming to an end, I received the announcement I had been waiting for: the next call for applications to join the ESO career service. This was finally it. This was my time. I’d been in the Office of Public Affairs for 18 consecutive months and wouldn’t be stymied by the 12-month consecutive requirement. Nothing could stop me now. I checked the application policy.

“Applicants must have at least 12 cumulative months supporting ESO offices.”

Cumulative.

Ha! Of course, they changed the policy. If only it had been this way the last time, I would have been in my dream job at this point. But I also knew that I could spend all day living in the world of “if onlys” and “what ifs,” but they wouldn’t get me anywhere. I couldn’t change the past and the future would bring what it would. The only solace I had at the time to relieve my frustration was the possibility that my situation was the catalyst that sparked a change in the policy. Perhaps I helped paved the way for other qualified officers to get in.

After a few days, I compiled my application, submitted it, and received my interview date and time. I scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of the career service board members to ensure they knew who I was, my motivation, and what I brought to the table. About two weeks later, I had my 30-minute interview in a small conference room in the Operations Center, my home from five years prior. I had done my research and prepared thoroughly, so the questions were what I expected, and my answers were succinctly and well-structured. At the end of the interview, I thanked the interviewers, shook their hands, and departed feeling good.

About a month later, in February 2016, I received a phone call the deputy director of OPA, who was also a member of the career service board and selection committee.

“I just wanted to say congratulations. Welcome to the Executive Staff Officer career service.”

I smiled. A rush of positive energy came over me. Those words, “Welcome to the Executive Staff Officer career service,” were all I needed to hear. I don’t know if he said anything else because I was too excited. I thanked him and told him that I appreciated his and the other board members’ support. I walked up to my boss’s office, leaned against the door jamb, and knocked on the door.

She looked up at me. I smiled and gave a slight nod.

She smiled back. She already knew the news. “Congratulations, Parker. Go celebrate.”

I took the rest of the day off. Never again would I have a group of analytic managers whom I didn’t know telling me what was in my best interest. I knew what my best interest was, and this accomplishment got me one step closer. When I returned to work the next day, the head of the ESO career service sent an email to much of the agency showcasing the new ESO officers, and I received several supportive emails from friends and colleagues congratulating me on my accomplishment. It was humbling, and I felt good to be amongst a good group of people.

Now with my fate much more in my own hands, I reached out to Preston to tell him the news. It had been six months since I applied to be his deputy, but the position was no longer available. The job had requirements and his management had offered it to someone else after three months. With no openings on Preston’s team, I had to wait, again, for the opportunity to present itself. Preston and his manager were still eager to have me join the team, in one capacity or another, and I was as motivated as ever to make that happen.

As my two years in the Office of Public Affairs was coming to a close, I was encouraged by several managers to find a new position, as most officers in the ESO career service stayed in jobs for about 24 months.

As I looked, I had one major thought: what can I do to get even closer to Preston and his team. I found a position in the newly created Talent Center, the office in the CIA that oversaw recruitment, human resources, diversity and inclusion, learning and training, and most important to me, professional development. I knew the chief of the Talent Center’s communications team, and she told me she had an opening on her team. I applied, and because it was listed as a job in my new career service, the application and approval went smoothly. I joined the new team in May 2016. One step closer to Preston’s team, and at this point, I don’t think I could get closer without actually being on the team.

A few months later I called Preston and told him I had an idea.

“It’s a new idea for a Leadership Now! course.”

Always the one to try out something new, he was excited and intrigued. I told Preston about a leadership philosophy I heard from Manhattan-based company called NextJump, whose co-CEOs spoke at CIA’s annual TEDx event from earlier in the year. After the event, they invited a group of CIA officers, including me, up to New York City to attend their company’s “leadership academy,” a two-day program explaining how NextJump develops the leadership skills of its employees.

“We can turn the lessons I learned from NextJump into a two-hour seminar to help develop CIA empoyees’ decision making, critical thinking, and self-awareness skills, as well as positively impact CIA’s own workplace culture,” I said. “It creates our own practice ground for officers to take chances and make mistakes, all while learning and practicing those critical leadership skills necessary for higher levels.” After about 45 minutes of figuring out how the seminar would go, he was all in.

“Parker, man, I love this. I can’t wait to see it in action.”

Preston was always the type of guy to let people run with ideas, so I wasn’t surprised that he supported my idea. But it was humbling to know that he thought my idea was good enough put into practice under his invention, the Leadership Now! program. I got to work on preparing the two-hour seminar, consulting with Preston, other trained educators and facilitators, and online resources to help me generate the most effective course possible. I was excited that I would again be one of Preston’s Leadership Now! instructors, just like my presentation at his day-long seminar in 2015.

As I was developing my seminar through the end of 2016 and into 2017, I was assigned to work on a new project to assist a handful of senior officers develop a strategy for an initiative they called “Lead from Where You Are.” Considering I was developing my own seminar to help officers lead from where they were, I was happy to be a part of the working group. One of the group members was Steve, Preston’s second-level supervisor, his boss’s boss. At the end of our first meeting, I walked out with him.

“It’s interesting that I’m part of this working group because I’m developing a two-hour Leadership Now! course focused on these very principles,” I told him.

He stopped and turned to me. “You’re running a Leadership Now! course?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

Steve looked at me pointedly.

“Then how come you’re not working for me?”

Internally, I laughed. Oh, Steve, I thought, how I could take you on an eight-year journey and tell you every detail of my trials, but it wouldn’t do me any good. I smiled, focusing my mind on future possibilities and not past circumstances.

“I’d love to, but I’m actually looking to switch to a part-time schedule,” I said.

He smiled.

“Well, I’m looking to hire part-time officers. Let’s talk more sometime.”

I was looking to switch to reduce my weekly hours to have more time to work on other projects, like this book and my solo music project. While I didn’t know it at the time, I found out that people at Steve’s level could create part-time positions in their offices quite easily, and that would clearly be to my benefit.

When we met and discussed the possibilities, we determined that Steve had a need that I could fill: strategic communications. Steve’s group was full of program managers like Preston that ran a lot of exclusive, exciting, and sought-after leadership and professional development programs, but he didn’t have anyone with strategic communications experience to help communicate those programs to the rest of the workforce.

We agreed that I would work in his office on a part-time basis as his strategic communications officer, as well as a part-time facilitator for the Leadership Now! course I created. Steve would create the position and list it in my career service, so I could apply for it when available.

But that was the one thing in the process that would need to be approved. Because it was a new position, we had to ensure that its responsibilities and competencies aligned with those of my career service because the ESO career service board would have to approve the position’s creation.

To assist that process, I talked with one of the ESO career service board members, who was an experienced, senior-level officer I trusted. I had worked closely during the past year, and he had supported me in my application to join the ESO. When we met and I told him about the past two years and the related ups and downs, he told me that he supported me and my plan and asked me to ensure the position’s responsibilities aligned with the appropriate criteria.

“If you can do that, we won’t have any issues.”

I did my research through working with a career development officer and a senior human resources officer and passed the information to Steve, who crafted the official vacancy announcement. Steve’s human resources officer routed the newly created position description to the ESO career service board, and, after about a month of patiently waiting, the board approved it.

“The vacancy is out!” Steve wrote to me in an email in late April 2017. I clicked on the link and it was exactly what we agreed upon.

“Strategic Communications Officer – Professional Development Group – Seeking an experienced officer to provide strategic communications support to the Professional Development Group on a part-time, 24-hour-per-week schedule. Applicants should have multiple years of experience with strategic, internal CIA communications, photography and video editing skills, and experience in leadership and professional development.”

I was the perfect fit. I wrote my qualifications statement and submitted my application.

Two weeks later, the vacancy closed, and I awaited a call from Steve for an interview, a formality in the bureaucratic process. About a week later, Steve came to my office and pulled me aside.

“Parker, can I speak with you for a moment?”

“Sure,” I said, assuming he wanted to talk about scheduling an interview.

“I just wanted to say congratulations. Welcome to the Professional Development Group.”

He shook my hand and smiled. No interview necessary. My application was enough.

In that moment, I reflected on everything. It wasn’t just my application, it was the years of time I had spent working with Preston developing multiple leadership courses building my knowledge and understanding of leadership and professional development. It was my three years of honing and perfecting my strategic communications skills. It was my never quit, never give up, never stop mentality to work in his group that earned me that handshake. It was the deep-seated desire to join the one place in the agency that I knew was the right fit for me.

I smiled, too, as a calm came over me. I didn’t jump for joy, I didn’t scream aloud, I didn’t run through the hallways celebrating because this moment was enough. Eight and a half years after I had met Preston, I’d finally be working with him, side by side.

I thanked Steve for the opportunity and his support and told him I couldn’t wait to start.

About two months later, on Tuesday July 25th, 2017, exactly 10 years and two days since I first stepped onto the CIA Headquarters compound as an Agency employee, I walked up to the door of my new office, located at one of the Agency’s outer buildings. I stepped up to the door and looked to the side of the badge scanner.

“Welcome to the Professional Development Group – Suite 5000”

I smiled. I had made it.

I scanned my badge on the badge reader.

The door lock clicked as it disengaged. I pulled open the door and walked inside and began to say hi to my new colleagues as I walked past them at their cubicles. Most of these people I had known for a long time, either through working with them in the Talent Center or because of the work I had done with them directly during the past several years.

“We’re so happy you’re here, Parker!” one teammate said.

“It’s about time!” another one yelled.

“It’s so great to have you, we can’t wait to put your expertise to work,” I heard from a third.

I walked to my new desk, further down the corridor. My name was already on the outside of the four-foot-high cubicle wall. I felt welcomed. I took off my backpack and sat down in my desk chair. I started to enter my user name and password to log in and get to work, when I heard someone walking toward my desk.

He had on his typical workplace attire, a plaid button down long sleeve shirt, black slacks, black shoes, and glasses, small rectangular lenses on wire frames. His short blondish hair with a few strands of gray was combed to the side. He had a beaming smile.

As he approached me, he didn’t even stick out his hand, he gave me a bear hug.

“What took you so long?” Preston asked me.

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