As I wrote previously, I resigned from the CIA on February 28th, 2020, about 12 and a half years after the first time I walked into the building as an employee. CIA’s human resources staff calls it “resigning” and not “quitting” for some reason, and I’m not sure why, other than the former sounds less harsh.
Instead of resigning, some employees enter a “leave without pay” status to try something outside government service for up to a year and return if they don’t like it.
I didn’t do that. I quit.
Why? There are six big reasons, and probably many more smaller ones.
Reason #1: My future professional growth seemed dismal. As I wrote in my book, CIA is broken into “career services,” which comprise officers with similar job functions and each of which are overseen by a board of senior officers from that job function. As I looked at the job options available to me in my career service, I did not think there was much that either excited me or gave me a path to bigger and better things. I didn’t see a plan for growth…all I could see was hopping from random position to random position where I would ultimately be bored. I didn’t want to do that the rest of my career…I wanted to develop an expertise and hone those skills.
Reason #2: I lost interest in the mission. When I started at 23 years old, I wanted to defend freedom and democracy around the world! I wanted to be in the fight! And I did. I went to Afghanistan, I went to Iraq, and I even joined the Navy Reserve and deployed to Bahrain and Jordan. As I look back, I can’t pinpoint the time or place when the importance of the mission faded, but it did happen at some point. Perhaps it was when I started to do “non-mission” work in the Office of Public Affairs or Talent Center and that not being directly involved in “mission-related” work diminished my desire, but I’m not sure. Either way, it was the reality.
Reason #3: I wanted a normal life. There are a lot of unique things about working at the CIA and many of those unique things prevent a normal, 21st century life. I worked at secluded, heavily guarded compounds away from any sort of normalcy, I couldn’t have access to my mobile phone at work, and had to report basically anything I did outside of government service, including my personal foreign travel, foreign national contacts, financial disclosures, and more. I was tired of all of it. I wanted a normal life.
Reason #4: I could no longer handle the bureaucracy. While I have had some great experiences, I have also had horrendous experiences, many of which are spelled out in chapter seven of my book. For example, at the end of last year, I was passed over for promotion and told I needed to work on my interpersonal skills by taking a specific leadership course. The problem is that I’ve been teaching that specific course for three years and it was noted in multiple places in the documents I submitted for my promotion. Even worse, when I mentioned this to my feedback provider, I was told I was “being combative” and that it is different if you take a class rather than teach it.
Reason #5: I wanted a job where I felt like my work mattered. I have been successful in my government positions, but most of the time, I look back and wonder if my work actually mattered. If I didn’t do what I did, would it have mattered? Did my work advance our mission at all? Would everything still have happened if I wasn’t there? Perhaps these are hyperbolic questions, but I still wondered. In the end, I realized that I wanted a position where my work impacted the organization’s mission or bottom line.
Reason #6: I didn’t want to go through life without taking a risk. Government service is comfortable. It’s difficult to be fired, you get great benefits, and a fantastic retirement package. I wanted to take a risk–perhaps the biggest risk of my life–and try something outside. I wanted to be able to look back and say, “I took a plunge into something new and I put a lot on the line to make it happen.” I’m a risk taker and I have a bias for action. I decided to act and take a risk. I’ll always be able to look back at this decision and say, “No matter what happens, at least I tried.”
Resigning from the CIA was very emotional for me, but I know it was the right decision. I’m excited for my next opportunity, and I’ll write about that soon.