To the FBI and Back Again

In 2014, I was a working married mother of three and I left my job as the director of corporate social responsibility and president of a philanthropic foundation to take a position as an intelligence analyst at the FBI.

Wait, what?!?

The year before, I participated in the Southern California Leadership Network’s, Leadership LA program, and I made friends with a long time veteran of the FBI in LA. That summer she recommended me to the FBI Citizens Academy, a ten-week program that provides community leaders with an inside look at the Bureau. As someone who is deeply invested in my community, and committed to the future of Los Angeles, I was excited about the program as a way to deepen my own commitment to civic engagement and to expand my understanding of the challenges and threats facing LA and the US.

My experience at the FBI Citizens Academy was amazing and quite eye opening. Over the next ten weeks, I learned all about the mission, goals, history, and inner workings of the Bureau. I met a group of incredible individuals who had chosen to dedicate their careers to the FBI’s mission, “To protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and to enforce the criminal laws of the United States.” I learned about the FBI’s work around the globe in 56 field offices and gained an understanding of the FBI’s broad purview including:

  • Terrorism
  • Counterintelligence
  • Cyber Crime
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Public Corruption
  • Civil Rights / Human Trafficking
  • Organized Crime
  • White-Collar Crime
  • Violent Crime and Major Thefts

After the Citizens Academy ended in December, I attended an alumni event and at the end of the meeting they announced that the FBI was hiring for the first time since the end of the government shutdown / sequestration. This peaked my curiosity and after a series of conversations, I applied for a job. I received an offer to be an intelligence analyst over the 4th of July holiday and needless to say I was buzzing with excitement.

The planets had lined up. By chance I had become friends with someone who worked at the FBI, she happened to recommend me to the FBI Citizens Academy, and then after the program, sequestration ended and the FBI was hiring. At the same time the geopolitical situation was becoming dire and the Islamic State had launched their shocking public beheadings. Although I loved my job, I felt there must be a reason everything had fallen into place. Feeling compelled and honored to serve my country, I accepted the offer.

So this was just the beginning of the process. I had to take and pass a polygraph examination and upon doing so, the Bureau launched an extensive background check investigation. Over the next two-months all my close friends and family members were interviewed as part of the process. I would get frantic calls from friends and neighbors as they were contacted by FBI agents. The more this happened, the more stressful the process became, because at a certain point I knew that if it didn’t work out, everyone would know that I didn’t make the cut.

My anxiety peaked when a special agent called to tell me that he was going to visit my place of employment the next day to interview my supervisor and my colleagues. I obviously hadn’t mentioned anything about the FBI to my employer, so I had to call my supervisor to tell her that I was up for the position at the FBI and that an agent would be showing up to meet with her the next day.

After jumping through many hoops, and due to the incredible support of my friend Mary in the Bureau, and thanks to all my friends and family, it all worked out. I gave my notice and in mid-September 2014, I left for a week of orientation at the FBI training academy in Quantico, Virginia. If you can imagine the opening scene of “Silence of the Lambs” with Jodie Foster, you can imagine where I ended up.

My week at Quantico was completely intoxicating. It was educational and inspiring, honestly it’s difficult to express just how awesome it was. I made friends with an incredibly diverse group of colleagues from all over the country, people of all ages and backgrounds, and all with a common sense of purpose. The week culminated in D.C. at FBI headquarters where Director Comey, in a surprise appearance, welcomed us to the Bureau.

When I left Quantico to return to LA, I had completely drank the FBI Kool Aid. I felt very proud and honored to join the Bureau. I felt confident that this path was meant to be, and that everything I had done to date, both personally and professionally, had prepared me for this new and exciting chapter in my life.

Joining the FBI was a bold move, but leaving after less than three months, took even more courage.

I won’t go into all the reasons I decided to leave, but suffice it to say that working moms make a lot of sacrifices for their families and for the greater good and after a lot of soul searching I also had to admit that the FBI wasn’t my passion. I decided the leave the week before Thanksgiving. To their credit, my supervisor and the HR team were incredibly supportive, which only made the decision more difficult.

At the time, all of this was excruciating. I felt resentful towards my husband, guilty that it didn’t work out, and disappointed that I left before my year anniversary which means I can never go back to the FBI. And of course I thought…what would people say? What would they think? And how could I possibly explain this crazy adventure? At the end of the day the timing wasn’t right but more importantly it wasn’t my passion. It was very difficult, but I made the decision that was best for my family in that moment.

Do I regret it? Absolutely not.

It was definitely a bit weird and awkward to tell my close friends and family that I had joined the FBI, only to tell them, months later, that I had left. The whole experience was a great lesson in being humble and brutally honest.

In regards to my career, I was lucky that my company graciously rehired me in the same position that I had left just a few months prior. I spent another year at that company before returning to the Getty Museum and to my true passion art and museums.

Often in life we learn more from our disappointments, than from our successes. After the FBI, I went back to my life, to my career and to my family with more confidence, clarity and a stronger sense of purpose than ever before. I was humbled by the experience and I left feeling very grateful to the thousands of men and women who serve our country everyday.

So here’s my advice.

Be bold. Take risks. Forgive yourself when things don’t work out as you planned. Don’t apologize and don’t look back. Keep moving forward and most importantly, always aspire to make a positive impact in all that you do.

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