Hard Truths about Hard Work

We all tread on thin ground when discussing the lives of others, especially lives that have been as politicized as that of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. He was a good friend to some of my good friends. I cannot lay claim to knowing him, though as a former diplomat, I allow myself to feel that I understand some things about his sacrifice.

SOFREP today published excerpts of the late Ambassador’s diary. The portrait it paints is of a committed public servant who willingly faces high stress and threats to his own security. I think it’s important to know that many of the diplomats who are serving now in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and other places feel the same way–just substitute “Kandahar” for “Benghazi” and you’ve got a line from my own diary of fourteen months ago.

Diplomacy is a career in which the whole concept of “work/life balance” can feel absurd. It’s hard to keep anything stable when you’re moving every year or so. I think of the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died of a heart failure on December 13, 2010, and Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN diplomat who was killed on August 19, 2003 in Iraq, among others. Their struggles were different, but there is no question that their family lives suffered from their commitment to global service.

While many things are still much harder for women–a love life like de Mello’s would have been theĀ entire story had he been a she–everyone who answers the call of duty makes enormous personal sacrifices. My former colleagues in the Foreign Service do their best to stay grounded within an increasingly chaotic lifestyle. I know that I could not have survived without spontaneous, supportive communities at post and the unyielding support of my family in the States. We all need a place to come home to.

I was hesitant to link to Ambassador Stevens’ story, only because I know that some will feel this publication is a posthumous invasion of his privacy. But if I had been him, I would want the world to know what it really meant to lead a diplomatic mission to a dangerous place. Sometimes, living your call means giving up everything. Not one of us can have it all.