I recently reconnected with a former colleague and fellow alum from my graduate school GPS (Global Policy & Strategy) at University of California San Diego. Richard Boly and I worked together at my first job in the Washington DC area with the Inter-American Foundation where we helped people escape poverty in Latin America. Since then Richard has continued an amazing journey to make a difference in this world. Richard recently retired from a two-decade Foreign Service career in the State Department. After reconnecting, we set up a call to explore possible collaboration to continue to make a difference in this world.
I asked Richard what he thought of retirement and he said to me people have asked me what I’m most afraid of in retirement and he said, “becoming irrelevant.” Wow that just struck me as a big issue for a lot of people. I especially see this in my work as a career coach and people in transition whether that is through exploring a career change, a loss of a job or another major life transition. This inspired me to want talk to Richard more about his journey and finding relevance. Through this, I wanted to share this with you. You will clearly see that Richard Boly has stayed relevant and continues to make a huge impact in this world and is always seeking new and innovative ways to make a difference.
Richard – can you talk a little bit about your career in the State Department and how you created relevance in that role and what are some of your biggest accomplishments?
My niche in the State Department was greenfield initiatives. I loved translating a 30,000 feet policy objective into a practical, actionable set of activities. Successes included promoting entrepreneurship as a foreign policy objective, which lead to the launch of the Global Entrepreneurship Program or turning Secretary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft into sustainable and impactful programs like the Virtual Student Foreign Service, TechCamps or the Tech@State conference series. When I made the conscious decision to pursue positions that provided the greatest greenfield opportunities and eschew those positions that were on the traditional career path, I was much happier and fulfilled at work. While this decision took me out of competition for Foreign Service brass ring – an Ambassadorship – it much better prepared me for life after the State Department.
How did you discover that this would be your career path? What are the pieces of your passion puzzle?
As Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. I initially saw the Foreign Service as a prestigious, exclusive career serving my country overseas. I sought and followed advice on career advancement. But along the way, I found the most joy in helping to birth the new. The tipping point was when Ambassador Ron Spogli arrived in Rome and challenged the embassy team to identify ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ that went beyond our day-to-day work. I embraced the challenge and came up with a program to grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Italy. The program became so successful that Ambassador Spogli asked me to take it on full time. When I did, I closed the door on the well-worn, traditional foreign service career, as my work did not check the right boxes for promotion. The innate satisfaction of the work was more than compensation.
Please share with how you feel that you’re creating relevance now in retirement and with the consulting work that you’re doing?
Retiring from the State Department opened a new door, but at the time, I didn’t know what was on the other side. I immediately started work at the World Bank crafting and implementing an internal information technology innovation strategy. When that project wrapped up, I wanted to celebrate my retirement taking advantage of the long stretch of free time I had, so I solo-cycled from DC to San Francisco. It was as spiritual as it was physical and after a career overseas, I had a chance to see the less visited parts of the heartland.
I have focused my consulting on helping organization move from insight to action. My approach is to focus on a specific, achievable, and impactful change. I then help create a realistic pathway and work on the inside to successfully implement it. I like to be very hands on. In addition to paid consulting, I mentor and advise a number of NGOs and startups. I also continue to take an epic solo-bicycle ride once a year.
What is the legacy of that you really want to leave?
In a Snapchat world, little stands the test of time. While it may be cliché, being a good husband and father is the most important legacy. That said, I am happier and better to be around when I feel that I am helping people and organizations succeed. I guess if people say I was a mensch, that would be legacy enough.
Anything else you would like to share about your career path and relevance?
Life is a process of knowing yourself and keeping your mental map of yourself current. I somewhat brutally say that a person’s perspective on change, innovation, risk taking often depends on whether he/she is closer to birth or death. I consciously avoid living my life in the rear view mirror. While I am proud of many of the things I have helped accomplish in my life, I continue to look for new opportunities and seek to build new skills. I love baseball and as Satchel Paige said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
Any words of wisdom that you would like to share with people who are struggling with the same fear that you had about losing relevance?
I have always been quick to process change intellectually, but slow to accept the emotional impact of change. I knew leaving the State Department would mean many people who quickly returned my calls or emails would fall silent. Intellectually, I acknowledged this by updating my Facebook status as “gainfully unemployed and institutionally naked”. Emotionally, it took two months alone on a bicycle to process the new normal.
For more on Richard Boly – please visit his LinkedIn Profile. If you want to contact me, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to visit my website at www.careerswithwings.com. If you have a great story to share about living your passion and purpose or know someone else that does – I would love to hear from you or them :).