Why a National Security Career Is Never Just about the Paycheck

Intelligence

Before John Goolgasian was COO at GeoSpark Analytics and Associate Partner at OGSystems, he worked on terrorism for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). At a recent panel event for INSA, he told a story about an epiphany he had while working at NGA.

John was in Sana’a in Yemen—a nation with incredible instability and vulnerability to terrorism. He walked out of a restaurant and across the street from him was a soccer field. On it, a little boy—no older than three—was playing with a tattered soccer ball. The boy came up to John and kicked the ball to him. He stood there, passing the ball back and forth with this little boy, and at that moment, something hit him. John realized, “I’m not here just to prevent terrorism in the United States. I’m here to help people like this. The mission goes beyond our nation’s security. It really is about how you can affect positive change around the world.”

Working in national security bears a heavy responsibility, whether you’re working with an agency or an industry partner. No matter if you’re contemplating a job in national security or have been in the field twenty years, you understand that it’s not just about clocking in and clocking out every day. You have the privilege and responsibility of protecting people from threats they may not even realize exist.

In order to advance your career, perform your job well and feel fulfilled by your work, these are some points to keep the mission in the front of your mind:

It’s called public service for a reason.

There are literally hundreds of career paths you can take in the intelligence community, but none of them are easy. At times in your career, you may experience things you can’t discuss with those closest to you. You may be overworked to the point that your bed gets separation anxiety. You may see people harmed and be helpless to stop it. And though your effort may help millions of people around the world, you won’t get your name in the paper or be interviewed on TV. You will serve in silence. 

However, you must also remember that in all of this, you will be doing exactly what you promised you’d do: serving our nation and protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Even if you never receive a medal or handwritten thank you note from the American people, you can have pride in the honor of selflessly serving others.

You are doing for people something they cannot do for themselves.

The little boy in Yemen had no idea what John was doing in his country. Likewise, your parents may not even know much about your work. Yet what you do impacts their lives—sometimes in profound ways. You bear the burden of keeping a watchful eye over millions of people across the world. They are safe to go grocery shopping, take their kids to school and sleep peacefully at night because of what you do.

You may think it’s a stretch to compare yourself to Batman, but for the record, this author doesn’t.

Your purpose is clear.

Some folks go into an office every day to make widgets. They complain about their bosses, drink lousy coffee and wonder which one of their coworkers took the last doughnut. For many people, this is life for eight hours a day, 40 years of their lives.

Nothing against making widgets, but it does throw into question the larger purpose of one’s life. Some widget makers probably take heart that their job provides for their family. That’s an excellent purpose. Others may take satisfaction in how widgets help their community. Still, some might just enjoy the challenge of making widgets.

A career in national security provides all these purposes—except amplified across the globe. You don’t just work for your family. Your work benefits families that you’ve never even met. You serve not only your local community, but our great nation and beyond. And if you desire to be challenged, there is always a new skill, new position or new agency that can drive you to better yourself while still serving others.

So whether you’re Jason Bourne, an analyst or the intern who gets the coffee, you can take satisfaction that you work for something bigger than yourself. You can wake up every morning with a clear sense of purpose. Your work is not about the paycheck, it’s about the mission. In a world of widget makers, take a moment to realize just how exceptional that is.

Caroline D'Agati is an Editor for ClearanceJobs based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in generalism. You can follow her on Twitter at @carodagati.

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