I’ve always liked change. As a college student I made the pivot from pre-med to politics and ultimately pursued an interest in foreign relations and languages and studied abroad. I returned home and volunteered on a presidential campaign, altering the course of my personal and professional life and learning the value of being open to detours. Flexibility helped me navigate the inevitable transitions that come with choosing a career path in politics and public service.
By Fall 2004 I had worked in three Presidential Administrations and developed strong management and policy skills, a network of contacts, and most importantly in Washington, a respected reputation for hard work and integrity. Married with two children ages four and seven, I had settled into the perfect schedule: three days a week working at the US Department of State, and enough flexibility to spend time with the kids. Growing up without a mother contributed heavily to the desire to spend more time at home and achieve the work-life balance we all long for. After 24 years in politics I leaned back and thought how fortunate I was to be in this comfortable position.
Sitting in the carpool line one day in November 2004, I was not prepared for the White House operator’s call, with First Lady Laura Bush’s office on the other end. Mrs. Bush wanted to interview me to become her Chief of Staff during her husband’s second term. I was honored by the call, but I was also nervous and apprehensive. Having already worked in the White House three times I knew full well what the schedule would entail. The transition of 2000-2001 was particularly brutal. My kids were three months and three years old then, and I often went home at one in the morning, returning the next day by eight. Just when things started to settle down, 9/11 hit. With so many thoughts rushing through my mind, I respectfully asked if I could have a day to think about it.
The interview was memorable and relaxed. Mrs. Bush was clear about her goals: She wanted to pursue a robust global platform to support Administration initiatives, such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). At the top of her wish list was traveling to Afghanistan to see firsthand the progress made by Afghan women and children after years of brutal treatment by the Taliban. I offered ideas on how such a complex trip with enormous security implications could happen. I was inspired by our meeting and my fears of leaning in so deeply to a high pressured job began to fade away. I knew this was an extraordinary opportunity to work on important issues that were changing people’s lives. I was getting close to stop working altogether, but with the support of my husband and children it became clear leaning in deeper than I could ever imagine was the right choice—one that changed my life and future work, as well as the lives of so many other women as we traveled to 67 countries in those four years.