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Rethinking the Question, Why?

Oct 12, 2020

When planning our next career move, we often get so caught up in trying to answer the question “Why?” that we avoid potential risks and miss out on amazing opportunities. Instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why not?” when an opportunity comes along, and follow a less conventional path.

AFP 2020 Executive Institute Week 2 Keynote Tracy Walder knows a thing or two about that. After graduating with a history degree from USC, Tracy Walder soon found herself in the Middle East, working as a covert operative for the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. She later became one of the few women to work on the operations side of both the CIA and FBI.

At AFP 2020, Walder will discuss her life and why asking “Why not?” instead of “Why?” can be the key to unlocking your full potential. “For me, I felt like I didn't want to be limited to what was assumed that I should do or what was expected of me to do,” she said.

Though she initially planned on becoming a history teacher, Walder became interested in counterintelligence and counterterrorism in 1997 as a sophomore in college. She saw CNN’s Peter Arnett and Peter Bergen interview Osama Bin Laden and immediately became concerned with the threat he presented. “I just started asking a lot of questions in my own head. Who is this individual? Why does he hate the United States so much? I just started asking more and more and more questions. I started taking government classes and world affairs classes and I think that's where my interest in counterterrorism really blossomed,” she said.

Soon after, she was recruited by the CIA after turning in an application at a college career fair. She became a Staff Operations Officer (SOO) at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Weapons of Mass Destruction Group, traveling the globe and earning many awards, including four Exceptional Performance Awards from the Director of the CIA, two Special Activity Awards, a Meritorious Unit Citation Award, a DCI Counterterrorism Center Medal, and two Operation Enduring Freedom Targeting Awards.

But by the time she was 26, she had gotten a little burned out. “I didn't want to travel anymore; I wanted to put down roots somewhere,” she said.

However, Walder was still very passionate about counterterrorism and wanted to remain in that field. The only way that I could do that in the United States was to become a special agent at the FBI. She served as a Special Agent at the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, specializing in Chinese counterintelligence operations.

Since that time, she's written a book on her experiences called “The Unexpected Spy,” and now is fulfilling that lifelong goal of teaching history.

The current state of the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has many people feeling a bit uncertain about their futures. Financial professionals who are out of work right now might do well to follow Walder’s example and go the unconventional route if an opportunity presents itself.

“Certain industries, in my opinion, will come back a lot quicker than other industries. I think if you are completely satisfied in your career and it's not one of those industries that may take a long time to come back, then it might be wiser to stay the course,” she said. “But if this is a time where you’re not completely satisfied in your career, this may be a message to pursue a different one. It might be a time of, ‘Why not?’”

Don’t miss Tracy Walder’s keynote speech, Why Not? Achieve Your Full Potential by Rethinking the Question: Why? at AFP 2020. Register for the conference here.

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