As a young FBI agent, I was assigned to work counterintelligence and espionage cases. I was so excited and felt I had reached my goal of becoming an investigator—and my higher calling in life.
I didn’t know what I was looking for when looking for spies, exactly, except for what I’d read in books like John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I didn’t know what I’d do with them after I caught them, either, except for what I’d seen in movies like The Bourne Identity.
My first assignment in counterintelligence was working as an undercover agent. My job was to identify a Russian spy who was traveling with a large delegation. Since the group was visiting a defense contractor in the Silicon Valley, we knew there would be a KGB officer in the crowd. The company was working on sensitive nano-technology projects.
Russians will use women as “agents” for many of their operation but agents are not intelligence officers. They are operatives but do not receive the same training. Most Russian intelligence officers were, and still are, men. So, from among this large group of Russian men in the delegation, I was to figure out which one was working for the KGB.
And this is the thing: the bad guys don’t wear labels. We first learned this from our ex-spouses, right?
I showed up every day with combed hair and shiny shoes because this was my new school – the U of L . . . University of Life. I felt powerless, in over my head, and I lacked confidence. I had no idea how to find this guy. But the stakes were so high because this was classified military research technology.
Interestingly, as I got to know each and every “suspect,” one of them did stand out.
He wasn’t the one who asked the most questions. He wasn’t the pushy one trying to get access to more information than he should. Instead, he was the one who clearly was not passionate about nano-technology. He was bored. His job was not bringing him fulfillment.
As a new agent, without knowing how, I had actually accurately identified this man, Oleg, as the KGB officer! Once the FBI had Oleg in their sights, we started to pick away at his identify until we knew him for what he truly was.
When counterintelligence agents go about identifying the spy they are hoping to recruit, it’s more than name, rank, and serial number. We dig down to find the true character of the individual. Often, the FBI agent ends up knowing more about the targets of the investigation than they know about themselves!
The reason is that few of us take the time to excavate the significance of our own stories and experiences. As an undercover counterintelligence agent, I spent a great deal of time asking Oleg questions.
Questions can be catalysts. They’re challenges, inspirations, road maps, and hints of something better.
I needed to know why Oleg was no longer finding fulfillment in his job. More importantly, did Oleg himself know he was no longer living the life he wanted? The truth is, most of us are so busy doing what we think we have to that we never get around to doing what we really want to do.
Live your life on purpose.
“You have the brains in your head and the feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know, and you’re the one who’ll decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss
Who are you?
What do you believe?
And why do you believe it?
These are hard questions for most of us. Often, we lack the confidence to reach for the higher goal, and are filled with too much fear to move out of our narrow comfort zone so we can become a bigger person.
Oleg was no different. If we don’t know who we are, how can we know where we’re going?
Recruiting Oleg to work for the FBI was a like a religious conversion process. The Bible tells us in the book of Acts that people are to 1) repent, 2) turn away from sin, and 3) turn toward God.
In my world of espionage and counterintelligence, we followed a very similar process.
- An individual stops and notices.
- They away from that which keeps them from their best self
- And turn toward the higher calling.
By asking Oleg questions, he stopped and noticed which aspects of life were not bringing him fulfillment. While he had started out twenty years earlier as an exemplary Russian intelligence officer, the job now bored him. He was no longer living his life as the adventure he had once desired. Once this was brought to his attention, he felt free to turn toward his higher calling—he stopped and looked at his values, and saw that he was not living his life in accordance with them.
If you want a great life, ask great questions.
More about Oleg’s story in future posts . . .
Have you stopped to notice where you are headed in life? What questions are you asking yourself? Is it taking you toward your best self? What does your higher calling look like to you?
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