Show Notes: Creating Your Own Path in National Security with Maggie Feldman-Piltch | Episode #8


This was a really fun episode to record because my guest is “a strange flavor of ice cream” as she says (haha) and she has such an interesting perspective!

In this episode, I chatted with Maggie Feldman-Piltch, Founder and Strategic Advisor of #NatSecGirlSquad and Managing Director of Unicorn Strategies, a firm that builds and supports national security institutions and partnerships in democracies. Maggie talked about a range of topics such as her philosophy about security careers, why you should consider a liberal arts education, and her recommendations for young professionals that are interested in pursuing a similar path to her in national security and beyond.

Big Ideas from This Episode

  1. There is no single, ideal path for having a meaningful career in the (national) security space.

    Maggie reinforced this idea. As an example, she attended Wesleyan University (liberal arts school) and made her own major out of theoretical economics + classical opera singing. And this made her well-rounded and prepared to adapt and succeed in her many leadership roles over the years.
  2. ” Ok, but did you die? There are worse things than someone saying ‘No’ “

    In her first internship after undergrad, she was one of fifteen interns doing an unpaid internship, essentially writing volumes of blog posts — near the end of her internship she marched into her boss’ office (a retired USMC general) and offered to be his Chief of Staff. He obliged and it was a great opportunity for Maggie to sharpen her skills in business operations and being a liaison between military and civilian groups.
  3. As long as you’re kind, work hard, and offer what you can to people — this is what matters in business.
  4. “Me being who I am [has played a big role in my successes]”
  5. Embrace your failures and make the best of them.

    Maggie was rejected from every single job she ever applied for except her one internship; same for all of the fellowships she applied for (except one). But this taught her that if you lead your own projects, then no one can reject you or get in your way.

    “If you want to see something in the world, then make it”. If you feel like something should exist, you should make it. Take initiative. And if you’re going to do a project alone, make sure there’s options for others to join you if they are also interested in your aim.
  6. The expedient / transactional option will not bring you joy and success.
  7. “Don’t be afraid to be absolute trash at something! It’s not high school — you can’t be good at everything.”


LCWINS (The Leadership Council of Women in National Security)


The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis: A RAND Corporation Research Study

Diplomat Among Warriors: The Unique World of a Foreign Service Expert

The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened

– Any books by Kori Schake or Quinta Jurecic

Use CONTROL + F to search the transcript below if you want to learn more!

Transcript from this episode (#8)

*Note: this transcript was generated using automated software, and my not be a perfect transcription. But I hope you find it useful.

Maggie  1:11  
Thank you so much for having me, Travis. I hope that I live up to however interesting the internet makes me appear.

Travis  1:17  
I'm sure you will. So to get things started. I was curious, could you tell us a little bit about the role that you play in some of the organizations you're involved in?

Maggie  1:30  
Sure. So my day job, I guess, is that I am the Managing Director, founder, whatever you want to call it, of a firm called unicorn strategies. And when people asked me to sort of explain in a little snippet, what we do, what I say is that we build in support institutions, national security institutions, specifically in democracies and emerging democracies. And different people hear that different ways. And that's quite intentional on our part, because we do a lot of different things. So unicorn strategies, runs and has built a number of projects. One that we are probably best known publicly in the big wide world for is a project called #Natsecgirlsquad, which is a professional development community focused on building and supporting competent diversity and national security and defense. So you've in the 30 seconds I've been speaking, you have heard me say build and support quite a bit. And I'm sure that that will not be the first or only two times that I say that in the course of this interview. But #Natsecgirlsquad, and is just about seven years old now. And started out as a Google group, and is now a community of about 40,000 people, not just women, but majority women, and has its own secure community and learning app with its own, know your customer structure, KYC regime. So I was the founder and CEO of that. And then like every good founder, you know, you don't want to stay too long and kill the thing you love. So I'm now the founder and strategic advisor. There's a wonderful team there. And I'm also involved in a number of nonprofits and that are sort of connected directly or indirectly to the national security space. And we can talk about that too. Awesome.

Travis  3:43  
And just for a little background, could you share what inspired you to get involved with #Natsecgirlsquad? Like, is there any early influence that drove you in that direction?

Maggie  3:56  
You mean, like, specifically, why did I make #Natsecgirlsquad or how did I end up in national security?

Travis  4:03  
I guess first, what inspired you to start #Natsecgirlsquad.

Maggie  4:08  
I needed a job. Right? I'm I'm a woman. And I well, so to be fair, I had a job at the time. And a job I loved very much. And I was incredibly fortunate to be the chief of staff to a whole gaggle of retired three and four stars from across the military services through an organization called American security project. And I'm still, you know, really benefiting from the mentorship and sponsorship of a number of those officers or former officers. But they were and all are all old white guys over the age of 70, who had been in the military or lined up to be in the military since the age of 18. and they were kind of the first to admit that I needed additional mentorship and sponsorship that they couldn't give me as a civilian, as a woman. It's a number of other kind of like intersectional pieces of my identity. And I wasn't exposed to many senior, or really any other women at all, there weren't any other women where I was working. And I needed to meet some. And so I went out looking for a formal kind of mentorship or fellowship program that I could be a part of, and found a number of nonprofit organizations, but they were primarily focused on women in defense, or excuse me, women in development or diplomacy, academics, things like that. And that wasn't me. So I started reaching out for those organizations and saying, Hey, does anybody know of any formal mentorship programs that I have someone not in the military, not currently in government, not interested in getting a PhD, could join, and about 200 Women wrote back to me, and were really eager to find out if I found anything, because they very much needed something to.

Travis  6:24  
Wow, that's so interesting. And I can even make, like, more connections, going back to corporate security and like military security, that it is super hard for anyone that doesn't have like a super cool military background. And then I could definitely see the same for women. So I think that's a really cool project to get started.

Maggie  6:45  
Thanks. Yeah, I mean, I think part of what has made ... so successful, I built the thing I needed for myself, and that has very much been the guiding principles, since it's like, it's really been, you know, kind of self indulgent, right? It's like, I needed help, and I couldn't find it sort of directly. So I was like, Well, I guess I'm gonna have to figure it out for myself. And wouldn't it be great if I didn't have to do it alone and be people who started after me? You know, it's not going to solve every problem. But can they at least have their own problems to figure out right, Ken, the definition of progress to me isn't that everything is perfect, it's that you get to solve new problems. And so I'm always really pretty joyful when I find out that, you know, people are running into different challenges than I had when I first started. Because it's a signifier of progress for me.

Travis  7:49  
Yes, it's really cool that you were able to create something that was helpful for you and all the people in that same position as you. And also, you mentioned in your story about how you were Chief of Staff to like all these esteemed people. So can you share a little bit about what your career path looked like leading up to you being involved in founding these organizations and becoming an advisor? Like, how did you get there?

Maggie  8:17  
Sure. Um, so I can't tell if it's a traditional or non traditional path, right. So I went to college immediately after high school. And I went to Wesleyan University, which is in Middletown, Connecticut. And I loved almost every minute of it. Wesleyan is a big part of my life. I'm a very proud Wesleyan alum. And for those that are familiar with the institution, or know someone who went there, that's not uncommon, it's a bit called like. And I think one of the ways that I can kind of best describe my personality or how I understand and move through the world is that at Wesleyan, you need 32 credits to graduate and every class equals one credit. And a major is eight credits. So what your major is doesn't really matter. And the way that kind of the core curriculum is set up is it's it's focused on core capabilities, rather than like, you need to take a science class, you need to take a math class, right? And yet, somehow, with so few rules, and so few requirements, I still decided that I needed to make my own major, which is ridiculous, right? It's ridiculous generally, but particularly at this institution, right? That, you know, it's just over 2000 students. And when I was what we call a university major, there were three other university majors on campus. And one of them was a former university major who is now the president of the institution. So it's, it's pretty uncommon, because it's wildly Unknown. history right? So I, I made my own major and I focused on sort of theoretical economics. And I also took a number of music classes I'm formally like, formerly as formally as in like, have an actual master's degree in classically trained opera singer. So I have like a whole other life. And Wesleyan was a great place, because I got to do all the things I wanted to do all the time, which is sort of my definition of success is again, totally self indulgent, but fine. So I was at Wesleyan. And in my senior year, when while writing my undergraduate thesis, which is now most commonly downloaded by people in Iran, it's wild. And I'm really grateful that the library sends me that readout was the topic. So the title is the intentional human rights failures of states and firms, and I sort of called for like, an world's government that forcibly requires countries and companies to fulfill the human rights as articulated in the UN declaration of human rights of its citizens and employees. So I was like democracy and capitalism for everyone. And if that is not, you know, like, I It's not surprising to me that people in Iran are downloading it, and they're like, this is proof of insanity. You know, I look back at it now. And I'm like, huh, how much of this I still may or may not agree with is, you know, entirely up to interpretation. But in my senior year, I watched the entirety of the West Wing, and was like, Oh, I'd make a great Leo McGarry. And I moved to Washington, less than 36 hours after finishing undergrad to be an intern at the American security project. I moved down here with my pet hedgehog, matzah ball rip. And I was an intern, I was one of like, 15 interns, right. And I, I come from a really service focused family. And actually, though, wanted to be in corporate social responsibility for luxury consumer brands. And I'd intended to go to business school, and knew that to be competitive for a strong MBA program, I needed a couple of years of work experience. And I'd lived in New York City before I had siblings in New York City. A lot of people went to college when we're in Brooklyn or in LA. And I was like, well, I'll probably ended up there. Anyways, let me try and look someplace else first. So I came down to DC, again, really, without a plan, not knowing anybody for this unpaid internship. I don't recommend doing that now. But that's, you know, something that has changed over the last decade. And like I said, I was one of about 15 interns. And I was really different from all the other interns and not just in the ways that I'm used to being different.

Wesleyan is if you couldn't gather from my description, a liberal arts school. So obviously, if you're kind of officially or unofficially, double majoring in opera and theoretical economics, it's not super focused on pre professionalization. A lot of people in DC, young people, there's a heavy emphasis on pre professionalization. And I remember, on my first day of my internship, I sat next to a guy who had not only an undergraduate but a graduate degree in water security. And I was like, okay, yeah, right. Like, that's a move. Certainly an important and interesting and valid topic. But I also couldn't get over the fact that we were sitting next to each other, he was a master's degree in meat. This was the Monday after or the Tuesday after I graduated, right? Like, doing the same thing. And that seemed absurd to me. And like a lot of other interns in Washington. We wrote blog posts, write, like, a lot of blog posts. And I'm a great writer. But I don't love it. Right. And, to be honest, like the point of writing, sometimes, particularly blog posts, not always, but in certain slivers of the national security space isn't because anyone actually reads it. It's to say that you wrote, right, like, your blog post isn't going to change the world most of the time. And like I said, 15 other interns, everybody's doing the same thing. And at the time, the CEO of the organization who was a retired then CEO was A retired Marine General didn't have an assistant didn't have anybody running his calendar, answering his phone, all these other things. And I walked into his office because somebody left the door unattended, and was like, Hey, you have any unpaid labor until at least Labor Day, and you don't have anybody like doing all this stuff. I can write blog posts that nobody's gonna care about, or I can run your life. And it still remains unknown if he genuinely needed the help, or if he was just like, left unattended and confused as to why this, you know, barely 22 year old paraded into his office or whatever else. And whether he said fear out of said yes, out of fear and necessity or like genuine, you know, being like, yeah, this works. And so that's sort of the thing that made all the difference. I started doing organizational operations very early in my career, and I found I was excellent at it. And more than just being excellent at the general operations I was and remain quite gifted at sort of translating between military and civilian. It comes incredibly naturally to me, I can code switch pretty easily and float between and around the spaces. And I liked it. And that's really kind of what got the whole thing started, I guess.

Travis  16:37  
Okay, that's a really fascinating story. And I'm curious, like, what made you like, what made you act so boldly to just walk into his office and basically request to be his chief of staff?

Maggie  16:50  
I don't think that anything made me I think it's just who I am as a person, right? Like, it's, it was not an active choice. I think there was an element of feeling like I wasn't using my time. Well, like I was being kind of lazy. And again, like, also a level of self indulgence, where I was like, I'm okay, at writing blog posts. But like, is it the best use of my energy? Could I be serving in some other way? And, yeah, I, I, it wasn't an intentional choice. Like, it wasn't an intentional career move at what I really didn't imagine me being there, past Labor Day. But it, it's just who I am, right? Again, like, went to an undergraduate institution that is like, pretty, do what works for you and still felt the need to make my own major, like had a pet hedgehog named matzah ball. I don't know how many people you know, that have had hedgehogs. But it wasn't like, Oh, I'm going to do this thing. And it was more just like, Huh, I'm the queen of shooting the gap is what my friends say, right? It's like you see an opening? And you're like, Oh, I could do that. Why? Like, why not me, I was not raised to think that certain things were off limits to me. And there's good and bad to that limited understanding of social norms is certainly one of the negatives. But you know, if you're not aware of that what you're about to do or considering doing or whatever else is strange or different, you're more likely to do it.

Travis  18:36  
That's such an interesting story. And I think it's probably a really cool lesson for some of the people listening that, hey, if you go out there and you take a chance, like you did, walking into his office and kind of like requesting a new position, you can never really get those opportunities if you don't ask for him. And the worst case is that they say no. So that's a really cool last right?

Maggie  18:55  
As long as you are at 100%. Like the if people take away one thing from this conversation, wherever it may lead us. I hope it's that as long as you are kind and work hard, and offer what you can to people like I don't know. All that comes to mind is okay, but did you die like the outcome is not going to be that bad? Like there are worse things than someone saying no, or feeling uncomfortable for five seconds. Most of the great things that have come from, like that have come to me in my professional life are very much the result of me being who I am to the nth degree, you know, not self moderating, and that doesn't mean that it's easy or convenient, and it doesn't mean that I don't fail or fall on my face. score that everyone likes me or that I, everything I try works every time, it absolutely does not mean that it actually means I think that when I fail, I fail bigger. But when I succeed, I succeed bigger too.

Travis  20:11  
And you know, that leads perfectly into the next question that I want to ask you, which was, like, how has a failure, or an apparent failure set you up for success later? Like, are there any failures throughout your career that are favorites of yours,

Maggie  20:27  
I love every single one of my failures, and there are so many. So something I love reminding people is that I have never been offered a job that I applied for, I had been rejected from every single job I've ever applied for, except for that first internship. Right, and I think like, I've, I've also been rejected from every fellowship I've ever applied for except one. And that confuses people. There are, I was not meant to exist within traditional structures, and I, and that's a really, really, really hard thing to come to terms with, when you are devoted to the national security space, because it is so hierarchical, it is so structured, right? And so to be the thing that exists outside of that, unintentionally, is really hard. Because, you know, I'm, I am so deeply passionate about institutions, but to know that they are, in many ways, the traditional paths in and around them, or not how I can most succeed, is a challenge. And there are a lot of people that when they hear me say that, you know, they roll their eyes, because they're like, Well, you could just compact like all of us have to compromise who we are and, and, you know, we don't all get to just do whatever we want all the time, like, yeah, pardon my French, but no shit. If I got to do everything I wanted to do all the time. And it'd be different. I don't actually get to do everything I want to do all the time. But I feel like at least twice a day. And I'm not being facetious. I mean, really, but I also try a lot of things. And I don't know if I have like, the other thing is my definition of failure is totally skewed. Right? Like, it takes it I don't, candidly, I don't really consider anything I've done or not done to be a failure, because I'm generally overall pretty happy with how my life is going. More than that, I'm pretty happy with the impact I'm able to enable from other people. And so if I were to call something a failure wouldn't have, like, it would negate it right and mean that I wanted it to turn out differently. And I don't know that there's anything I would really change. Truthfully, there are things that would be easier. Right? It's really hard to be this way. But that's not what you asked me.

Travis  23:23  
I see. Yeah, it makes so much more sense now that you talk about how you've started so many organizations, kind of on your own of your own initiative, because you've been rejected from so many organizations, because maybe you don't have like, whatever they're looking for on paper. So that makes total sense now.

Maggie  23:42  
Yeah, I mean, I, you know, I joke with my friends a lot. That is, the reason I keep building things is because then I don't have to worry about being rejected again. Right? Like, if you just decide to make your own thing, no one can tell you yes or no. Right. And I exist in sort of this weird in between of having, you know, I have a master's degree from Georgetown Security Studies Program, which is the top program in the world for national security policy and, and which is not to say that there aren't other exceptional programs, but it's a it's an incredibly hyper specific program, which is really funny when you think about again, like every other part of my life not being hyper specific. And, you know, I've done I was a fellow for the Aspen security forum, go to the Munich Security Conference, all these things like it's I live in this weird in between space where I've got certain credentials, but I didn't come by them in the traditional way. And that makes people nervous. And I'm not a regional experts, and I'm not a functional expert, either. Nor do I desire To me, right. And those are really the two things that most people in this space, whether you're in government, private sector, academia, they fall into one of those two categories. There are very few people that are professional builders. You know, and not many of them are five foot two with purple hair and nails that clearly say, I'm from New Jersey, you know.

Travis  25:30  
And Maggie, I was also curious to ask. So I know you're involved in a bunch of different in leading a bunch of different projects could so could you share a little bit about some of the big projects that you're working on today, whether those are with national security drill squad, or some of your other ventures?

Maggie  25:47  
Sure, um, so in August of 2021, I'm like, What is time it is a flat circle. So in August of 2021, like a lot of other people in the national security space, I found myself pretty focused and connected to the evacuation and resettlement of friends from Afghanistan. And so did a lot of that. And we settled, are in the process of resettling a few 100 friends and their families. Through an organization I run with a very dear friend of mine Jack, called Operation Eagle foundation. So that is something that, you know, has, has taken a lot of my time, and mental and emotional and physical energy over the last year and is again really dear to me. And I'm also affiliated with an organization called LC wins, which is the Leadership Council of Women and national security. And that is an organization that is really focused on supporting senior women in the space. Since knapsack girl SWAT started, you know, there were nonprofit organizations before us. And #Natsecgirlsquad is for profit. And I'm happy to talk about why that is, that's of interest, but it's like, not on this train of that. And there's not an announced #Natsecgirlsquad is really focused on people coming out of undergrad up until like mid career, right. And then there's this mid senior to senior level jump, that's really, really, really, really hard. And so we're kind of like working on some solutions there. And then LC wins is focused on more senior women. And so I have been a part of that organization for both since before COVID. So I guess like three years. Again, time is a flat circle. I'm the chair of the initiatives committee. And that's something that I really value. I am I've been, I'm not sure when our interview will come out. But I'm working on a podcast with my friends at goat rodeo productions, called stoicism and glitter. That features not even conversations because I'm actually edited out of it, thank God, but it's a people whose names you wouldn't otherwise know kind of reflecting on when they knew like a very specific time that they knew the work they did mattered or had an impact. And, you know, unicorn is always building new things all the time.

Travis  28:48  
And can I ask how someone becomes involved in something like LC Wins for people who are maybe like mid level ish in their careers or have kind of like moved on from those, like starter organizations?

Maggie  29:02  
Yeah, so I mean, I would certainly recommend #Natsecgirlsquad, not just because I made it, but because we like to say like, it's the big tent. So it's for people like zero to 20 years in their career. And I'm sort of I really hesitate to use number of years as indicative of expertise, because I will be the first to admit that like, there's nobody else that's done what I've done. And that's not it makes real, it makes people often incredibly uncomfortable when I say that out loud. And like that's not an opinion. That's a statement of fact. And it's not to say that and to not be afraid of that and to be a woman and to be young really can be frustrating for other people. And it's something that I am quite conscious of. And it's not that it doesn't make me uncomfortable. It's just it's a thing I'm working on. On Being okay with. So yeah, I hesitated on like number of years. And #Natsecgirlsquad is, you know, I guess if we were building it from the beginning now, we would use words like web three, but we aren't so we won't. But #Natsecgirlsquad isn't a solution. It is a toolbox. It is a community, it is a platform, it enables people to figure out what their definition of success is, chart a path, get some help achieve that definition, and then come up with a new definition, right, because it should change over time. So there's something for everybody. And there are four stars, it sounds like girls squat, and there are people in undergrad. It is for everybody. So if you're interested in getting involved in #Natsecgirlsquad, the website is, there's a membership. And it'll walk you through that LLC wins. There, the website is LLC There's some really great open to the public programming and information on the website as well about how to be involved in different different initiatives and opportunities based on what kinds of opportunities you're looking for. One of the things that I definitely recommend for people is not #Natsecgirlsquad has a hashtag or pound sign in front of it for a reason. It's because it's searchable, right? So we have a Google group, like I mentioned, right? That's how it started, that still exists, and it's free. Membership starts at $20 a year. We also you know, if somebody emails and says like, Hey, I don't have 20 bucks, sure, well, as long as you, you know, meet the screen, we're fine. As long as you aren't where you say you are. But the Google group list service free. And there's a lot of information sharing about, you know, open positions, events, things like that. So those are kind of the three ways I would suggest people get involved.

Travis  32:05  
That's really cool. And I've browsed the #Natsecgirlsquad page, looking at some of like the seminars and courses that you offer. And there's some really cool content there. Like, for example, I saw a really interesting looking course about negotiation. I kind of wish I would have been reading and doing negotiation courses when I was in my early 20s. So definitely some really cool content on the website.

Maggie  32:27  
Well, thank you. Yeah, so the platform that we built, it's called herd mentality, because everything is your current theme, right. In addition to offering kind of not just offering but enabling like one off courses and classes, which any of our members can sign up to host or facilitate. We also do micro certs. So we have four micro certs. One on US Mexico relations, and we actually just took the first cohort to Mexico City as the capstone experience, it was awesome for a lot of people is their first track to and I think like professional international travel is such a crucial part of a of a well rounded security career, regardless of which part of the field you're in. And is an opportunity that is not often made available to people and again, like it is once you get on one trip, right, that's how people invite you to others, I can say that from personal experience. We also have a program on sort of media relations and public affairs, so telling the story of national security to the public in an unclassified manner, something that I think the apparatus needs to be better at, one on organizational operations. So what does it take to just be a functioning professional in the world. And then we have this really cool program on counterterrorism studies, that's actually divided into one for early career professionals who are just kind of looking for a survey course, basically, and one for people with a little bit more experience. And it's really focused on policymaking solutions building. And we've had a lot of support and help from West Point in building that course, and are really looking forward to running the pilot for both of those sections in the next couple of months. So yeah, like I'm really proud of what I've built, what the team has built, but they've executed and managed and how it all continues to grow. And the negotiation courses are so fun. There's all kinds of negotiation. There's hostage negotiation, there's international agreement, negotiation, there's salary negotiation, something for everyone.

Travis  34:47  
Yeah, those are some really cool topics. And the fact that you mentioned that members can also host and lead their own courses. That's, that's just such a cool opportunity because all of those was, like all those opportunities to teach others about a topic, it just makes you so much, so much more knowledgeable about that topic, because you have to kind of like look at it from another perspective. But also like the stress of leading a course and being in front of people, also a great learning experience. So I really liked that aspect of it.

Maggie  35:18  
Yeah, and, you know, everything that I just mentioned, every course on our platform, whether it's a one off or a micro cert, everything is taught by members, it's entirely member led, and the whole company. So all of that sacral squad is run is funded exclusively on member dues. And that's a big part of why we're a for profit company. Because if you're a nonprofit, you have to share where all your money comes from, as you should. And I don't know about you, but if I was the CCP, or, you know, Russian state actors, I would love to be able to go on the internet and peruse, you know, the private information of 40,000 national security apparatus professionals, right. And so a big part of why we are for profit, is because then we don't have to share the like, all of the information of our members. I also don't think what we do is a charity, and there's nothing wrong, you know, with making money. And finally, like women who run organizations, just proportionately we run nonprofits. And it dramatically contributes to not just the wage gap, but the wealth gap. And I'm not into it, right, I told you my undergraduate thesis called for like a world of democracy and capitalism. So I think that you can like money and also freedom.

Travis  36:49  
Yeah, and as you mentioned, like that added layer of privacy and security, definitely incredibly important. And plus, I feel like when I get, like when I pay for a service, and I get something really valuable from it, you know, I really don't mind paying 20 bucks or paying 100 bucks. So that's not Well, I'm

Maggie  37:08  
glad to hear it, right. And there's something about it to me where like, if you're a nonprofit, and this is not a shot at organizations doing similar or connected work that are nonprofits, one, like there's only so much grant money, and I'm not a strong grant writer, so I don't want to like I don't want to compete with my friends or other people doing important work that deserves to be funded, right? I'm not going to, like we shouldn't have to fight for resources. And I don't want people or organizations to sort of like hide a multitude of sins by giving money to a nonprofit, right? And I also think that when it's for profit, people, because we are community run, right? Like when people buy something for $20 or $100 a year, I think they tend to be like more conscientious about it, right? They're like, Oh, I'm not even if it's just, you know, the $20 tax write off, they're like, this isn't a donation, this is a purchase I'm making. And so they expect more. And I think it creates sort of more buy in, it ensures more buy in from the community. And it enables us to say like, if you want to see something from this community, then make it right. Because ultimately, and this sort of goes back to your your first question of like, or one of your first questions about what possessed me to march into a CEOs office, I really don't think it's healthy, to wait like to always be on the receiving end, right? You don't get to save the world by waiting for someone to tell you what memo to write. You if you need something or want something or feel like something should exist, then make it and I realize not everybody has the ability to do that all of the time or the skill set. And and so I think creating kind of a safe space where the expectation is, we will take care of one another is a really good way to to build that skill. Because, you know, my, the early the earlier iterations of #Natsecgirlsquad was quite intentionally content creation because we we had always hoped and planned and we're pushing towards, you know, becoming a platform, but you have to model the behavior you want to see first, right? So we spent a lot of time building the building the offerings and are now like, okay, Jean, over to you, right?

Travis  39:46  
Yeah, I like your philosophy about being courageous and taking action and just doing things on your own initiative. I think that's a really cool way to look at your career. And that also leads into my next question. So the There's a number of young and aspiring security practitioners listening today, for some of them that want to get involved in similar projects as you or take a similar career path. Is there any advice that you would like to share with people like that?

Maggie  40:17  
Yeah, so the first thing I would say is, if possible, get a liberal arts education, for the love of all that is holy, get a liberal arts degree. It serves me so well. And it's not just the critical thinking and the writing, it's like, your primary responsibility on this earth is to be a good citizen. Right? And so if you are solely focused on like, one thing, and that's it, right? If you can't problem solve, if you can't handle chaos, if you can't deal with a changing environment. They say that friends, like, hard pass to, you know, the expedient option, the transactional option, will not bring you joy, or success or longevity, I promise you No, I think like there's the overused sort of adage, like, if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far go together. I don't think that's true. But I also don't think the inverse is true. I think there's a happy medium, right? It's okay to strike out on your own sometimes. I mean, think about who I am, I couldn't, I could not promise like, it would be a lie. For me to be like, no, never do anything by yourself. No. But if you're going to do something on your own, and you should make sure that you do it in a way so that others can join you. Right? You are never the only person with an idea. Even if nobody else realizes they have the idea yet, Chip, right? It is if you like, if you have it in you to try something new, go for it, and encourage others to join you like something that I know makes people sometimes nervous about me is that I refuse to believe that there's any sort of competition between that sacral squat or anything that unicorn strategies builds. And any other organization or company that does similar or the same are connected work. And that is because I know for a fact that all of these problems are so big, that like we need all the help we can get, right? And we're going to talk about how large knapsack rolls squads membership bases, it I really have kind of mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, you know, large numbers is something that people react to kind of emotionally and viscerally. But one of my goals for the team that's there now is to actually see that number decreased by at least 100%. Because #Natsecgirlsquad. It is a big tent, and it is open to anyone who meets the code of conduct and no one should feel unwelcome. And if they, you know, they're curious about national security, like, Come jump in. But my hope is that as people grow professionally, they will realize that #Natsecgirlsquad's target audience what we offer, not everything is for everybody. Right? Like, it is very much focused on national security, defense, intelligence across sectors, right. So government, private sector, academia and nonprofits. But it is not a diplomat, community, primarily, it is not, you know, a development community primarily, it is not. It's a lot of people that are if they're in government, many of them are career. There are also political appointees, but like, it's just, it's, you can't be everything to everybody, right? And like, don't be afraid of that. So I want to see people find their own way, right, find the place that best serves them. So what I would say to people, regardless of where you are in your career, but especially if you're first starting out, don't be afraid to take risks, learn more than you think you need to do things that make you nervous, and realize that not making a choice is still a choice, right? inaction is action, whether you want it to be or not. So trying to keep everything available to you all the time, at a certain point, like you have to close some doors to open others and that's okay. And that's really hard to learn. Right and, and I guess the last little tidbit I'd add is remember that everything is cyclical right in the content. Next up this interview probably sounds like I have my whole life together. And in some ways I do, but it's cyclical, right? Every couple of years, you know, and I say this, really, really meaning it. And one of the reasons that I mentioned obviously wins is because something that I've gotten out of it is...

building professional relationships with people that I have personal relationships with people who are at a different point in their career, who tried a number of other things. And seeing for them, that transition still happens, right? And figuring out what works for you at different points in your life, still requires effort. And it that like learning never ends, right? So don't be afraid of that. Everybody is trying to figure it out all the time.

Travis  45:52  
Those are some great suggestions. You mentioned, being able to build a community and do your projects with the broader community, not just go at it alone, about getting a broad liberal arts education, and then also, that there's no shortcuts, that, you know, if you embark on something, it'll probably be difficult, but if it's difficult, it will end up being worthwhile.

Maggie  46:15  
Yeah, or in some way, it will be worthwhile 100%. Like, everything in my life is difficult all of the time. But I also know that sometimes that is the result of my own choices intentionally or not. You heard and we were talking about this earlier, right? It's like, every action has a repercussion. Some of them are good, some of them are neutral, some of them are challenging. And for me, I continuously make choices that, in some ways, make my life more difficult in the eyes of other people, but that's because our risk calculus is different. And what might like what's difficult for me, isn't difficult for other people and the other way around, right? And so don't be afraid to have a really clear definition of those things for yourself. I think that's important.

Travis  47:16  
And this makes me think so as you're doing your work as a founder, as a strategic advisor for these different organizations, are there any particular skill areas or competencies that you think make you more successful? Like, for example, maybe it has to do with business? Maybe it has to do with interacting with people and people relationships? Are there any particular competencies that stand out to you?

Maggie  47:44  
Yeah, so I think, and I'm not sure if this one is so much a competency as much as it's, you know, something else, but I have this sort of challenge, both a gift and a curse that? Well, I most certainly understand the world as it currently exists, I can't see things without seeing them as what they could be. Right? I can't, like, I know. So one of the ways that I know I'm not an analyst, some of it has to do has to do with like, my desire to interact with other humans. Right, and like, how much I enjoy or don't enjoy writing and how much I enjoy or don't enjoy reading, and I like to read but for fun, not, you know, if I have to look at read it one more time my brain will explode is that I can, you know, get the blocks on something pretty quick. And I can read people really well. But I am interested in the current environment exclusively, as it relates to impacting the strategic planning and decision making of getting it to where I want to be right. Like, I I'm not interested in describing how something currently as I'm interested in describing what it could be and getting there. And so I think I have a lot of friends that are that way too. And a lot of friends that aren't and that is and there is like super important value. I would also say that there's a lot to be said for having fun. And what I mean by that is I play Dungeons and Dragons, not uncommon for people in our world. And my d&d group is the same group of people that evacuated and is resettling our friends from Afghanistan. And that is not a surprise to me. at all, because to me, it like the reason we were good at that and are good at that is because we have fun together. We know, we know each other's strengths, we know how we respond to like different stimuli, right. And I think, underscore, you know, and I could go into, like, my love of military service culture and understanding how the different service, like origin stories impact their decision making processes, and all of that. But ultimately, underneath all of that is that I know myself really well, better than most people ever do, regardless of how old they are. But I know myself really, really well. And that that is not an easy journey to go on. But it's really helpful. Right, especially when you're you're thinking about a lot of professional choices that demand a lot from you. And you bring your work home with you. And you eat, sleep, breathe it. It helps to know who you are and who you aren't. And that makes you more competent, because you're going to put your energy, like know your strengths and know your weaknesses. And build a team that balances that or find yourself on a team that balances that. And don't be afraid to just like be absolute trash at something like you can't be good at everything. Life is not high school. So don't worry about not being good at everything.

Travis  51:31  
Yeah. And it's funny, the Dungeons and Dragons thing with you and your group, you and your group and your friends being involved in humanitarian efforts, that connects back with what he recommended about being involved in communities of people who are all aimed at like one big goal. So that kind of connects back. And as we're beginning to wrap up the interview, I wanted to ask you Are there any particular books that you've recommended most over the years, whether it's to young professionals, or whether it's to your peers, or books that have, like, influenced you a bunch,

Maggie  52:07  
so many books, so only because I just mentioned, service, culture, and masks of war, which is actually like an old Rand report. I, there, it's been updated. And the updates are fabulous, but read the original first. It's about this services, origin stories, and how that kind of relates to their service culture. I when I read that book, The summer before I started graduate school, I remember where I was sitting and what page I was on when I realized like, business school was never going to happen, right like that. This was the thing for me. I recommend anything and everything that Corey shocky and Quinta Jurassic, right. Corey has written a number of books. She's a historian by training and a national security expert by choice. And thank God for that Quinta. Jurassic is an incredible journalist and writer on national security and law and also a Wesleyan graduate. So anything either of them writes, there's a old, really old, like out of print old book called diplomat among warriors. It's about this gentleman. It's it's a memoir. He was a civil servant in the post office, who found himself as a civil servant in the diplomatic corps in North Africa, during World War Two. And I remember reading it, I'm staring at my copy on my bookshelf now. And I was just like, oh, this is amazing. And I read a lot so you go up into Canada warm. I would also say like, read for fun, right? And I, this is like peak millennial behavior. But I would recommend the H spot by Jill Phil, Phil Aparo. She's brilliant. And is about millennial women at work and feminism. I would also recommend Hyperbole and a Half, which is a graphic memoir, like not a graphic novel. It's a memoir that, you know, a cartoonist and comic book, sort of, you know, commentator, whatever, that she has two books. I can't remember what the other one is called. I've read them both. They're both really great. And, yeah, I read a lot ought I? Maybe more than I should? But yeah, I read a lot. And those are sort of the things I generally recommend. But I would start there.

Travis  55:17  
Awesome. Yeah, I will definitely be sure to link to all these in the show notes. And for me, I'm, I'm not familiar with these books. So I will definitely be checking them out on Amazon. So I do appreciate the recommendations.

Maggie  55:29  
Yeah, I mean, I'm, I will make sure to look through, you know, on the, on the show site, what other people are recommending, right, because I'm always curious. I never, I've never seen anybody recommend the same things that I recommend. So I'm always like, this is how I know I'm a strange flavor of ice cream, right? Like, for better but then I like, oftentimes, I would never think to read the things that like normal people are recommending and like, oh, I should do that. So I love when people ask me that question.

Travis  56:02  
Yeah. And I think that's why your perfect interview guests, because you have such a unique perspective.

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