This Federal Air Marshal Didn’t Let a Fear of Failure Stand in the Way of Her Success

Thursday, March 9, 2023
Ashley Rivenburg, a Supervisory Federal Air Marshal for the TSA. | Courtesy of Ashley Rivenburg

As a young adult thinking about her future career, Ashley Rivenburg felt compelled to serve—and it was this feeling that led her to joining the TSA, where she is currently the Supervisory Federal Air Marshal (FAM) of the NYC Field Office Training Department.

“When I began considering what path I might want to pursue, I kept feeling drawn to serving my community and the country in a meaningful way,” she says. “I started working out with a focus on training for an academy and applied to positions within law enforcement. Eventually, I was recruited by a supervisor from the FAM Service.”

In her current role, Rivenburg is responsible for ensuring FAMs receive quality and sufficient training. “I work to create and implement practices that make their job easier and make them feel supported,” she says.

Here, Rivenburg shares how traveling for work has influenced the way she lives her life, why she loves working with people from diverse backgrounds, and how she didn’t let a fear of failure stop her from succeeding.

What initially attracted you to apply for a position at the TSA?

I was excited to pursue the opportunity to impact the world in a positive way and having grown up in a small town in south New Jersey, I was intrigued by the idea to travel as part of my career.

Where have you traveled, and how have these experiences impacted you personally?

I have traveled to countless locations throughout the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast and lots of stops in between. Internationally, I flew most missions to Europe and Asia.

My primary takeaway from traveling to these new locations was seeing diverse ways of living and the struggle that many people face. This experience made me all the more grateful for the health and wealth of my family and reminded me to always be generous and help others. I’ve shared these experiences with my children in an age-appropriate way over the years, which has shaped their values in a wonderful way. For instance, last December, my daughter gave all her money ($64) to a charity with the hope that those receiving it would have a better Christmas. We also donate to Toys for Tots and “adopt” a family every Christmas; last year we were lucky enough to be able to give a bike and other wish list items to an 8-year-old girl.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?

, my biggest challenge has been myself—my fear of failure or belief that I’m not good enough. Yet, when faced with that insecurity, I have found that with the proper mindset and training, I can overcome many obstacles.

One of the most gratifying moments was seeing my firearms qualification scores improve by more than 20 points. I was able to achieve this by putting in additional range time, and reminding myself of the basic fundamentals I was taught. Another example was during a physical training test. I started the day feeling inadequate, but I had put in months of training and came to see that I was among the top scores of the group.

What is your favorite perk or benefit of working for the TSA and why?

The opportunity to work with people from diverse backgrounds and share experiences with them. As a FAM, you often find yourself with new mission partners. They may be the one to take down a terrorist or save the day with you, or just sit with for hours. This fosters the opportunity to get to know multiple colleagues, learn from one another, and often build strong professional relationships—sometimes even life-long friendships. You understand how they operate in the event things go sour and also have the chance to get to know who they left at home or their hobbies. It’s a very unique perk.

What is something unexpected most people wouldn’t know about what it’s like to be an FAM?

That the job can be quite inglorious. Due to the nature of the job, we remain mostly anonymous and when mission tempo is high, you might be away from home more often than you expect.

What skills does it take to succeed as a FAM?

Respecting those around you and never assuming someone’s ability. Everyone has something valuable to offer; assuming they don’t is a disservice to you and them. To be successful in FAMS, I’ve found it important to be patient, open to learn, and persistent and focused on the task at hand.

What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing a career as a FAM?

Come in open-minded, never stop learning, don’t give up on yourself, focus on what’s in front of you, and value yourself and those around you.

What is one of your hobbies outside of work? Why does it make you happy?

My favorite thing to do outside of work is to go exploring with my children. It makes me happy because my kids remind me to enjoy the little things, and that with an open mind you will find treasures and experience unexpected moments. I also believe that staying physically fit is important to have a healthy life and calm mind, so I work out every day I feel good enough to.

What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?

I like watching home remodeling and decorating shows with my daughter. I also enjoy watching seasonal baking shows with my kids. I listen to Ted Talks podcasts on my commute from work.

This article originally appeared on The Muse.