What I’ve Learnt From Making Career Decisions Around Someone Else
It’s not easy making sacrifices in your own career for someone else, but it changes your perspective on work when you do
I’ve changed jobs a couple of times in the last few years, and it’s not been my choice. Well, that’s not fair. It was my choice, in that I accepted the job offers. But the reason to leave the job before was not always in my control.
And this is because my last two job moves were tied to changes in my boyfriend’s career, which has taken him around the world. Every time I quit a job, I moved to a different country (I talk a bit about this in my last post). Whilst this has been incredibly exciting, and has given me a lot of great experiences, it’s also created challenges for career progression. Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
It’s hard to control your career progression
When I first moved because of my boyfriend’s career, it was to go to Melbourne from Amsterdam. At that point, I had been working in events for 8 years, developing content for exhibition brands, and had worked my way up the career ladder. When my boyfriend got his job offer, I was either about to get promoted or look for a new job, in a more senior position. I wasn’t tied to the job that I was in, but I could definitely see a successful career path in the industry.
However, after moving, I quickly found progression was not an option. Australia has a more domestic focus (largely for geographical reasons), particularly in the events sector. As a result, there fewer companies involved in the space, and not many roles open — particularly in the senior positions I was looking for. So, I adapted the skills that I’d developed in events to fit other roles.
You often have to start from scratch
After making the decision to apply for jobs outside of the events sector, I kept coming up against the same hurdle. A lot of employers wanted to see that I had experience working for other Australian companies, which left me in a bit of a Catch 22 situation. It really felt like the years of experience I had, counted for nothing. In the end, the job pool I had to work with was limited and I had to take a more junior role — I was at a point where I just needed a job. Luckily for me, it was the sort of environment that I was quickly able to prove myself and get rewarded for it.
I had a similar situation when I moved to Luxembourg. This time, it wasn’t my lack of local experience that was the problem, just the lack of jobs in the area that I work. And the fact that I don’t speak one of the local languages. Given the circumstances, I feel very lucky to get the job that I did, but again, it was a junior position that was taking me further away from the industry where I built up my experience.
You have a constant feeling of instability
When your career is dependent on someone else, it’s hard to feel in control of your life generally. When you’re used to moving around as frequently as we are, there’s a feeling that it can happen at any moment. In the last 6 years, I’ve lived in 5 different countries and have had more than 10 addresses. (It’s a nightmare when it comes to applying for visas!). With that frequency of change, it’s really hard to set roots down anywhere, so it’s almost impossible to commit to anything long-term — buying a house, starting a new project, making friends. And it can feel a bit lonely. Add to this, any situation where you’re dependent on a company sponsoring your visa, and it just becomes stressful. Not the ideal situation to flourish.
You need to keep reminding yourself your career is also important
One of the reasons we’ve moved because of my boyfriend’s career, not mine, is that he’s always likely to earn more money than me. This is due to the nature of his work, and the fact that he’s further on in his career (he’s older than me). When I first met him, the sector he worked in meant it was common to have to move where the money was. Jobs were linked to specific projects that had funding, and they could be anywhere in the world. That creates a mind-set…it makes looking for work overseas to progress your career more natural. But making decisions based around one person’s career, can make it feel like the other person’s is less important. On the one hand it is, if you base it purely on financial return. But, in terms of personal fulfilment, and how it contributes to you as a person, I would argue differently.
You’re opened up to new experiences
I probably wouldn’t have lived in half the places I have if it wasn’t for my boyfriend’s job. By living in these different places, you get to meet so many people from around the world, and have experiences that can only happen in places where you don’t speak the language, or have a different approach to work and life.
And I really think these experiences have changed me for the better. For one, having spent almost four years in the Netherlands has definitely taught me to be more direct! I’m not at Dutch levels but, if I need something, I definitely don’t beat around the bush like I used to when I lived and worked in the UK. By learning to live and work in foreign environments, you become more adaptable. So, whilst you might be forced to take a more junior job at first, you’re able to adapt to the work culture of a place and progress more quickly. And, ultimately, having this international experience is valuable, as it can help give a fresh perspective to a company and make them look at their work in a different way. Good companies should see the value in this, and will reward you in the long run.
Forced career changes mean learning new skills
In the last two jobs I’ve had, I’ve been forced to move out of my comfort zone, working in different environments and in different roles. As frustrating as it was to start from scratch, it definitely taught me new skills that, added to my previous experience, means I now have a much more valuable offering. This forced up-skilling makes me more attractive to future employers. I can be more flexible in roles, and can apply for positions that maybe I couldn’t have before.
Learning new skills has also helped me to really refine what I want from a career. Had I stayed in events and progressed up the ladder, yes I potentially would have had a better paid job, and been in a more senior position, but it would have been on a very specific path. Is that really what I would have wanted from my career? By bringing in new skills that I’ve learnt, I can really tailor my career to ensure I’m doing what I want, not just what I think I should be doing. Learning new skills has also taught me what I really don’t want to do, and what I’m not good at, which is equally as valuable.
Putting yourself in challenging situations creates resilience
It’s really tough moving to a different country — not knowing anyone, not having a network around you and having to build a life. It’s also difficult moving when your partner has a job and you don’t, because they gain a ready-made network of people through work, and a sense of purpose. When you’re in that situation, and faced with rejection after rejection from job applications, it can be hard to find the motivation to keep trying. Yet you must. And continuing to push on will eventually reward you, making you realise that you can survive and build a life in a foreign place.
And the more you do it, the more confident you become that you can do it again. I’ve recently taken the (slightly scary) decision to go freelance. But, I really believe my experiences of moving around the world — finding work, finding a community, building my network, creating a life — have given me the confidence to do it. I know that if I put the work in and just keep being open to opportunities, like I have in the past, it’ll work out. And if it doesn’t, then I’ll find another job. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. It’s all about what you learn on the way.
There’s freedom in not taking a traditional career path
When I was in my 20’s I was ambitious to become a CEO or some sort of high-powered leader. Now, I’m still ambitious, but I’m less fixated on what the end goal should look like. The fact that we’ve almost always moved for my boyfriend’s job has taken the pressure off me pursuing a certain image of success. Instead, it’s given me the space and freedom to experiment, to try new things and learn what it is that I really love and want to keep doing, without a fear of failure. There’s a sense that in a new place, there’s always a learning process. Things are different, so it’s ok for things to go wrong.
There are upsides and downsides to following your partner around the world, and adapting to their career demands. However, I really think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Ultimately, life is unpredictable — you can’t plan it down to the minute detail. Even if I had stayed in one place and focused on the career path I thought I wanted, who knows if it would have worked out? You have to take the opportunities as they come because, as cliche as it sounds, you never know where they’ll lead you. It could be somewhere unexpectedly perfect for you, that changes your life. But even if it isn’t, there’s always something to learn from any experience, that you can take with you as you progress through life.