Reflections On Managing A Career When You Share Your Life With A Diplomat
The majority of Americans are accustomed to the idea of landing a job, and overtime through hard work, perseverance, and ambition, progressing steadily up the corporate ladder. And, having and managing a career become central to defining who you are relative to your peers. This way of thinking about your professional life has certainly changed overtime, but most individuals still abide by this traditional way of managing their career. My career choices have made up a large part of who I am and continue to be, but given that I now share my life with a career diplomat the notion of a career and the personal questions that go along with it have been disrupted.
What happens when every 3-4 years you are relocating to a new country? And, how do you come to terms with who you are and how you define yourself given this change? Well, this is what happened to me, and I can tell you that there is a process involved in understanding who you are relative to your own career as well as in relation to that of your spouse.
I left a promising career path with an organization I adored, and a brand that aligned with my own personal values. I knew by leaving that I was consciously making the decision to be open to new possibilities both professionally and personally. But, you can’t prepare yourself or your spouse for the personal loss, fear, isolation, resentment, excitement, and confusion that comes with this type of disruption in life. The constant need to adapt and redefine yourself with every new move, or post as they are called, takes a lot of energy. The process and how you react to it may be different for individuals based on their unique personality traits, culture, upbringing, age, and gender, here in America we have been socialized to place an undue amount of value on defining ourselves through what we do day-to-day. For me, this resulted in a feeling of loss, and initially had a negative impact on my self-identity.
It forced me to reconsider the broader question of how I defined my personal success. It made me realize that I had to think about my career and job title as NOT being linear in nature. I would have to manage it by assuming new and challenging roles that stretched me in very different ways. For example, working in marketing for an Organic supermarket chain in Mexico City allowed me to flex a different professional style based on cultural differences, apply different marketing tactics, as well as strengthened my foreign language skills. Or, at the Inter-American Development Bank in DC I led an enterprise wide CRM initiative working with individuals from various Latin American countries while knowing that the work indirectly made a difference in improving lives in Latin America. Each position allowed me to continue to challenge myself, grow professionally, and obtain relevant skills. Moreover, it has forced me to be very clear about how I want to contribute professionally, and for organizations that have a positive impact on society.
Lastly, as it pertains to my relationship with my husband, there can be a constant reminder of being professionally judged relative to him when attending events or gatherings. The typical conversation when meeting someone new always starts with them asking, “Why are you here?” or “Who do you know? Or, the proverbial, “What do you do for a living?”. And, the response is something like “I am the spouse of so and so with the Embassy of Mexico.” And, if you get asked the question of “What do you do?”, and you don’t have a job, there is always an awkward moment of silence where the other person is deciding whether it is worth their time to continue the conversation or to cut it short since many times the other person views it as networking.
Being the accompanying spouse requires you to maintain a sense of pride and a quest for ongoing self-discovery when all you have initially to present is your personal self. You unravel the societal construct of what a career means and how it affects your identity. And, you eventually come to realize that there is no sum of money or career path that can replace the rich personal experiences that come from living in new geographic locations and cultures. The self-awareness gained by living outside of the United States has been exponential. It has allowed me to gain perspective, obtain greater problem-solving skills, and a less selfish way of living. Though few individuals will ever to come to fully understand or relate to this way of life and the constant barrage of change, the personal benefits are immense.
What has been your experience? We want to hear your thoughts.