Career transition lessons of a trailing spouse

by Oct 8, 2014



trailing spouse

Career transition lessons of a trailing spouse

Women’s lives are marked by  many transitions and career transition is just one of them. We transition from girlhood to womanhood, high school to university, and university to career. Most of us transition from singleton to coupledom, and for many of us, there is the most emotional transition of all, that to motherhood. But, whatever our childbearing status, we all face transitions in our careers.


These transitions in our careers can be beyond our control, such as via retrenchment. Sometimes they are highly intentional, like the epiphany that life is short, and the work that fills our days does not truly satisfy us. For many women, family reasons are behind the changes in our professional lives. Like the new mother who juggles the pull of her children against all she has worked for in her career. Or, as in my case, the choice to leave part-time employment and become an expatriate.

The importance of work to your self-esteem

My husband was already working in Africa, returning back home for a few weeks every couple of months. I was working part-time in a job that was flexible enough for my role as an “almost” single mother. When the offer of a family move to Africa was floated, it seemed an ideal situation. It would allow us to live and have an adventure as a family. Due to visa restrictions, I would not be allowed to engage in paid employment and would become the ‘trailing spouse’. Amidst the heady excitement of the move, I gleefully handed in my resignation, focussed on the BIG picture of our imminent new lives. Little did I know how important work was to my self-esteem.

I had underestimated the validation I received from being able to work. Having that choice taken away from me was an emotional journey. I missed the sense of contribution work brings. I resented my inability to find locally paid work, despite the many volunteer opportunities life in the developing world offers. I felt outdated and underrated for the skills I had gained  in my career

[Tweet “I was forced to sit with very uncomfortable feelings of being professionally left behind. “]

Transition can be a gift.

But as I slowly settled into my new life outside of the work environment, I met another breed of women. These women come from all over the world and across many professions, who have also found themselves in the same transition. They too have sat with feelings of discomfort and redundancy, but are emerging on the other side with new careers, new motivations and even greater self-esteem. They have started their own cooking schools, personal training and yoga classes, on-line employment, and many gain great satisfaction from volunteer work. Others, including myself, have taken this opportunity of transition to return to education.

[Tweet “I know I am not defined by my work, but I know it is important to me. “]

I know that life is short and we need to take opportunities when they arise. I know how lonely and demoralising it can feel when our choices seem to be taken away from us. But a transition period in our careers, for whatever reasons, particularly if there is another money earner in the family, can provide us with the time to get off the treadmill of work for a while. In this fast paced world, a transition period is a gift of time…to hug our kids, to realise what makes our heart sing, and perhaps even a chance to reinvent ourselves.




chrisgerakiteys Subscriber
Chris Gerakiteys is an Australian writer, blogger, scientific editor and general jill-of-all trades. In 2012, exhausted by the fly in-fly-out lifestyle of her geologist husband, the family decided to take the plunge and move to Ghana, West Africa. She writes about the challenges, experiences and joys of living six degrees north of the equator, amidst the color, chaos and smells of West Africa. Six Degrees North is part travelogue, part diary; Chris speaks honestly about raising children and living as an expat in the developing world. She splits her time between Accra, the capital of this peaceful African nation, and rural Ghana where her husband works.

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