Many women don’t relocate for their own career but follow a husband/partner abroad for his career development, whilst putting their own career on the back burner. As the accompanying partner, we invest all our energies into recreating a home, settling our children and managing the expectations of the family and friends we leave behind. In fact, we do everything we can to ensure the transition is as smooth for everyone else as possible. We are the ultimate shock absorber!
The identity crisis
No longer are we a person in our own right, but of the partner of someone else, who we have ‘followed’, without whom we may not have ended up in the country we now find ourselves in.
“I struggled with not having a job and supporting my husband’s position. I felt I lost my identity. I had to fit in to a new family order. In the UK, my husband and I both worked. When we relocated, I gave up work and found myself doing all the admin at home with two young children. It wasn’t what I had signed up to. Suddenly I was someone’s wife and mother, but not myself.” Katharine
Without the job title, the colleagues, the income, the routine and the satisfaction we lack a sense of purpose and loose our sense of belonging. Both of which have a direct impact on our confidence and self esteem.
“Not having a job has been very frustrating. I love having more family time but miss being ‘Alison’ at work with responsibilities, independence, value and purpose.” Alison
It’s easy to lose sight of who you are and what’s important to you.
This is exactly the situation I found myself in when I moved to Montreal in 2015, and is the experience of many of the accompanying partners that I work with. However, I believe if we embrace change as an opportunity we can use our time abroad as a space to reinvent ourselves. A chance to do things differently, to do things you’ve never had time to do before, or even to create a new direction. When we do this we are rewarded with a new sense of purpose, a greater sense of fulfilment and a boost in confidence.
The inspirational accompanying partners I know have used their time abroad to think about a change of career, to set up in business or create a side hustle. Taking on a whole range of things from setting up a facebook group to selling their crafts on etsy, from launching a coaching business to creating a blog.
Ready to take those first steps from Expat Partner to Global Career?
I know it can be a little overwhelming to say the least! But, as the saying goes “you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great”.
Use these 6 tips to help you take the plunge!
1. Create a mental image of the life you want
Understand the reasons why you chose to move abroad and what you hope to achieve during your time overseas. If you are clear on what you want, it will help you to prioritise how to spend your time and where you put your energy. You will gain support from friends and family and create more opportunities to make the most of your time overseas.
2. Build a network
“Giving up my job was difficult and I found it really challenging not working. My work was a big part of my identity and I felt for a long time I had lost it. Finding others in the same situation helped. You have to get out and make a new life for yourself. It won’t come and find you!” Dawn
You have to be visible to the people who will either hire or introduce you to your next great career opportunity. So put yourself out there (either face to face or digitally) and mingle! Surround yourself not just with people that can support you, but with other sources of inspiration – books, websites, TED talks, podcasts etc. Anything that will keep you motivated, on track, and true to your vision
When I first started my business in Montreal, I made contact with 10 ‘thought leaders’ in my area and booked in a 30 minute chat with each of them. Through these conversations, I honed my ideas, learnt of new sources of inspiration, and created a network of support, which I still call on now.
Volunteering can be a great way to find purpose (if you choose wisely).
Try to find a role that puts your skills and talents to good use or that you are passionate about. You will get more from it and are more likely to stick with it. I, for example, became involved in my children’s school with an in-school training programme, delivering workshops for students and staff. I was not only able to use my facilitation skills but learnt some new coaching techniques.
4. Upgrade your skills
Not being under pressure to have to work for financial reasons, can provide a great opportunity to pursue an interest, which may, in turn, lead to a new career. It provides the head space to learn new things and refresh your skills, whether that’s a language, IT skills or a new art technique. Skills that you may not use right away, but will add value and boost your CV for the future.
5. Set yourself some time and space
Even if you’re living area is not very big, dedicate a space just for work with a desk and a chair. If you can leave your papers and equipment out somewhere, it saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.
Set yourself specific times to work and stick to them. A regular routine really helps, especially at start to make the time you need for key tasks such as writing your CV, doing research or building connections. Resist the urge to do chores or run errands during ‘office hours’. Put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign near your work space and tell family and friends you aren’t available at those times.
6. Understand your host culture
There is no point putting the effort in to re-writing your CV and circulating it, if you are restricted by your visa and for other reasons as to to where and when you can work. Likewise if the culture of the country you are now living in strongly values face to face contact, there is no point sitting at your computer all day emailing people. Find out where people come together to network and get yourself out there. To embrace change as something positive can be a challenge.
To use change as a platform to create something entirely new is a challenge on a much larger scale.
And yet by applying the tips above I have seen many people do it and be rewarded for their efforts.
Start with baby steps and be kind to yourself. Remember:
‘A man who moves mountains begins by carrying a small stone” – Confucius.
Kathryn Eade is a facilitator, coach and expert in change resilience. Though based in the UK she supports expats in different places around the world. She has lived and worked in Venezuela, Zimbabwe and most recently with her family in Canada. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryneade/
This article was first published on Up+thrive