A reader writes:
While my partner has a prestigious career, it often requires we move to places I have no control over. Every time we move, I struggle to find work. My resume is choppy, I don’t speak the local language, my degrees are not equivalent, etc.
I want so desperately to have a strong career, but I’m almost 30 and my resume is in tatters. I have to take low level, minimum wage jobs wherever we go. I feel like I’ve lost my chance to have a career and will just be working odd jobs the rest of my life. I’ve considered going back to school for a career I really want, but it would take me 7-10 years to become accredited, if I even get accepted and can afford the program. I’d be close to 40 by the time I finished. How do I cope knowing I will never be financially independent from my partner? I feel like such a failure.
Building on that, how do I build a life with a high-achieving partner and all his high achieving friends when I feel like I’m so much less? Their disinterest in my career choices is down right comical and while it just might be ignorance about what I do, I cant help but shake the feeling everyone thinks I am actually just stupid/lazy.
No one has been able to give me any more advice than “buck up and work hard.”
I’m not going to tell you to buck up and work hard. I think that’s crappy advice that ignores the reality of your situation (and I suspect people are giving it because they don’t know what else to advise).
I think you should stop dismissing the idea of going back to school for the career you really want. Being close to 40 when you finish isn’t an obstacle at all. You’ll have a ton of working years left after 40 — so why not position yourself to spend them doing what you want to be doing? We’re talking about more than half of your working life!
If school turns out not to be an option for some reason (you’re not accepted, can’t afford it, or just decide it’s not for you after all), then I think you’ve got to figure out if there are any alternatives to low-level, minimum wage jobs despite your frequent moving. Can you get a job that you continue remotely after you move? Is there work where the location-hopping would be an advantage in some way (like something involving travel, languages, or cultural competence)? Can you switch to a freelance model where your clients don’t care where you’re based? (This will depend on your skills, but for example: writing, graphic design, website building, and on and on.) None of these paths are easy but if you can make one of them work, it would probably be a huge increase in your quality of life and overall comfort and job satisfaction.
But there’s also a conversation to be had here with your partner. Does he know how unhappy you are on this front? Have you been explicit about the toll your set-up is taking on your career prospects? Does it still make sense to prioritize his career over yours, now that you both see the price you’re paying? Are you both comfortable with the position this could leave you in if something were to happen to him or to the relationship? And if not, what should you be doing doing differently in response to that, individually and as a couple?
There are all sorts of reasons people decide to make the trade-offs you’re making in your relationship and your career, and you might be very confident those reasons are still right for you — but make sure you’ve revisited those questions recently.
As for your partner’s friends … I don’t doubt that they’re not asking a ton of questions about your career choices, because that’s a very common dynamic. If they’re in fields similar to his, some of that may be the sort of conversational selfishness that takes over when a group of people in adjacent fields get together. But it also could be that your jobs aren’t ones you’ve been deeply invested in (at least that’s my read from your letter) and aren’t a part of your identity in the way your partner’s might be his. If that’s the case, people might be picking up on that and responding accordingly. Or, yes, it could be that they see you as less than them — but unless you’ve seen other evidence of that kind of classism/unkindness/snottiness from them, it’s possible this is stemming from your own feelings on your work situation. Can you try taking to them about other things going on in your life besides work — hobbies, interests, family, however you find fulfillment these days? If they’re not responsive to that either, then your partner has crappy friends and that’s another conversation for the two of you to have.
Ultimately, your partner needs to be part of the conversation with you on all of this. It can’t be that he gets to drag you around the world following his professional dreams while you’re miserable and left to deal with that alone (and surely he wouldn’t want that either). Ask him to be part of figuring this out.