My husband recently changed careers. Well, not really recently — actually two years ago. But for those of you who have never endured a career change, two years is nothing. It still feels like the beginning because salary-wise, you *are* at the beginning.
For the most part, his switch has been going well. He went from management positions in the entertainment industry to field research in a social justice think tank. Basically, he spends his days in prisons, trying to get the government to implement new programs.
He made the change exactly the way a career advisor would recommend — not surprising since he has to eat dinner with one every night. For those of you considering a change, here is the plan he followed:
Step 1. Soul search. Consider all aspect of change including, lifestyle, pay and any education you’ll need. Be realistic about what you value in life and work.
Step 2.Downsize. Get rid of huge car payments, huge mortgage payments, and huge expectations for dinners, vacations and clothes.
Step 3. Network. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs do not have skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.
Step 4. Try it out. You'll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering, or taking a part-time job will allow you to go back to your originally career if need be.
After step four, there is nothing but taking the leap. So my husband did. His mentor at his new job is ten years younger than he is. His boss makes 25% less than what my husband's paycheck used to be. The people below my husband in pecking order are college interns. And this is two years after he made the switch. Not that any of this is a surprise. Of course, this is what happens when you change careers.
By all measures, my husband is flourishing in his new career. He is at a top non-profit agency, he is writing significant papers, he is working with geniuses. But he is making no money. I keep telling myself that this is what we knew would happen. That we traded money for career happiness. I assure myself that my husband will make more money later, when his is not swimming in the ranks of college interns.
But there is so much pressure to be happy. Pressure from me, that is, on my husband. Every night I check in with him — look for signs that he is elated with his new career choice. And, big surprise, with a new career and a young child, most nights he is exhausted, not elated. Which makes me say, “Why are we making all these financial sacrifices if you're not happy?!!?!”
My husband doesn't answer. It's hard when he doesn't answer. But I know it's because he feels guilty because he really, really, really, doesn't want to go back to the entertainment industry. And I can't stop thinking, “If you're unhappy in both careers, why not be unhappy in the one that pays more?”
I know you're thinking, “Gosh, Penelope, can you be a little more supportive?” But don't say that until you've had a spouse throw away a lucrative career. And anyway, I'm trying; I see there is one more step on the career change checklist that we probably should have done:
Step 5: Set spousal expectations. I should have gone through the process with my husband. I should have evaluated with him what sacrifices I can make, what lifestyle expectations I had, even how happy I expected him to be. I was so determined to let him make his own decisions that I'm finding now that I'm the one who is floundering.
You think, at some point, that you know for sure a career change was good. But that's not true for everyone. Or, maybe it's true for everyone, but not in the first few years. Yes, you can be sure that the new job is more fun or more rewarding than the old job, but how much more fun do you need to be having in order to justify the financial sacrifice?
I'm not sure. So we keep going on the career change path, hoping to find the answer buried beneath the indignities.