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.

10 replies
  1. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    You may have answered this elsewhere, but do you have an update on this? Two years later, how are things working out?

    I’m the one in my family who just took a paycut for a job, and I know what you’re saying about the “pressure to love the job.”

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    That’s a good question, Elizabeth. Part of why I love writing about careers is that I get to hear about what other people are doing — both failures and successes — because I always get great ideas about what I should be doing.

    I wish I could tell you that things have worked out great and I have all the answers, but I don’t.

    Here is sort of an update.

    Good luck with your change. I hope you share the insight you gain with all of us at Brazen Careerist.

  3. David
    David says:

    I was an athletic maanger for Chuck Erbe in the middle 80’s when he was at Southern Cal – so we have something in common. My wife and I have shared your collective circumstance, having chosen to raise extended family members, so to keep them out of foster care. Since I was the one who was unemployed / underemployed, I was rewarded with the “stay-at-home” duties. What got me back in the workforce in my former career (albeit as a temp) was the potential of having to pay for medical care of an elderly parent. Fortunately, my mother has remained independent. However, at the end of the day, you guys are going to have to send your kids through college AND retire comfortably. The reality is that dads don’t get to REALLY see their kids grow-up. This fact crosses racial-lines, economic status etc. The kids grow up and when your husband WANTS to return to making a decent salary he won’t be able to, notwithstanding prior successes. I would recommend that he go to night school, take student loans to replace his contribution to the household and get say an MBA part-time at night or better yet, online if that provides the necessary flexibility. With your husbands tech background – Supply Chain Management would be a perfect fit … and you’ll both probably be more happy. Also, if you work online, relocate to like Raliegh, N.C. somewhere to bring down your housing costs, but maintaining a good quality of life. Being close to Research Triangle, your husband ought to be able to find good opportunities (at night) even if he doesn’t choose to take the go back to school route.

  4. Justafellow
    Justafellow says:

    A very insightful book on such matters is Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. One of the issues it addresses is the concept of “Job Charming”. Just as there is no Prince (or Princess) Charming, that is, an absolutely perfect partner that can do no wrong, there is also no Job Charming. Which in turn stresses the importance of having a life outside work. I have been in the same job for 22 years and while it has its ups and downs it is gainful and does allow me a life outside. Expect income from your job and emotional satisfaction from your life outside.

  5. Nyrie
    Nyrie says:

    I’m about to do a major career change, but I’m afraid of losing this salary. I also think my husband will have real issues with the change. I have suggested moving into a smaller, cheaper apartment, but change is VERY difficult for my husband. It would have prepared us to such a transition. But I’m so miserable like your husband and can’t imagine spending another year or doing another performance review any longer. If I could maintain my full-time job and do this part-time internship that will help follow my dream of being in book publishing, life would be great. How can I do this without my current employer finding out? If I can’t do both jobs, then I would love to still leave and would have to get another job on the side to supplement the missing income to pay my high NY/NJ rent and bills every month. It’s definitely scary because I have real responsibilities.

  6. TJ
    TJ says:

    One thing I found is that as long as you can still buy food & shelter, changing the world is a lot more fun than spending money on material goods.

  7. Irfan
    Irfan says:

    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

Comments are closed.