In the eight and a half wonderful years I spent working at DePaul University in Chicago, I always imagined that, if I left, it would be to the sounds of trumpets blaring, suns rising (what, exactly, does a sunrise sound like? Mystery!), babies giggling, and angels getting wings. Well, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I did imagine my next step in this career to be as joy-filled and celebratory as the last time I’d moved across the country for a job in my mid-20s. Now, in my mid-30s, I am a happily married man, partnered with a strong, brilliant, independent career woman. Four months ago, my wife and I moved from Chicago, Illinois to Orange County, California for me to serve as an Associate Vice President at California State University – Fullerton. If this recent moving experience had a soundtrack, let’s just say that it wouldn’t be filled with trumpets, babies, and angels. This was a tough one, but I’ve learned an immense amount from the process.
Pursuing the fabled “national job search” as a married person immediately brought my career ambitions into conflict with my core values as a partner. My wife, a career changer that had recently finished her Master’s in Counseling, was just about to launch her new career as a psychotherapist, with the long-term goal of opening her own private practice. For her, moving was…what’s the clinical term? Ahh, yes, “Contraindicated with being a successful therapist.” That’s fancy doctor-speak for, “Honey, I know that moving helps your career, but it’s quite possibly the worst thing ever for mine!” To compound the issues, my wife wanted to know exactly where we’d be moving ahead of time, so she could see if it would be a good place for her to continue her clinical training. Totally reasonable! And, unfortunately in the context of a national AVP search process, not something that I could do! I’m sure, that if you’ve made it this far in this blog post and are partnered, you’re shaking your head and thinking, “Oooh, dang, I feel terrible for this sorry fool.” I’ll take the pity…it was a rocky road to travel.
Well, since I am writing this post from sunny Southern California, we found a way to make it work, but not without suffering a number of bumps and bruises on the pathway to compromise. Here are a few lessons I learned that might be helpful to you if you find yourself wanting to conduct a national search while also remaining in a happy partnership:
- Before you begin applying for positions, sit down with your partner and have a more abstract conversation on the values and intentions that will guide this next chapter of your life. Create a short list of values and intentions that you both agree on such as, “We both value having a strong group of friends nearby.” Or, “We both intend to invest in our financial security and save money each month.” If you can create a mutually-shared values/intentions list, this can be a grounding document as a search process begins. Job opportunities might surface that require rapid action on your part and it can be extremely stressful to not have any pre-set intentions or boundaries when you take each opportunity to your partner. The grounding document can help you consider whether a job opportunity fits within what you’ve agreed upon, or whether you need to pass on it.
- If you are asking your partner to move for your career, have them name one or two top priorities for them that you can try and centralize in your next phase of life. If they are sacrificing for you, what can you do to make sure they still feel honored and supported in other ways, after you relocate to another part of the country? Maybe they have been waiting to go back for further education and you can now prioritize this, both financially and logistically. Or, maybe they have a specific career goal that you can work extra hard to support in your new environment.
- Do not be afraid to enlist extra help! There’s no shame in seeking the support of a couples counselor to help talk through a potential move. I think that people underestimate how dramatic an upheaval moving geographically can be and any extra wisdom you can bring into your partnership might just help you make the move while preserving the core strength of your relationship.
- If you get a job offer and the two of you decide to move, create a space for your partner (and maybe you) to grieve the loss that comes with the transition. Every major change in life comes with new opportunities, but also some loss. Your partner might not be moving towards anything when you get your new job. They might have to travel with you, into an unknown future, while leaving behind significant parts of their life. Giving them the space to grieve the transition, and honoring the reality of their loss, is a critical step in not alienating them while you jump into your new job.
While much of this blog post is centered on some of the toughest parts of moving, I do want to end by saying that, for my partner and I, this has also been an amazing adventure. Four months after moving to California, we frequently reflect that, although the year of the job search was really tough on our marriage, we came through the fire tempered and stronger for it. We have more tools now for negotiating conflict in our relationship and we are better at communicating about the emotions driving our decisions, rather than just discussing the logistics at hand. It seems that growing older in Student Affairs, much like growing older in life, requires deeper reflection and greater thoughtfulness in order to manage the increased complexity that comes with age.