EXPAT WOMEN: My Job Was a Mistake

by www.expatwomen.com, 14/08/2011


I am a thirtysomething professional who became a trailing spouse when my husband was posted abroad. After two year,  my husband has just extended his contract for another three years. I agreed with this extension because I had finally found a job and had started doing something that I felt would be meaningful to me and beneficial for my career path.

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However, my job is not all that I dreamed it would be. It is quite junior compared to what I used to do, and the salary also reflects this. I have a difficult time with my manager, who is inconsistent and erratic with regards to her expectations of me. My colleagues see me as “the foreigner” and do not see the need to include me in important meetings or invite me to lunch. On the whole I am bored and lonely at work and am thinking that taking my job was a mistake. It does not give me the satisfaction, identity and social connections that I missed by not working. I am now wondering, should I stay unhappy at work or cut my losses and quit?

Expat Women: Many trailing spouses have given up their jobs to move abroad and have struggled with feelings related to the loss of a sense of achievement, identity and personal satisfaction that their previous jobs provided. This is definitely not a new phenomenon but is perhaps becoming more common due to the changing demographics of the expatriate community. Today, trailing spouses tend to be more career-minded than the majority of their predecessors and more determined to maintain their identity and “be someone” abroad in their own right.

Our job or career does have a tendency to define our identity. When we suddenly stop working and “lose our identity,” it is a natural reaction to reach out for something to restore our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and identity. Unfortunately, as you have discovered, taking a job abroad does not always fulfill these needs or live up to initial expectations. Overseas experience has value.

We suggest you take a step back, examine your motives and decide what is most important to you. Is just having a job the important factor, or is being able to account for your time or skills on your résumé your main concern? Business literature and career guidance articles continually publicize the importance of a continuous résumé, career advancement, ongoing education and staying up-to-date in your field. In doing so, they can pressure expats—who are often building their careers laterally and/or intermittently—into thinking that they should quickly take whatever job comes their way abroad. Try not to succumb to this pressure. Step back and evaluate what is important to you.

In today’s global market, what company would not benefit from a staff member who has experience living in and negotiating with other cultures? Being able to relate to and understand people from other cultures is a great skill to have, and just because your experience comes from being on the board of the International Women’s Club rather than from being involved in the corporate world does not make your skills any less relevant. Do not undersell yourself and believe that just because you are not going into an office every day, you are not adding value to your résumé. Put pen to paper and you might be surprised at just how much experience your overseas posting could bring to the corporate world upon your return. Assessing your current situation. As difficult as your job may be, remember that no job is perfect. To help with this, make a list of the pros and cons your new job gives you (both short-term and long-term).

Try to figure out just how important having a job is for you. Think about your salary expectations and the status having a job gives you too. Then try to ascertain how important this particular job is for you, right here, right now. If you decide that having a job is indeed important to you, but not necessarily your current job, have you thought about a virtual job, where you can be based from home but be working for companies elsewhere? Or if your strong preference is to find a job located where you are living, consider the old adage that it is often easier to find a job when you have a job. Employers tend to find potential employees more attractive if they are already employed. So perhaps try proactively networking now for a new job, before handing in your resignation letter. Improving work relations.

If you decide that your current job is important to you, then your focus probably needs to be more on how to improve things at work rather than how you can justify leaving. For example, how can you improve your relationship with your manager? Do you have a clear job description? Are you being proactive and asking for more interesting tasks to add to your current responsibilities? Can you learn any tips about how best to interact with your manager from watching and/or talking to your colleagues? As for your colleagues, if they see you as “the foreigner,” think what you can do to win them over. You can choose to keep things the way they are or you can choose to make changes. If you really want to fit in and you really do make an effort, you might be surprised… slowly but surely your colleagues might include you in their inner circle. Be patient.

Thinking big picture. If you could do anything, what would you do and why? Does this particular job match in some way those aspirations? Is there something else you could do while you are overseas that would provide the feeling of satisfaction, social connection, stimulation and identity you might be seeking? Another idea: have you considered seeking advice from a life coach? A professional coach might not only be able to help you work through your current dilemma, but also offer some insights for your future career plans. We wish you all the best with your career decisions.

Copyright: www.expatwomen.com (With Expat Women's permission, K4E has slightly edited the full article to fit our format.
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