Dear AAPAAN – My supervisor hinted that they might offer me an international assignment.  I kinda like it but there’ll be some strong spousal conflicts.  My spouse is on a career track as well and it seems unlikely he can get a comparable job in that country.  I’m torn about turning down such an opportunity but on the other hand, I’m worried about the potential consequences for my marriage….  Anonymous

Dear Anonymous

This is a very personal choice and I will answer it from my own perspective. it’s also related to your value towards family and work and how you make choices based on different life stage. Generally speaking, you need to work with your spouse and optimize the outcome for the whole family.

Both my husband and I are working and we both have career aspirations after Darden MBA. But when I face a multiple offers decision after graduation, I need to compromise and turn down my ideal job to choose over location so that I can be closer to my husband within a commutable distance. At that time (6 years ago), I talked it over with my husband and my husband knew my sacrifice for the family. Although I didn’t get my ideal job and location, it turned out to be fine and I got most out of it. After two years (4 years ago), we faced another career / family challenge and this time, my husband made the sacrifice and gave up his promising career at his old company and moved to my city so that we can build a family together in the same location. After another four years (which is now), he enjoys his work and has a very good career track with his current company and we expanded the family with two kids and are very happy with our decisions when looking back.

There are several takeaways I want to share with you and hope it will help you make your own decision:

  1. Any healthy and long lasting marriage is a give-and-take relationship. There’s never a one way love to bond two people. So when you and your spouse think about family/career conflict, you both need to take turns for the family. You both need to be very open-minded and share thoughts and find a common ground to maximize the outcome for the family, not just best for one person.  
  2. When you look at your career development or progression, there are good moves and bad moves, if you see the long term of 30 – 40 years of your career, this one single move won’t hurt/benefit much of your career in the long run. You will get there eventually. In addition, career advancement needs more: timing, market/business/industry trend, good boss, strong sponsor, supported team etc. are all playing an important part. A hint of an international assignment is never a good enough reason to guarantee a career advancement. You need to understand more to see if it’s a right/good move for you at that moment.
  3. This one is specific for career women, especially when you plan to expand your family and have kids in the near future. To be honest, I was at my best mode when I was pregnant, because I wanted to prove that the pregnancy wouldn’t impact my capability at work. But no matter how hard I tried/did, people still had perceptions and wouldn’t let me take more responsibilities or take new challenging roles because they thought I need more time at home and will be less flexible with a young baby. Perception is reality. You need to also take it into consideration when you are facing work/family conflict at your life stage of planning to expand your family. If that’s gonna happen in your case, taking a pause or slow-down is not always a bad choice and sometimes it gives you more time to think strategically about the long-term for your work and the family.
  4. There’s always a silver lining on every difficult situation. If you think about it in a different way, you will have a different perspective. When you look back, it’s not always bad/or compromised decision. My husband always joked with me that if he stayed in his old company, he will probably not better off with his work and family. Because after he left, the company was merged with another company and most of his previous sponsors and supervisors either left the company or laid off due to organizational restructure.  

I want to use Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford to close this topic: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.”

Give us have your thoughts or further questions … Kirstie

One thought

  1. From what I’ve seen in the work place many couples end up adopting a “lead and trailing spouse” approach.

    High power spousal teams may start off on equal career footings, but often times it become obvious that one partner has a rocket career trajectory and the other doesn’t. I’ve seen many couples adopt a lead/trailing spousal relationship where the high power career partner takes the lead. To make this work, there needs to be a genuine meeting of the minds between the spouses on how much room the lead career takes. This is of course a minefield. It’s very hard to have complete honesty and emotions usually run high. Even with a meeting of the minds, I’ve seen marriages fail because situations change or erroneous assumptions were made. But I’ve also seen marriages survive and thrive.

    I’ve seen the wife take the lead role and I’ve seen the husband take the lead. Success of course very much depend on the individuals and the specific circumstances and opportunities.

    Another consideration is that Asian-Americans may have less opportunity for a coveted foreign assignment. Turning down such an opportunity may be more damaging. But then again, one needs to take a holistic view. I do know that if one of the partners is very unhappy, no one will be happy. The family will suffer.

    As you pointed out, there is no one solution that works for everyone.

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