The Plight of the Trailing Spouse: Creating a Life/Career Without Borders
By Miranda Vande Kuyt
“Start packing.” After five cross-country moves, 10 cities and 13 houses – the news was old. Seems every year my family newsletter read the same: “My husband got a new job, we’ve moved again, I’m trying to settle us in our new city.” What I don’t share is how hard it is to build a life when I’m in constant transition.
When I got married I was up for the adventure of new places and faces, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll of being a trailing spouse (i.e., someone who moves to a new city where his/her spouse got a new job). The change, you can prepare for (i.e., packing up the pieces of your current life and learning your way around the new city); the identity crisis – not so much. While my spouse was off enjoying the thrill of his new dream job, I was left wondering, “Where do I fit?” We made the decision together that we were making a move for the better, but that didn’t mean I didn’t grieve the life I had left behind.
“After much reflection I realized my life wasn’t about leaving pieces behind, but in finding pieces of myself along the way.” Photo credit: Miranda Vande Kuyt
Each time we moved I had to find a new job. I remember applying for one job and the interviewer actually asked me, “How long do you think you will live here?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Like most trailing spouses, we only stayed in one place for two to three years. Considering that many trailing spouses move to different countries, have to learn new languages, and are sometimes prohibited from working, I guess I have it easy. But, after 13 jobs I was done. I didn’t want a new job – I wanted a career. I started thinking there had to be a better way to cope with the transition.
I began to crave a life and career without borders, one where I didn’t have to constantly reinvent myself. I was determined to figure out how to achieve that. After much reflection I realized my life wasn’t about leaving pieces behind, but in finding pieces of myself along the way. I really connected with the emerging career theory of The Machu Picchu Model of Dr Roberta Neault. Each time I moved, like a leg up the trail to Machu Picchu, I was gaining skills, experience and knowledge. Each move was like a checkpoint where I could benchmark how far I’d come and make a plan for the next leg of the journey – wherever that may be.
I considered the areas of life that suffered most when we moved (i.e., social, emotional, career and education). Just like someone accessing outplacement services, I completed an array of assessments to better understand my needs in each area. When I integrated my results and looked at the plight of a trailing spouse with a solution-focused framework, the strategy to live borderless formed easily.
With our next move, life fell into place with minimal friction. With the dawn of social media, addressing my social and emotional needs seemed almost too simple, as I fluidly stayed connected with family and friends around the globe. Gone were the feelings of isolation and loneliness I had felt before. I addressed my learning goals creatively through webinars and online courses.
I designed a borderless career by purposefully using social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging) to establish my presence online and keep my portfolio current. When I moved, I wasn’t floundering in some new city – I was active in my field and continually building my career. I took stock of my skills, knowledge and resources to explore what aspect of my work could be done virtually. Then I looked for, and sometimes created, opportunities in my field that could be done regardless of location. Now, when I move, my job moves with me.
I’m no longer a lost trailing spouse who’s struggling to figure out who I am and where I’m going. Gone are the days that I fear the next transition. I now know who I am and I confidently actualize my life and career without borders.
Miranda Vande Kuyt is a virtual consultant supporting companies and individuals across Canada, including Life Strategies (lifestrategies.ca) and Pacific Community Resources Society’s MyESC project (pcrs.ca/). You can connect with Miranda through LinkedIn at ca.linkedin.com/in/mvandekuyt.
Interested in this topic? Check out Nicole Miller‘s article on how career professionals can work with trailing spouses.