Q: “I’m really eager to move from my midwestern town to a major city on the East Coast. The problem is my elderly mother. She doesn’t want to move. I want to spend time with her but I really need to move or resign myself to limit career options later.”
A. This one’s tough. I am not an expert on families or relationships. I can advise and consult on how a move will likely affect a career and how to manage the career-plus-location challenge.
Here are five questions to consider as a starting point.
(a) Does your choice feel like moving forward or like making a sacrifice?
“Norman,” a successful clinical psychologist, enjoyed his life in a small Southeastern town. With his wife retired and the children off to college, he broached the idea of moving to a larger northeastern city while he was still young enough to enjoy professional recognition and growth.
His wife refused. “I’m staying here with my friends and my lifestyle.”
Norman insists he’s doing well. But in nearly every conversation with friends, he refers to what he has sacrificed to save his relationship. His current career and his social relationships have begun to fray around the edges.
“Jane,” on the other hand, abandoned a successful research career to follow her husband across the country. She considered alternative careers and settled on junior college teaching.
Although at first she wasn’t at home in the classroom (to put it mildly) she worked hard and eventually began to earn teaching awards. Her friends remain mystified but they agree she’s happy.
(b) What will you do if the relationship changes after you move (or decide not move)?
Recently I read about “Harriet” who bravely followed her husband to Japan, giving up her career and selling their New York apartment. Two weeks after she arrived in Japan, her husband announced he didn’t want to be married anymore. She was stranded, thousands of miles from home, with no Plan B.
On the other hand, Tim and his partner moved to a small town, mainly for the partner’s artistic career. Tim, who had left a corporate executive position, reluctantly accepted a clerical job in a real estate agency. He got a real estate license and turned out to have a real gift for the field – something he would never have suspected if he hadn’t taken the risk. He’s now happy as the major breadwinner and source of surprising wealth for the partnership. They’re happier than ever.
(c) Is your family more resilient than you realize?
“Jim” and his family moved a thousand miles to be closer to his parents and grandchildren. Once moved, he discovered that everyone got along better if they saw each other less often. The grandchildren were entering their teen-aged “no grown-ups wanted” years. And his career had disappeared along the way.
“Theresa,” a single parent, realized she had outgrown her lucrative position in the financial services industry. She returned to school at age 37, where she completed bachelors and masters degrees in theatre arts. Her teenager children supported her decision, although she warned them she wouldn’t be able to pay for their college educations.
“My children learned that they can always go back to school,” she says. “I’m a role model for them.” At fifty she teaches in a theatre program and maintains a close relationship with her children.
(d) Does someone in the family face a limited window of opportunity?
In some fields, timing is everything. Military careers in the US often call for a stint in the Pentagon. Lawyers and academics need to move right after finishing professional school.
Family members have windows outside the work world. I’ve met forty-year-olds who were forced to move as teenagers. They remain bitter over giving up places on high school athletic teams and cheering squads. A ballet dancer or musician can’t postpone lessons till ”later.” .
(e) Does your family understand your career realities?
“I’ve been looking for a career for six months and my family says it’s time I made a decision.” That’s a common challenge – and a career change typically takes up to three years.
“If I can work long hours for the next two years, I’ll have lots of time and money for many years to come.”
As you answer these questions, you might choose to work with a family therapist or counselor. I can address the career questions (do you *really* have to move?).
But don’t understimate family influence. If he resents going or she resents staying, you’ve got a lot to think about.