Life Reimagined

News Flash! What Your Spouse Really Thinks of Your Career

Five women and men let loose on their career-changing partners

Maybe you want to re-enter the work force to pursue your true passion. Maybe you’re ready to trade an office job for adventure. Or maybe you want to spend your working years doing something you enjoy. Whatever the reason, if you’re considering switching careers, you’re not alone: The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 65 percent of workers who started a job between ages 38 and 45 changed jobs again within five years, and a recent AARP study found that 57 percent of workers 45 years and older plan to delay retirement or return to the workforce. For inspiration, we asked several mid-career spouses how they feel about their partner’s career choices.

Get Out of Your Niche

“I out-earn my husband,” says a California attorney whose 44-year-old husband works as a philanthropic grant-maker. “He’s respected in his field, but he’s also trapped in it. He gives away money for foundations, and very few people do that at a senior level. He’s miserable, and it’s nearly impossible for him to transition anywhere else because people stay in these jobs forever. Meanwhile, his self-worth is tied up in his work. When he has a bad day, he’s upset at home. But he’s stubborn and doesn’t want to try something new. It’s frustrating. I wish he’d created a path for himself that's more robust, but now he feels as if his options have been foreclosed because of the narrow field he chose. At 44, I’d like him to be less rigid and realize that he can actually reinvent himself.”

Go Back to School

“At 59, my wife wants to go back to school to get her master’s in education,” says a Boston software engineer. “Right now she’s teaching pre-K at a parochial school. I admire her versatility. She has a bachelor's in music education, she taught for a while, got laid off, went to work in the corporate world, and after our son was born taught private music lessons. When business dried up, she taught at pre-schools. The fact that she started her own teaching business and ran it was very impressive. Now she wants more teaching opportunities and to fulfill her own sense of accomplishment. We have a son in college, so it might put a strain on the family budget, but we’ll get by.”

Know When To Zip It

“My husband is 50, and four years ago he started his own business,” says a 42-year-old Maine writer. “He’s taking risks, and I have to go on blind faith that he’s doing the right thing. It’s been a lesson for me, actually, to trust his process and not mine—even though my livelihood is in the balance and I’m more of a planner. I don’t want fear to rule me, so I need to realize we’ll get through whatever comes up together. He’s not a moron, so I need to just shut my mouth and cross my fingers.”

Network, Network, Network

“My husband is a fine arts professor who was denied tenure,” says a New York City researcher. “At 40, he’s passed the age where he could easily find another tenure-track job. So now he’s an art handler, which is essentially the art-world equivalent of an entry-level job. It’s the number-one point of contention in our marriage, because it affects our income, our schedules, and how I perceive him. It’s difficult to get tenure as an art professor. He should have pursued a more useful skill, like architecture or graphic design. And it’s not too late: He could do other things. But he has no hustle, no ability to network. If I could, I’d tell him to be less passive waiting for jobs to crop up. When I look for work, I’m immediately networking, seeing who I know at various organizations. He could do that, too. Otherwise, you’re just another resume in the pile.”

Simplify

“My husband was a software engineer who watched as jobs went overseas. He got increasingly burned out—and finally he was let go,” says a 62-year-old New England woman. “He took some time off and then got a part-time job at a hardware store down the street, where our neighbor works. They liked him so much that they made him an assistant manager. It’s totally different: He has fun interactions with people, and he’s active all day. Now he jumps on his bike and rides to work. He’s healthier than he’s ever been. There’s a difference in income, but the bills are still being paid—and it’s a lot more important to be happy, anyway. He was earning more money before, but he was so grumpy. Now he’s meeting so many interesting people that he’s writing a screenplay about it.”

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