Dear Career Doctor,
My husband has a fabulous job offer abroad for one to three years. Its a promotion, salary increase and excellent experience for when he returns to the states. Plus, we’ve both always wanted to live abroad. However, it also means that I will need to quit my current job and most likely won’t be able to work full time there. I have worked hard to build my resume — I have a graduate degree and strong work experience. I’m nervous about 1) not being able to find work when I get back because of the gap on my resume, and 2) that I’ll “lose myself” if I don’t have a job. What do you think?
Many spouses feel happy and fortunate to take a few years off from work, and this is a legitimate choice. However, your question brings up the negative consequences, and is so important that I will answer it in two parts. This week I’ll answer your question about losing yourself. Next week I’ll address the resume gap issue.
The common myth is that a job is far more important to a man’s sense of identity than it is for a woman’s. While this is partially true — men seem to feel less masculine if they are not “good providers,” while women rarely feel less feminine if they are not earning money — I have seen many women’s sense of identity and self-confidence shatter when they lose their job.
Some of my first clients when I started my psychotherapy and career counseling practice were women who had left good jobs to stay home with children. They were happy to be mothers, but their self-esteem plummeted. I remember a former dentist, a television producer and an executive — smart, capable women — who suddenly felt like they had nothing to say to adults. They dreaded the question, “What do you do?” One even became phone phobic, unable to call friends because she felt she had nothing interesting to say anymore. They also stopped feeling like equal partners to their husbands because they no longer earned money. I thought these were extreme reactions, but I have seen them many times over the years.
So, begin thinking about what you want to accomplish in your “gap” year(s) that will feed your self-confidence. Is there anything you have always wanted to do? Whether it is painting, writing, or learning to make beer, take a course and use this time off to try it. This could be a great time to learn the local language and culture. The point is to allow yourself to use the time in a personally positive way. Next week I will talk about using the time to keep your professional options open.