Forced Career Examination
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Adventures
“So, London it is?”
“London it is.”
Austin and I were sitting in the guest room of our Seattle home at 5:30 AM, debating between job offers he’d received from companies in Copenhagen and London. We had to let London know by end of business that day; with the time difference, that meant by 8 AM we had to have a decision, and we’d only just received the offer from Copenhagen 30 minutes prior.
We were tired, but we were talking about moving to a new city together! It was a fun conversation.
Much more fun than the one that led to it, which started with a phone call from my husband on a Tuesday six months earlier.
“So, I got laid off. They’re calling us into a conference room so I’ll know more in a bit.”
We knew it was a possibility, but hearing the words was jarring. I had a good job, and we’d been careful when we bought our house 18 months prior to make sure we could afford it on one person’s salary, at least for a bit. So we weren’t in financial trouble, but still. Getting laid off isn’t usually on one’s bucket list.
For a couple of weeks, Austin spent some time just thinking about what he wanted to do. He probably wanted to stay in his field of video game programming, but was open to other opportunities. He began applying to companies in our area, but soon asked if I had any issues with him looking at jobs in other countries.
When we first started dating, Austin told me about his desire to live abroad at some point. I get the appeal; it’s fun to live somewhere new (especially when that somewhere has functional public transportation). I also wasn’t happy in my job. I adored my boss and my colleagues, and I was good at what I was doing. But I hated the added stress that came from being in the field of emergency management.
Some people thrive on that call in the middle of the night; I was finding my heart rate rising every time I heard multiple emergency vehicles speed by (which was often, since we lived off of a busy arterial). And that wasn’t irrational stress — for the past seven years one of my areas of responsibility was mass fatality response. When there is a mass shooting daily, it’s just a matter of time before it happens in one’s own town.
And yet even with that stress, I had spent a dozen years of my life becoming good at my job. Really, really good at it. I made a tiny bit of a name for myself in a very specialized component of the work, and leaving that felt weird. I would possibly be giving up my career with no fall-back, no plan, no safety net. For a few months at least, I would be a grown woman with no children and no job, being supported by her husband. I didn’t get married until I was almost in my mid-30s; I’ve been independent most of my adult life. So now, being reliant on a partner for money? I didn’t like the feeling.
Accepting that we’d be moving and I’d be leaving my job also became a stark reminder of how much of one’s identity is tied up in work. I haven’t ever defined myself by my work (I’d say I worked in emergency management, not that I was an emergency manager), but I still could say I was doing something. Once we moved, my answer would be ‘helping us get set up in a new country,’ which was true, but that only works for so long.
After three months in London, my old boss said she had some work for me. We’d talked about that possibility when I moved; she made it a reality. Thanks to her and my new boss, I was able to work 20-30 hours each week, remotely, doing the planning work I enjoyed, but without the stress of response. It was nice, but I still looked for work. I quickly learned that continuing in my field would be nearly impossible, because I didn’t have experience working in the parameters set by UK parliament. Which was frustrating at times, but also forced me to look at options. I was right – I had no fall-back. I would have to switch fields.
I started applying for jobs in March; I received an offer in early November. All told, I applied for 27 jobs. In 19 cases, I received an email telling me I hadn’t moved on to the interview stage. I heard nothing from seven organizations. Two requested more information, one requested an in-person interview. Lucky for me, I got that job. Which I start on Monday.
I’ve been wanting to leave emergency management for awhile, and now it seems like a real possibility. My new job is fairly entry-level, in higher education. I’ve wanted to work in higher ed for a long time; when I was in graduate school the first time I contemplated focusing heavily on higher education administration but the courses weren’t available when I needed them. But now is my second chance, and it probably wouldn’t have happened, or at least not this way, if Austin hadn’t been laid off last year.
It’s funny how things work out.