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Leaning...backward? Better lifestyle, not-better job?
April 17, 2014 6:28 PM   Subscribe

We'd like to move to another city for family reasons, but it will likely require a step back for me career-wise. I'd like to hear about how that worked out for other people. Can you help me get excited about it?

I work in a quasi-academic field and have been reasonably happy and pretty successful at my job. The majority of my job is managerial/administrative at this point, but I also have an academic appointment and spend part of my time teaching graduate students, which I enjoy a lot. I also do some scholarly work, although the projects are small and largely specific to the institution (something like curriculum evaluation). I don’t have supported time for teaching and research at the moment, but they are possible due to my current role, which means my schedule is relatively flexible and I can make time for lectures and research-related meetings during the day as long as my other work gets done.

We live in an expensive city. My spouse and I have been thinking about relocating back to Spouse’s home city, and I’ve done some preliminary job searching and identified a couple of possible jobs. It is very likely that I will be offered at least one of these jobs should I want to pursue it. Spouse would likely continue working for their current employer and telecommute. We have young kids. I provide about 70% of our income.

The pros:
-I would make the same or slightly less money than I do now, which would effectively be a raise given the substantial cost of living difference between the two cities.
-Spouse's family (who I like) and some friends would be local.
-Good public schools
-Much shorter commute would mean more time with kids
-There would probably be eventual avenues for promotion after a few years in the new job.


The cons:
-There are only a couple of potential employers for me in spouse’s home city, and it’s looking like making the move will require some loss of seniority on my part. I would basically be going back to the first job I had after finishing my graduate work six years ago.

-With that would come a substantial increase in time spent doing a particular key function that is OK but not really something I love doing. Also a lot less schedule flexibility and thus less time to teach and do research, which will be necessary for academic promotion.

-I would need to start over with building a professional network, and the more rigid schedule would make it difficult to get involved in research or teaching. I think I would also be at a disadvantage for academic promotion because a lot of my accomplishments thus far are specific to my current institution and, while my current employer appreciates them and they would "count" toward promotion requirements, they may not be as interesting to a new place. I feel like I’ve just gotten to the point where those things are going well for me, and I’m not sure I have the energy to do it all over again.

-I started graduate school in my late 20s and so part of me feels like I’d be even further behind where I “should” be (currently in my early 40s).

I feel like making the move is probably the right thing to do for my family, but I’m having a tough time getting excited about it. I can’t decide how much is just being comfortable in my current role and how much is genuine lack of enthusiasm about the available jobs. On the other hand, it will only get harder to go back to an entry-level job, so maybe I should just bite the bullet.

I feel like there are a lot of relocation questions on Metafilter but that most people move for lateral positions or promotions. I’d love to hear from people who have taken a step backward in their careers in exchange for lifestyle even though they're ambitious, or who have decided against doing that.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I chose to move to a city I love from a small town I hated with a job transfer that put me back at the bottom of the totem pole career-wise, with no hope of advancement if I stayed in the new city. It has been 12 years and I am still in the same position (although yearly pay increases have helped with the financial piece).

I have never regretted my choice. Although, sometimes when I talk about it with people, they look at me like there is something wrong or I somehow made a mistake. But me . . . I have no regrets at all.
posted by ainsley at 6:36 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I may have missed it but you didn't say anything about how you liked theoretical new city.

I'd muuuuuuuch rather have a lower-paying/prestige gig in a city I like than live in a city I'd hate or dislike. But you have to like the city first.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:56 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Not to overly simplify your situation, but I've found that life changes that increase my social wellbeing (family, friends, general home life), even if at the expense of career advancement at times, have provided greater gains in terms of my overall happiness and life contentment. I think this might be something to consider, especially since you aren't killing your career, but maybe trading a few rungs on the ladder for some other things that are quite valuable. If it required sacrificing a career, that might be a different story. And it's not that work is irrelevant to some happiness, but what is it that they say about the deathbed and more hours at the office?...

-I started graduate school in my late 20s and so part of me feels like I’d be even further behind where I “should” be (currently in my early 40s).

If you want a shot in the arm, I'd spend some time researching people who have done very significant things, or have gotten notable careers going, later in life. It's encouraging, and perhaps helps re-frame what success is in relation to age. I think there might even be an AskMe or two about it.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:02 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Your job is not who you are.
We spend so much of our lives locked into job/identity mindset. really, if you have a job that pays ok, and you can tolerate and you can build a rich life outside of it and enjoy where you live you are fucking golden.
posted by edgeways at 8:11 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I disagree. I think you should stay where you are and make changes in your current setup. In the academic world good jobs are just going to be harder to get and working an entry level job you aren't thrilled with in your forties will make it harder to move up. To make living in your current city more affordable can your husband look for a more lucrative position? Or, since he could Telecommute from the new city, why not telecommute from your current home so the children are with a parent more often? Can you build up your social network in your current city?
posted by saucysault at 11:09 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


With children, being close to family is a huge deal. I declined a great job-offer (both in terms of prestige and pay) because I wanted to stay close to my family and I have never regretted. When I look at my children today and see they are well-balanced and happy, compared to many of their peers, I thank my parents and siblings.
posted by mumimor at 1:43 AM on April 18


We have young kids. I provide about 70% of our income.

You're supporting everyone. Your career is top priority. Something else needs to change.

Women do not, by default, have expendable careers. In this situation, the financial health of the family is best served by you having a long history with people who are familiar with your work.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:28 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]


If you think there are avenues for promotion at these potential jobs that would put you on the same track that you're pursuing today--moving away from primarily a primarily administrative role toward adding in more teaching/research role--then I think a few years' setback may be a fair price to pay for the gains in terms of quality of life. Part of the process if/when you move forward with this idea will be talking to these potential employers and seeing how realistic your ambitions are and whether they're supportive of them. In that regard I think it's best you and your husband keep your minds very flexible and open to either alternative until you've got better information to work with (will you even get these jobs? will they eventually evolve into something that matches your professional ambitions?)

Upthread edgeways said "your life is not your job," but I think for academics, academia is not just a "job," it's a calling and a passion for those who have the drive to pursue mumble mumble years of unpaid and poorly paid higher education just to get a shot at making a living at it. I don't know how relevant my own experience is, since I left the traditional academic track 12 years ago not really by choice (ye olde couldn't-find-a-tenure-track-job) and I've been completely separated from that world (not even "para-academic") for several years now, but I must say: while there is a lot I love about my current work, it's been a long, hard process of grieving over and coming to accept that transition, and if someone came up to me today and offered me a job in academia I'm not sure I wouldn't go for it, even though it would cut my pay in half and involve all kinds of other sacrifices. The appeal of teaching, research and publishing is just that strong for people who are driven in that direction. On my deathbed I'm not sure I'll regret not spending enough hours at the office, but I can imagine feeling a twinge of regret at never publishing a monograph, mentoring a grad student, or pursuing new research projects.
posted by drlith at 4:47 AM on April 18


How are people reading the OP as female? I see nothing in this post to indicate gender, but maybe I'm missing something.

I don't know. It really depends on who you want to be. My parents spent a lot of time struggling to advance their careers when I was young so I could enjoy the trappings of better financial security, etc., but at the cost of my sibling and I never seeing both of them at home until 7-8pm everyday for ten years, which had a really profound impact on the family structure and my relationship with my parents. I'm not planning to have children myself, but if I were, I would make different decisions about how I balance career advancement and time with my family. When you're dead and gone, is anybody really going to care about your seniority level?
posted by deathpanels at 5:06 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Your post is filled with facts, but you seem to dance around emotions and motivations. There seems to be a quiet elision of ... something in your post. Who first proposed this move? Why did you start looking for jobs in the new town in the first place? Maybe if you went back to that gut-level place that action first fomented from in your life it would produce an emotional resonance you could use to be excited about the decision.

Or perhaps you felt pushed into this from the start but didn't quite want to admit it, in which case, it makes sense to examine why you feel that way now before you commit to a plan with your family. My two cents is that I think you seem to be at an impass with facts so it might be worth examining feelings to see if there's anything to resolve there.
posted by hyperion at 5:27 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


I think you should interview in the new city and see what they offer you. If you're a great hire, when they offer the job, talk about how you love the city, but you're hesitant to take such a big step backwards in seniority. Or whether they'll credit you for some of your accomplishments specific to Current Institution. There's flexibility. Your positives are (mostly) things you KNOW will happen, but your negatives are mostly things you SUSPECT will happen. The only way to evaluate the negatives is to see what the jobs actually offer you!

We made a similar move about 10 years ago and while creating a new network is tough and having fewer opportunities of workplaces feels a little constricting, it's really been great. (You don't say spouse's city is smaller, but I'm guessing that it is based on lower cost of living and fewer job options; disregard what doesn't fit.) The quality of life is SO much better, networks build a LOT faster in a smaller city (and if your partner's family has been there many years, you'll be surprised how fast THAT grows your network), and you're a big fish in a small pond. It's often easier to move laterally, or create job roles that fit you personally, because employers are a little more flexible with a smaller pool of employees, and everyone knows everyone. Just in general, I've found that even really large, very corporate employers are more encouraging of people who want to cross-train or take on lateral responsibilities or move within the company ... there's less "We want someone with FIFTEEN YEARS in marketing to step into this role, no exceptions, and we have a pool of a zillion candidates" and more "Hey, I know you're interested in marketing and you've done really well in internal communications for us, let's cross-train you in marketing six months while this person is on maternity leave, then see if you want to make the full move over there."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I don't see any compelling reason in your post why you need to jeopardize your career and move to a town where you may not be happy. Your husband's job hasn't changed. Your current town is expensive, which is a strain, but presumably you will both continue to advance in your fields and get raises. You don't mention your kids being unhappy, or disliking where you live. You miss seeing them, but that's something you could maybe fix where you are, by moving, perhaps, or changing your schedule in some way? There are options that don't involve moving to another town.

Saving a little money and seeing Grandma more often are great things. But they are not by themselves reasons to put your career on hold/slow it down, especially as you got a late start and would lose ground by the move.

Your kids will do better if you are happy. It would be ideal if you could have your career and family close both, but that's not the choice you have.

If you want anecdata; we did move home when our son was born, but it was because neither of use was thriving, career-wise, in the city we lived in. And it was nice being close to family, but we both still had to struggle to carve out lives in a smaller place, and wouldn't have made up for quitting a career that was going well for me.
posted by emjaybee at 7:38 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


I don't know that you have to make this move, and I can't completely tell from your question if it's what you really want or if you feel like you must. However, you're not really asking "should I do this?" but "how could I get excited about it and live with my decision were I to do it?"

The answer to that is all in how you approach your cons. None of them have to be cons, in fact.

Con #1:

-There are only a couple of potential employers for me in spouse’s home city, and it’s looking like making the move will require some loss of seniority on my part. I would basically be going back to the first job I had after finishing my graduate work six years ago.

You can't actually lose seniority. You might lose a rank in the hierarchy, but all of the work you've done that makes you senior in your field can't be undone. None of your experience can be unlearned. No matter what they call you, you are bringing an amazing wealth of value to the table and a good employer will recognize that and treat you accordingly, even if they don't have the right bracket notch for you at the moment. If they don't recognize that, or someone feels threatened by you and behaves pettily, there are other potential employers in your town for you to make a leap to. So while at first glance this seems like a con, it's actually not that bad. In fact, it could be very good. People who recognize their own value and are not politically minded regarding an org chart can get an amazing amount done for a company that understands that. And you will gain a lot of good will and earn a lot of respect rather quickly.

Con #2:

-With that would come a substantial increase in time spent doing a particular key function that is OK but not really something I love doing. Also a lot less schedule flexibility and thus less time to teach and do research, which will be necessary for academic promotion.

This is also an opportunity to get better and more familiar with this key function. In my personal experience, getting hands on with the real meat of the work of your industry while your colleagues continue to manage and get farther and farther away beefs your skill up even more, keeps you fresh and more in touch with the objective value of your industry, and again, makes you even more valuable. Also, are you certain that this is true? Considering the experience you have and that you're likely adept with this part of the business, could you negotiate for a little extra time to do some teaching and research?

Con #3:

-I would need to start over with building a professional network, and the more rigid schedule would make it difficult to get involved in research or teaching. I think I would also be at a disadvantage for academic promotion because a lot of my accomplishments thus far are specific to my current institution and, while my current employer appreciates them and they would "count" toward promotion requirements, they may not be as interesting to a new place. I feel like I’ve just gotten to the point where those things are going well for me, and I’m not sure I have the energy to do it all over again.

There is another side of this coin -- a whole new professional network to tap! New people to meet and to inspire you to give you some of the energy you're worried about not having. New people who will be inspired by you and do new, exciting and cool things they otherwise would not have. And a great opportunity to prove that your accomplishments are not just because of your current institution, but because of you, your work, your mind and your personality. This seems to me as something that balances out what you lose. I don't know your current industry but I know that this is a fact in mine. You are not starting back at square one. You are going to a whole new square!

Con #4:

-I started graduate school in my late 20s and so part of me feels like I’d be even further behind where I “should” be (currently in my early 40s).

I don't even know that this is really a con. This is just a feeling, and one that if you look logically at the landscape, can be addressed. It is not a truth, and while you feel it and therefore it has validity, you also have the power, time and ability to think on it, address it, and see if it is really worth your mental and emotional energy.

Whatever you decide - good luck! You sound like you are in a fantastic position. I am on the other side now of a similar "how do I make the next move?" sort of conundrum and I personally found that having gratitude for the incredible fortunate situation I'd found myself in made it a lot easier. I gave myself permission, considering my previous accomplishments and the options on the table, to simply look at every issue with as positive an attitude as possible. I trusted myself to notice any snakes in the grass without having to look at everything with a pessimistic eye. I feel that it really worked for me.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:58 AM on April 18


I've had some recent exposure to recruitments in both a quasi-academic field (non-tenure track academic librarians at a major research university) and academic (tenure track professor at a more teaching focused university), and I basically want to second Eyebrows McGee, if it's just the work concerns that are preventing you from being excited about the move, then apply for the jobs, interview, negotiate and see what the deal actually is. In my field job descriptions are long on words and often short on concrete details as far as what your day to day activities would be - so from that perspective (which might be completely wrong for your field) it sounds like you could be making a lot of assumptions about what these new jobs would be like for your career and day to day work.

For example, the academic job I mentioned part of the offer package was a specified number or years towards tenure. And when I started in my current position, my first promotion cycle explicitly included activities at my past institution (even though many were on the level of local committee work etc.). It may also be possible to negotiate how much time is spent on the 'key function' and how much is available for research and teaching.

I know applying and interviewing is no small investment of time and energy, but at least you'll be getting all of the facts. You'll probably still have a tough decision to make, but after getting all of the information, meeting the people, getting a taste of the work environments, you might have a stronger gut feeling as to whether this road leads to greater happiness or not.

[this is all based on the assumption that other than the job concerns you are feeling good about the possibility of the move]
posted by pennypiper at 8:53 AM on April 18


I've stepped back and started on lower rungs a number of times. Sometimes totally change careers, sometimes to learn a new skill. It's always worked out for me.

I have no idea how it works in the world of academia.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:11 PM on April 18


Depends on what your priorities are. If money and climbing up the job ladder is then you will most likely not be happy. However you may have less work to focus on other things that matter. Also depends on how career ambitious you are. For me, doing my own thing after large and what many would consider "envious" career I am quite satisfied. A quote that always has worked for me -"I want you to be happy doing what makes you happy, not what makes me happy or someone else happy".
posted by jbean at 2:29 PM on April 18


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