Should we stay or should we go?
July 15, 2009 6:33 PM   Subscribe

Life choices-filter: What should my wife and I do next?

Hi all,

My wife and I are both well-employed and relatively successful mid to late twenty-somethings. We're currently in a mid-size Canadian city, but have aspirations to a lot more travel and work internationally. We'd like that to be soon, but could also pursue some pretty good opportunities here...

My wife works as the education manager at a decent size museum, and loves her work, but is not liking her job. The museum is owned by the government but largely operated by a non-profit society that does all of the fundraising, marketing, volunteer coordination, events, and education programs. Her society is in the midst of a major power struggle with the museum itself and her entire organization may quit or be kicked out before its all over, so she has no job security at all, and the work environement itself has turned into a rumor mongering, us vs. them, hellhole. Things are in arbitration right now, without the possibility for resolution until September (although they keep pushing the dates back, so there is no guarantee).

I work for an engineering company doing editing and graphic design, but find the soulless money-making focus and ridiculous stipulations put on my work by my corporate masters takes all joy and sense of purpose out my job. I want out pretty bad, but have managed to pay 3/4 of my student debt off in the past year, and know that I could get the last $6,500 paid within another 3 months. That would mean we'd be debt free, which of course would be awesome. On the side, I also have my own freelance editing, graphic design and photography business that has been growing fairly well without a whole lot of effort on my part. That said, it's still a pretty small-scale affair, but I feel confident I could do well with it if I had time to throw myself at it. I really enjoy this work because it is for myself and my clients, and because the projects are all very diverse. Photography has become my major passion, and my emotional side is telling me to quit my job tomorrow and throw myself into my own business to see if I can really grow it. I'm pretty sure I could make a go of wedding photography as well, and with all of these diverse things, could make enough of a living to get do reasonably well within a few months, and quite well within 1-2 years.

Now here's the complicated part: we've been talking about going overseas to work since we finished university 1-2 years ago. We don't really care where. If our debt was paid, we could take jo-jobs anywhere we could get work visas (such as British Commonwealth countries), and have a great time. With no debt, we could also look into volunteer opportunities in places like Africa. If we still carry some of this debt, we would probably be better off teaching english as a second language somewhere in Asia, but this would be cool too. I think we'd be happy to do pretty much any of these things.

Soooooo, with all of that as background, here's the dilemma: If my wife's society survives the museum meltdown, her job will be something worth sticking with a while longer. She's quite young to have a position like this and it is a really great opportunity for her if she sticks with museum or interpretation work, or if she gets her teaching degree (long-term goal). If this is the case, and we're going to stay here longer, then my choice would be to quit my job tomorrow (I dislike it that much), debt or no debt, and try to do the work I like doing. But we have no certainty that her job will last, and if I do quit my job to focus on the freelance work, and then she loses hers, we'll be a lot worse off financially than if I stick it out until they resolve it. (but I hate it!)

Should we stick it out, or should we start selling our belongings and looking into work visas?

Should I quit my job? Or would that be stupid? Should I throw myself into my own business, or would that be extra stupid since we plan to leave the country and travel within a year? (I really want to do both!)

Should we go teach english? Or do something else?

I'm not looking for definitive answers; I know we need to answer these questions ourselves. I'd just love some opinions. So lay it on me Mefites. Don't be shy.

Should we stay or should we go?
posted by hamandcheese to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Canada, Japan, Korea, and Australia have mutal Working Holiday Visa arrangements. These only last a year but you can convert over to a proper working visa easily enough. I believe it should be possible to get a spousal visa in combo so only one of you has to be under age 30. It's relatively easy for a twenty-something Canadian female to find full-time instructional work in Tokyo and the other major cities.
posted by @troy at 6:47 PM on July 15, 2009

My suggestion is to pay off your debt and get a few months of living expenses behind you before you go off adventuring. That way you'll have a "starting over" nest egg tide you over the first few months of a return from overseas, future employment instability, etc.
posted by Lolie at 6:48 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of decisions here, and it doesn't seem like a case of either/or.

It seems like your wife might lose her job, so she has to look at other options no matter what, and hope that she will in fact retain her job.

You dislike your job, but seem like you're on the way developing your own business. However, you have some debt left, and it is a priority for you to pay off the debt.

Why not stay at both your jobs until your debt is paid off? In the meantime (it's only 3 months, for heavens sake), make plans.

You want to live and work overseas. I, for one, cannot recommend settling for "joe jobs" at your age. This is the time to earn money, or lay the foundations for earning money. Why not set things up so you have a client list for your side business that can be serviced from anywhere in the world?

Or, choose a country with a strong economy (eg, Australia, China) where you can work in your field.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's just not wise to settle for joe jobs (this includes English teaching, which is *not* a profession, and I can speak from experience) at your age.

Maybe for a year... but that's it.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:50 PM on July 15, 2009

If you're planning on going overseas, why go to the effort of starting developing your business now only to shelf the whole thing and start again later? Get rid of your debt (as above, it's three months, f'r heaven's sakes) until such time as your wife loses her job. If she doesn't lose her job, then great: decide then what you want to do, without the weight of debt and a new business hanging around your neck choking your options.
posted by springbound at 7:02 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it would only take you three months to pay off your debt, then stick out the three months at the very least.
posted by Nattie at 7:09 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Better a little suffering now to enable a debt free life. Since you are unsure of your wife's job status it is better to maximize the situation to survive disaster. Being debt free in your 20's rocks. It provides you a lot of freedom from fear and uncertainty.
posted by jadepearl at 7:09 PM on July 15, 2009

Canada, Japan, Korea, and Australia have mutal Working Holiday Visa arrangements.

Australia's work and holiday visas have significant restrictions attached to them. Subclass 462 is the work and holiday visa which would be applicable to most US visitors. The restrictions are listed in the Obligations section of the visa information.
posted by Lolie at 7:13 PM on July 15, 2009

Suck it up and stay in your job until you know if she's losing hers. (You're a grownup, you'll live for three more months.) Use the time to pay off and save up.

If she's got a job after September, you should quit then and she should stay for another year. You'll be debt free and in a good position to launch freelance during that time. If she doesn't have a job, pack up and take off.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:04 PM on July 15, 2009

Best answer: Cut your debt first. I was in a similar situation when I had finished school. It was so great when that debt was paid off. I did change jobs soon after.

Do note most working holiday schemes/youth mobility schemes have to be applied for before you turn 31. There are no special deals for commonwealth citizens for regular work visas. We just went through the battle of moving to the UK from Australia, although I'm a citizen it was a long and painful process to get my husband's visa.

You should have savings behind you before you head overseas. It can be more expensive than you anticipate, and most visas require you to demonstrate the ability to support yourself. This varies depending on where you go and what type of visa you need. You need to be able to pay for flights, deposit on a new place to rent, furniture, kitchen stuff, and being able to support yourselves until you either get a job or until they start paying. Plus the cost of the actual visa process.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:09 AM on July 16, 2009

I had a Canadian friend who I met in the UK who was over there doing museum work on placement at a UK museum. I don't know the details but I believe there is some kind of exchange scheme between museums in Canada and the UK to allow museum workers to gain experience abroad and it sounds like it could be a good fit for your particular situation. It's temporary (I think my friend was here for a year or so) but there is a lot to be said for living aboard in the context of an institution which can support the move, as well as it being easier to do so on a temporary visa.

I've just moved from the UK to the US on a permanent basis via a marriage based visa and like Wingless Angel says it has been an expensive and drawn out process. Previously, my now wife spent 18 months in UK on a temporary student visa and this was a lot easier.
posted by tallus at 1:35 AM on July 16, 2009

the soulless money-making focus and ridiculous stipulations put on my work by my corporate masters takes all joy and sense of purpose out my job

I think you have to be careful about where this is coming from, especially if you haven't worked for many different companies or in many different situations. I've eventually felt exactly that sort of frustration and demoralization about most of the places I've worked. I quit to work for myself, only to discover that similar feelings stayed with me; it's become evident that this is a personal problem I have to learn to deal with, as much as it is anything to do with where I'm working.

My experience is that if you go to work for yourself for escapist reasons, you find that making a businesss work is more difficult than you imagined, and your primary motivation for working it (escape) quickly evaporates because you've already escaped. Also, don't consider the wedding photographer gig as a serious fallback position unless you really want to be a wedding photographer. Real time goes by when you're wrapped up in such safety nets. They can be just as soul-draining as your (more lucrative) corporate gig.
posted by jon1270 at 3:37 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate all the perspectives, and am not at all surprised by the common sense advice. Of course sticking it out is the prudent thing to do. Part of me knows this completely. It was, of course, our plan all along, it's just been getting damn hard lately. We're both ready to move on.

As for the subtle and not so subtle reminders that I'm a "grown up," etc., that's a bit simplistic. Grown ups make decisions based on what they consider important, and then live with the consequences. Some people consider making tons of money important, some consider how they spend their time more important. Part of me would argue that spending any amount of time doing something you hate is a poor way to live life. Maybe this is born out of losing someone close to me at a young age. You only get so much time here. I am a little surprised people nobody sees this as a viable outlook, and at least recognizes the distinction. For me, it's always been a struggle between this philosophy--which I feel deep down is correct--and the more prudent outlook.

But yes, the other part of me--the prudent part--has always won out. So it probably will again.

As for the escapist reasons jon1270 mentioned, I found this post very interesting. Jon, I think I share a similar outlook (for me, it's a definite disdain for corporate culture) but don't see it as a problem so much as a worldview. I have worked dozens of jobs since I was 16, and only really feel this particular need to escape in this particular corporate office environment. It's the lack of purpose more than anything. No one in the company questions why they do things; it's all just for a profit margin. In my freelance work, the "why" is self-challenge and pleasing clients. With wedding work and other photo work, it's a huge responsibility and challenge to capture moments people will look back on for years. When it works, and they're happy, it's hugely rewarding. The money is always a secondary goal, and pretty much always will be for me.

Anyway, I don't mean to be ungrateful. The perspectives have been interesting and thought provoking. We'd love to get more responses, even if it's more in the "stick it out, you lazy bums!" variety.

posted by hamandcheese at 6:31 AM on July 16, 2009

Best answer: I agree with sticking out the next 3 months to wrap up your student debts, but as for going overseas and doing crappy jobs for a year, I don't see what the big deal is. Mid-to-late twenties is still fairly young - if you want to faff around for a year then do it. It's very common for Australians and Brits to do it at that age. You might come back home to a find things are just the same and you end up in similar jobs etc. But even so, you'll at least have had a fun and interesting time.

Living overseas is a good experience. But actually moving overseas is expensive, and one-year is a short time in which to do it and return home again. And personally I would not recommend the UK as a fun place to hang out for a year - the weather really is shit and most people spend the first six months freaking out about how expensive it is. Have you considered just travelling for a while? It would mean staying in your current situation even longer, but there are still a lot of places in Asia you can get by on little money. It might be more fun, and no more expensive, than moving/setting up house/slaving on crappy money/shipping yourself and your stuff back home again.
posted by 8k at 7:05 AM on July 16, 2009

Allow me just to comment on your wife's job part.

Museum jobs can be quite hard to get in Canada. I've had several friends try that route and it's not at all easy to do. However, if she's at a federally-run institution, she's paid by the Treasury Board, there's a federal program for taking unpaid leave, even a mechanism for banking salary to do so. This would guarantee her job when you decide to return, but the down side is that it only lasts a year and you can only do it every four years. It's called leave with income averaging. There's a related program that's leave without pay called self-funded leave. If she has access to these programs, she should talk to her HR advisor.

Even if she isn't Federal, check with HR anyway. Provinces often have similar article written into their collective agreements.

I think your plans are great ones, and I encourage you to think about them very seriously. As someone who's a bit older, the only things I really regret are those chances I didn't take, not the choices I did make.
posted by bonehead at 7:14 AM on July 16, 2009

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