Are you your husband's job?

A little over six months ago, my little family arrived in Indonesia. On our third day in our new country, my husband went off to work, and so my little girl and set about getting comfortable in our new home. We spent a couple of weeks relaxing by the pool, recovering from the whirlwind of paperwork, boxes, and good-byes begin any international move. Then we were off and running, ready for the new arrival ritual of coffee mornings, mum and baby groups, and various expat Women’s Associations.

As we made the circuit of networking events, I was asked over and over, “What brought you here?” I don’t always know how to respond to this question. Usually I say, “I’m here for my husband’s job.” I live in an ocean away from my family and friends because of my husband’s job. I left behind my career and my hobbies because of my husband’s job.

When you undergo the kind of change that is required of an international move, it is tempting to let go of your individual identity in favour of the role of “the wife”. It’s easy to forget the central parts of yourself that drive your passions and provide that spark that makes life so sweet.

It is all too easy to forget your “why.”

In our last post, we discussed the importance of understanding your own “why”. Of knowing what motivates you, what drives you, what makes you want to get up in the morning. That thing that makes your eyes shine bright, and your stomach flip-flop.

Let’s look at the idea of the “why” a little more closely.

Your why is the driving force behind all that you do. It’s the reason behind your love of snowboarding and horse riding and canoe-tripping. It is what inspires your passion for your writing, or your blog, or your knitting. Maybe you go the gym and lift weights because you love getting stronger, getting better, improving. And maybe that’s the same force motivates your passion for your volunteer activities teaching English to kids: you love seeing them get better, stronger, more confident.

Your why is not your job, or your volunteer activities, your hobby, or even your husband or your kids.

Your why is a reason. It’s the foundation of your motivation to getting up early on a freezing cold morning to go to the office, or go for a run. It is what pushes your to spend hours each week driving your kids to piano and swimming and ballet lessons.

Your why is central to who you are. Your why is built on the foundation of your core values. Core values are formed early in life, and change only very little as time passes. These values are the principals that form your character and make you YOU. They form the basis of your beliefs about life, about yourself, and about the people around you. They guide your attitudes and even your behaviour. Understanding your why, then, is central to knowing where you are and where you’re going. When you understand your why, what drives you as an individual, you’re better able to build the kind of life that brings fulfillment.

It is unlikely that your husband’s job offers you that satisfaction, which is precisely why it is so important to know what truly drives your decisions and your actions. You need to know your why. Without your why, you can lose your very self.

Let me show you.

I’ve been an expat partner for more than seven years, and have transitioned to new countries with varying degrees of success. Moving to Japan from China in 2009 was particularly difficult. It took me a while to settle into China, but I got comfortable there. I floated around the city with a group of girls. We told all our stories, we complained, and laughed, and shared all our secrets in dimly lit lounges. I went to work with a coffee in hand, stuffing myself into crowded subway cars. I worked hard, creating, developing, watching my team grow. I stayed for beers after work on Fridays. I had responsibility and an identity. When people asked me, “what do you do?” I had an answer that I was proud of: I “design training programs”, I would say. I create, I develop, I have fun, I help people grow. That was my why.

Three years after we arrived in China, my husband got transferred to Japan. And so, within six weeks I had quit my job, closed my bank account, and attended all the farewell parties. Life was quiet in Japan, and for a while, this slower pace of life was welcome. We arrived in early September when the skies are blue and the air still feels like summer. The evenings had only a hint of freshness. At first I enjoyed sitting in a cafe and reading, wandering around the city, catching up on missed episodes of Project Runway. Soon though, these quiet days stretched on like a desert. With no job, no friends, and no hobbies, the time that I had once wished for began to envelop me. Hours at home alone ticked by so slowly. I began to measure my self worth by the number of times I could pass the vacuum around our apartment. People would ask me, “What do you do?” And I had no answer. I stayed at home. I read. I drank coffee. I went for walks. What did I do, though? Really? What did I accomplish, except cooking nice dinners for my husband and keeping a dust bunnies under control?

It took a while, almost all of our three years in Japan, but eventually I rebuilt myself. My husband kept telling me, “You should start a blog.” So eventually, I did. A blog led to friends, real and virtual, and then to a writing course, and, eventually, to a fledgling career as a freelance writer.

I was creating things again: friendships, blog posts, articles. I found motivation in watching things grow. My blog went from from 10 hits a day to forty, and I swelled. I sold my first article, something that I had created from nothing. I grew two feet.

Just shy of three years in Japan, we moved here to Indonesia. I brought my career with me here, chronicling the joys and perils of moving with a toddler on my blog.I continue to grow and create and develop. I travel around this archipelago together with my little girl. She goes to school, my husband goes to work, and I write, create, and grow.

When people ask me now, What do you do? I can tell them, I’m a freelancer. When people ask me why I’m in Jakarta, I still answer, “For my husband's job,” because that’s what brought us to this lovely city. But then I usually follow up with a story of how I love it here, and travel makes my heart expand, and the people are so kind, and there’s so much beauty, and I can work here, so.

I’m me again. And I don’t want to leave. Not any time soon.

So, now, your turn. Do you know why you’re here? Do you know why you get up in the morning and do what you do? Do you have a clear idea of how your core values and the life you lead match up? Tell us about it.

Or, maybe you’d like to look at this in a little more detail. Maybe you’d like to get to know your core values and understand your own why.

Karlijn is organising a Mission day (date TBD) Click here for more information.

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