My grandmother regretted not having a career. As a young woman she had worked as secretary and typist, which was pretty much the height of aspirations for women at the time. And then, as my grandfather’s expat career took off, she became a full-time wife, and eventually a fantastic grandmother. By all accounts, they were a successful couple and had a rather exemplary life. But at some point after I entered university, grandma told me she’d wondered what it would’ve been like to have a career of her own rather than a few short-lived jobs, and to travel to international conferences as a professional in her own right rather than a permanent “+1”.
There have been some interesting developments since my grandparents’ working years. For example, there is presently no stigma attached to being a stay-at-home husband and father. I’m told it goes to prove that equality between men and women has finally been achieved. But that’s the equal right to not have a career. I say: great! – as long as that’s done by choice. I fully accept that not everyone wants a career. But what about those who do, and who give up under the influence of myths that still prevail in many families and companies?
Myth No.1: There can be only one successful career per couple.
This is my favourite by far. The traditional single-career approach of my grandparents’ generation is still how many couples live today. One of the reasons is that this is, essentially, an easy solution. It avoids the need to manage two sets of career decisions, finding compromise between two sets of ambitions and trying to align two career paths. However, if done right, the reward for doing all of that is not only professional success but also a much more equal and fulfilling relationship. Just because this looks difficult doesn’t mean it has to be. Too many couples give up before they even try because they are influenced by stereotypes, and are not familiar with the steps that allow successful couples to have two flourishing careers.
Myth No. 2: Women value their role as mothers and wives above career advancement.
Some women do; others don’t. Some women are content with their husband’s job title and income, and derive their own social status from the husband’s. Some husbands pride themselves in having a stay-at-home wife, and may even see that as a status symbol. I’m not judging. But this is the 21st century, and truth be told, most men would rather be proud of a professionally successful wife. Unfortunately, many men are not supportive enough, making their partners’ strive for success harder than it needs to be. In my experience, men raised in single-career homes simply don’t know how to be supportive, and given half-a-chance and the right advice they become great partners who value and respect their wife’s or partner’s career. Regrettably, many women still aren’t raised and educated with a good understanding of how to have a career. Sound career advice, determination and a supportive partner can make all the difference.
Myth No. 3: After having children, women (and some men) prefer not to work.
Career-minded people are often shamed for putting their jobs first, and for not being family-minded enough. Being a full-time mum or dad isn’t the only way to love children, nor to put the family first; sometimes quitting work simply means giving up. Most people want to go back to work after having children. It’s a question of realising one’s potential as well as a different way of putting the family first by providing for them financially. Having children and staying at home, or having a career – that isn’t mutually exclusive, either: it is possible to have a thriving career (or business) while staying at home. Having children is a team effort. Successful couples know how to be a team, how to openly discuss family challenges, how to agree on shared priorities, and how to make decisions that work for everyone.
Myth No. 4: A career is like a train: once you get out, you can’t get back on track.
There’s always a next train. Resuming one’s career after an interruption is much less scary than it’s made out to be. Getting exactly the same job you had before and picking up exactly where you left is indeed not always an option. But there are multiple career paths open to everyone, it’s just a matter of approaching this with an open mind. Successful couples know how to work together to find a career move that will deliver the right balance between addressing financial pressure, looking after other family priorities and providing opportunities for professional growth and fulfilment.
Myth No. 5: If you don’t have a successful career by a certain age, you never will.
That’s true if you’re a ballet dancer, since you’re expected to retire in your 30’s. There’s probably some truth in it if you’re in the armed forces, and in some other professions. But it’s only partially true anyway. Because that’s just one of the careers you can have. I personally know people who started new careers in their 40’s and 50’s, even 60’s and became very successful. It’s not a question of age but of making the right choice, and having the courage to make it, and live it. It also helps if you have an understanding and supportive partner who wants you to succeed.
I’ve mentioned above that successful couples know what steps to follow in order to have two successful careers. Here are some of the secrets of their success:
- They discuss their career ambitions early on in the relationship
- This is a conversation to have at the time of “getting serious”
- As opposed to the average couple who spend more time discussing their wedding plans than their career aspirations
- They are a team. Even if professionally they play a very different game in separate teams, they never stop being each other’s team. They know they have each other’s back.
- Sharing doesn’t mean taking turns and keeping score; it’s not a 50/50 game. They both live by the 60/40 rule: give more, take less.
- They don’t begrudge each other a promotion or a raise: they congratulate their partner, and mean it.
- They recognise and encourage each other’s talent.
- They treat each other’s career (or business) ambition as something they value and respect, not as a nuisance and source of conflict.
- They have a golden rule for arguing: no blaming, and no acting like a victim.
- They don’t use children or family in general as bargaining chips.
- They learn to identify and embrace opportunities, including for each other and their family.
- They discuss, agree and respect boundaries.
- They discuss, agree and commit to shared priorities.
- They reach an understanding with their respective [prospective] employers.
- Success is a long game: they are supportive of each other during setbacks.
I teach all this and much more in my new Twice As Successful ™ program. Very few people are born knowing how to do everything right. How do I know what works? First of all, I had plenty of opportunities to learn from experience: I took jobs in different countries and in different language environments; I used to travel on business every other week; I later commuted weekly to a job in another country; I had long-distance relationships; I turned down jobs because a long-distance relationship wasn’t working; I broke a relationship because my partner wouldn’t support my career. I mostly made good decisions but I’ve also made some decisions that hurt both my career and my relationship. If that isn’t a steep learning curve… It’s also been my privilege to meet quite a few successful dual-career couples, and they generously shared their success secrets with me. Over the past three years, I have further accumulated and distilled this wealth of knowledge which now forms the backbone of my Twice As Successful ™ program.
If you, too want a great relationship where both you and your partner thrive professionally and achieve all the success you want and deserve, and to find out more about my Twice As Successful ™ program, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and claim your no-obligation dual-career strategy session.