Written exclusively by Elliott Asbury of Living the Flipside
I will never forget the moment I was sitting at my desk, entrenched in my advertising career, and my phone beeped. I looked down to see this message: “Any interest in moving to India for 6 months to a year?” It was from my now-wife, and as people tended to approach her on a seemingly weekly basis about an exciting promotion in this country, or an awesome project in that one, I didn’t think much of this one. It was another fun idea in a long succession of things we’d dream about over Sunday brunches.
But it didn’t take long for this proposal to feel different. This one turned out to be real. We started wondering about all the amazing things that we would experience, and how this opportunity would be life-changing. But immediately following those magical thoughts were some more worrying and pragmatic thoughts about the challenges of such a move, and especially the challenges I would face putting my career on hold and finding myself in the role of a house husband.
I quickly realized there was a term for people in my position: trailing wife. A holdover in an industry that hasn’t much kept up with the times, I think it’s a rather rotten term. I guess I’d technically be a trailing husband, though it’s a modification you rarely hear, and still doesn’t really accurately reflect the role the dependent spouse plays in the expat experience. Lately, I’m hearing expat partner more and more, and, perhaps, that definition is getting closer. But no term could really prepare me for this magnitude of lifestyle change. I guess it’s mostly because those labels are about identity, and nothing throws your identity off kilter more than walking into your boss’s office, telling him you are quitting, stepping away from your career, and packing your bags for terra incognita.
It took a bit to get over the hump and to face the inevitable challenges. But in the course of this journey, I have been overwhelmingly blessed and fortunate to discover so many incredible things, meet so many outstanding people and build such a powerful community of support. I haven’t lost my identity. I have added to it, reshaped it, and discovered more about myself.
In the process, I made sure to focus on a few key things to help with the changes. Even though there’s no magic formula to effortlessly transition out of a deeply ingrained identity and routine, the following thoughts should at least give you some ideas on how to jump into your new life and hit the ground running.
1. Prepare To be Challenged
If you’re prepared for challenges they often end up being less daunting than if they were to catch you off guard. Just spending some time thinking about your career, what it means to you, how you’ve gotten where you are and what your future goals are will enable you to better define the challenges a career interruption can bring. For me, this really opened up a lot of new potential and new ideas. Perhaps I don’t have to come back as an advertising art director. Maybe I can explore some other skills and related fields.
I was never very good at “checking in” on myself previously, so our relocation ended up being a great opportunity for me to take a step back and examine my goals.
2. Be Open and Honest When Things are Hard
Once you arrive in your new world, the first few months will have you caught up in the whirlwind of change. It felt like I was on sabbatical, and while I missed work, I was too busy and having too much fun to worry about it all that much.
But then you start to find your new routine, and the realness of your new life begins to set in. For me, I started to really miss my 9 to 5, my industry, and the position I held. I sometimes got frustrated knowing I was a much better creative professional than I was a homemaker.
I learned early on that I wasn’t just a newly married husband, I was an expat partner—emphasis partner. My wife and I were here to support each other. I was open and honest about how I was feeling when struggling with my changing identity, and her support really helped me adjust and feel comfortable. Lean on your partner when you need them and be there when they need to lean on you. These assignments require teamwork and there’s a reason that they usually involve the whole family.
3. Find Community
I was used to finding much of my community among my coworkers, and quickly realized that I was going to have to try new tactics to form a group of friends and acquaintances. Fortunately, Delhi has an amazing expat network with tons of active groups doing everything from gin happy hours, to history tours. As a man, I was prepared to find myself in the minority in these groups, but as long as you don’t mind hanging out with the ladies, you will surely find plenty of things to do and people to talk to no matter where you go. Facebook groups for expats are everywhere, and all you need to do is jump in and say hi.
4. Rekindle Old Hobbies And Find Some New Ones
There will probably be no better time in your life to dive back into your favorite pastimes. I love to brew my own beer, take photos, and play music. India is a great place to do all of those things. And we also decided to take Hindi lessons and join groups to learn about the history and ruins of Delhi. I wake up every morning amazed at how full my calendar is. I used to tease my retired parents whenever they claimed to be busy, but now I see what they meant. Being active in the things you love to do not only makes great use of your time and experience, but it also keeps you engaged and building onto who you are.
5. Find Ways to Use Your Skillsets in Your New Role
As a creative professional, when I was worried about “losing” my career, I feared falling behind the times, missing trends, and letting my skills get soft. But I found that I don’t have to let any of those things happen. Even though I am not sitting at a desk 9 to 5, there are countless ways to keep sharp. In my case, I’ve been designing, writing, shooting, marketing a blog and helping on projects with my various expat groups. Even though I can’t earn while we are on assignment, there are plenty of things that are work-like to keep me up to date. And this has also proved to be a great opportunity to develop new marketable skills as well.
6. Enjoy the Opportunity
From the very beginning, knowing that parts of this journey were going to be tough, I made a point of really thinking about and appreciating how exciting and special this assignment is. I can recall several days at my desk when I kinda wished I didn’t have to be there. I’m sure that’s something we all experience from time to time. So when the opportunity came up to put everything on hold and move around the world, I knew that I was lucky and that this was something to be enjoyed, not feared.
And it is enjoyable. One of my fellow expat friends, when I was seeking advice, said to me, “Elliott, just enjoy it. There’ll always be work, but you may never have a chance like this again.”
Being an expat partner, especially as a career-driven person, will challenge you and your identity. But that’s a good thing and it’s a normal part of the process. Being part of an international assignment is hugely rewarding, and by staying active, seeking support, and exploring all the wonders that surround you in your new life, you will put yourself in the best position to succeed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Elliott Asbury is a 37-year-old regular guy who quit his job and put his advertising career on hold to follow his wife on an 18-month expat assignment to New Delhi. He’s originally from the Pacific Northwest but had settled in Denver, Colorado prior to picking up sticks and embarking on this adventure of a lifetime. Like your stereotypical Coloradan, he has a love of Dogs, Brewing, Hiking, and Skiing. And, more recently, decided to add Writing to his list of noble pastimes. When he and his Indian rescue pup aren’t being chased by the neighborhood’s roving packs of street dogs, he keeps a blog of his overseas adventures at LivingTheFlipside.com.