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Can Career Ownership Be Family-Friendly?

What about family? It was briefly mentioned in previous articles as something to accommodate, and as part of your possible support system. Family commonly means any group of one or more adults with the children they care for, or it can be extended to mean a larger group involving parents, relatives and particular friends whom you view as family. Focus on the meaning family holds for you, or may hold for you in the future.

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The overarching requirement is that, as the owner of your career, you must make choices about the time and energy you claim for yourself or give to your family members. The choices are likely to cover issues of work-family accommodation, your career support system, your home and your community attachments.

Work-family accommodation. If there are children or other dependents living at home, accommodating work and family is a primary career challenge. How much would you like to invest in your family, and how much would you like your partner to invest in it? Couples with children can make different choices, about someone staying at home, getting help from a parent or friend or relative, or using a day-care service. What about each of your relationships with your separate employers? You may face job obligations that interfere with your preferred solution. What if taking parental leave can mean missing the chance of a big promotion? It can be good to talk about that possibility before it happens!

Support system. A spouse or live-in partner can be a key part of a career owner’s support system. Are you each an effective sounding-board for the other’s career concerns? You may need to push beyond your comfort zone to make that happen. Did either of you grow up in homes where one career dominated over the other? That may affect the expectations you hold—perhaps inadvertently—of your partner. What wider set of relationships do you or can you draw on for career support? Think of your support system like your own board of directors, with each member bringing their separate area of expertise to the table.

Two careers, one home. For a two-career couple, there can be a thorny question about where to live. How about living in two locations? Some couples may see no other choice. How about choosing the location of one employer? That may seem necessary to protect somebody’s career opportunities, or seniority or pension rights. How about choosing an industry cluster or city? A couple may need to do their homework on what cities can work for both of their occupations. What about technologies that make it more feasible to work from home? Today, it’s much more likely that one person can work remotely for an employer, or offer services online to distant clients.

Community attachments. These can include commitments family members make to schools, churches, social clubs, charitable work, sports and friendships (including children’s friendships). What if a couple is considering a career move that’s incompatible with those commitments? Withdrawing the much-loved soccer coach, or committee member, is not to be taken lightly. How much do family members identify with what they have, and feel uncomfortable about leaving it behind? You will need to spend time and exercise patience to hold people together. What is the “path with a heart” that leads to the best choice for everyone? That path will be unique to your family situation.

The preceding reference to finding the “path with a heart” applies to all of the issues above. In family matters, emotions will always be in play, and a rational approach to career decision-making will never be enough. Can you look for an ideal of work-family enrichment—where careers and family life contribute to one another—over work-family conflict? That ideal can be hard to come by, but it can also be worth the effort in the end.


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