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You want me to move to… Texas?!

April 24, 2016

In our generation, moving up the career ladder often involves ACTUALLY moving. Unfortunately, job-hopping has become not only normal but sometimes necessary for establishing a successful career. But you know what sucks? Ambitious people are often in relationships with other ambitious people, and amazing job opportunities don’t seem to come in pairs. This leads to tough, unfair choices and unequal sacrifices that have to be made. I think A LOT of us will experience crappy dilemmas like this, so why isn’t anyone talking about it??? Well, I recently lived through it relatively unscathed, so I want to share my experience should any of you find yourself in a similar position.

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Let me be your spirit guide.

I planned to stay in Seattle for at least a few years after grad school. The job market is good for scientists, and the Pacific Northwest is so beautiful it should be illegal. I had built a decent professional network, lots of great friendships, and a pretty darn perfect (and serious) relationship. Everything was coming up Milhouse.

But then one day my boyfriend called and said he’d been offered a huge promotion… in Texas. I think my initial response included the f-word as a verb, noun, adjective, command, and adverb. It was colorful. First of all, Texas. Scoff. But on top of that, I just got my doctorate! I was on the precipice of my new life and my career options were limitless! And now the person I care about the most had the audacity to rip that away from me? Didn’t my advanced degree make my career equally, if not MORE, important? HOW WOULD I EVER SURVIVE IN A PLACE LIKE TEXAS? I have a flair for the dramatic – the meltdown went on for a long time. You get the picture.

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In summary.

To his great credit, Boyfriend was patient and understanding. He respected my feelings, and since we were both invested in this relationship he would turn down the offer if it really couldn’t work. But there was one condition – we had to actually visit Austin. In fact, his company wanted him to take the job so badly that they offered to fly us down, all expenses paid. I was certain I would never agree to move to Texas, but hey! A free trip is a free trip! Plus, I was a broke-ass grad student, so the prospect of eating free room service like a $ophisticated adult person was very enticing.

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So I turned my Judgement Eyes up to level 11 and boarded a plane for Austin. And you know what happened when I got there? I didn’t find any of the negative stereotypes I was expecting. In fact, Austin turned out to be pretty freaking cool even though it was hotter than Hades. I had been using the excuse that I could never see myself living in Texas as a “get out of jail free” card, but apparently that wasn’t true.

This realization forced me to admit/confront my real hangups. Mainly, that there were very few jobs for PhD level scientists in Austin, and I felt cheated by having to sacrifice my own career goals to accommodate the career goals of someone else. Especially because I was a woman, and following a man’s career is just so cliche it hurts.

So that brings me to the meat of this post. A lot of us are going to face this situation, and I wish I had been given, I dunno, a heads up or something? You see, I never wanted to stand in the way of Boyfriend’s success. But if I’m really, selfishly honest… it felt like he was doing that to me. We agreed that although long distance can work great for some people, it wasn’t something we wanted to do. So for him to accept this huge opportunity meant a huge *loss* of opportunity for me.

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This job was going to pay him big bucks, certainly more than what I was pulling as a postdoc (not that that’s hard lol). So should the person making more money get the final say? If I did this now, would he be willing to make sacrifices for MY career in the future? If I moved to Austin and couldn’t find work right away, would he support me financially (including my gigantic mountain of student loan debt)? In short, whose career was more important right now?

Of course the answers to these questions will be different for every couple, so I have no magic cure-all advice. But for those of you who will face a similar experience in the future, here are the major lessons we learned.

1. Compromise. Unfortunately, there is no way to make these sacrifices fair. NEWSFLASH! Life isn’t fair. You have to search for compromises to help balance the scales, even if they’re small. For example – once I got a job in Austin, Boyfriend agreed to live somewhere that was more convenient for me although it meant a much longer commute for him.

2. Be empathetic. You have to be honest and open, even if it’s uncomfortable. Put your dealbreakers on the table, and actually discuss them with an open mind. If you don’t, you’ll just resent the crap out of each other. You have to consider how the other person feels and how much you’re asking of them – if the tables were turned, would YOU be willing to agree? This is true whether you’re the making the sacrifice or the one asking for it. I eventually realized that my needs were not higher priority because I had a higher degree, and that we should work together to support mutual success rather than competing over whose career was more important. Neither. They are both important.

3. Take risks. Change is scary as hell! But fear of the unknown can prevent you from all kinds of cool opportunities. One of the biggest things I’ve learned through professional networking is that people rarely follow a straight path to success, and lots of them end up in jobs they love but never expected to do. As it turns out, moving to Austin landed me a job at a huge biotech company. The science is rad, and my resume is getting stronger by the day. Risks are scary, but getting outside your comfort zone can help unlock doors you didn’t even realize you wanted to open.

4. Never move to Texas. HA – jk Austin is great! After living in Seattle for so long, I’m literally high on Vitamin D all the time now.

So there you have it. Hopefully my experience can give you insight to keep your head up if you ever need to make these crappy adult choices. Things have a way of working out if you’re willing to let them, you know?

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From → Personal Hijinx

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