This is a guest post by Brid Doherty-Appriou of Third Culture Professionals which is a job search blog for the Expat Accompanying Partner who wants to return to work after a career break. It offers free practical job hunting and interview advice, motivation and tips from other Expat Partners and Experts. Brid Doherty-Appriou has lived and worked globally as an Accompanying Partner, Expat and Executive Search Consultant.
“The recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual, especially in relation to social context”. 1
Many of us have questioned our self-identity at some stage in our lives whether consciously or subconsciously. This questioning can arise at times of social change or of perceived loss, such as that of moving abroad or a career break/job loss. For some, a change such as moving abroad is relatively easy to accept and becomes part of the new or at least a part of the new self-identity. For others, a similar change may be more difficult to accept and may initially require a period of questioning, adaption and association to the new surroundings and situation.
The notion of self-identity is complex and affects everyone differently. As adults, we all have a different story to tell which comprises a name, a childhood, life experiences, social environment(s) and interests/affinities. Our social environment and its influence have a large impact on how we see ourselves and how others see us.
Retrospectively reflecting on my experience as an Accompanying Partner/Expat, I smile internally and still laugh loudly when I think of how I introduced myself at social events to the familiar question “Who are you/What do you do?
My reply to this question would often be in French while adding a touch of Anglo-Saxon humor and accent: “Before I was a Headhunter, now I am the Wife of X”. This short self-introduction always raised a smile from my new acquaintances and they went away thinking that behind the label “Wife of X”, there exists a person with an identity and a story to tell.
Today, I am happy to present myself as “Brid- with a multitude of qualities and interests, a Headhunter who has taken a career break, a blog owner, the “Wife of X”, a mother and someone who enjoys discovering new cultures and interests”.
For as long as I can remember, work has played a large role in my self-identity as is the case for many people in Western societies. When introducing myself to new people, I associated work as the forerunner of my self-identity. When I had the time as an Accompanying Partner to sit back and consider my self-identity, I discovered to what extent I had placed a large importance on work in my life and in my identity, despite having other roles, interests and passions!
I used this valuable time as an Accompanying Partner to reevaluate my self-identity and to put in place some changes in my mode of functioning. This began with a balance between professional and personal activities. I realized that I could still give a maximum to work while enjoying quality time with those dear to me, as well as spending more time on my interests and passions.
“Your identity should not be fully defined by what you do, by being a manager, a wife, a mother of children or a computer programmer” 2
Finding a balance in one’s self-identity is not always evident as our lives are complex: sometimes we have many parts to play and little time left for self-reflection. Finding the right balance is especially more difficult when work has been/or is still the main driver in one’s self-identity. When you make the choice to follow your partner, this is a tremendous opportunity to reflect on who you are, your interests, motivations and drivers. It is also the opportunity to observe, to get involved in activities/groups and to build on learning/gaining new experiences and skills for the present and for the future.
If one uses this period as an Accompanying Partner to do a check list on “oneself”, on ones’ assets and ones’ ambitions, this reflection may unveil hidden talents and interests. This could lead to new opportunities for work or for personal self-fulfillment.
From another perspective, reflecting on the importance we place on certain aspects of our self-identity is also a useful exercise for the transition to retirement (which is definitive!). When we retire, a career/job title will be part of our past self-identity/life experience. If we develop interests and passions now for the years to come, the transition to retirement can be easier, smoother and better prepared.
“There is a whole new kind of life ahead, full of experiences just waiting to happen. Some call it “retirement.” I call it bliss.” 3
2 Sunday Adelaja