Why I chose not to work and what I do instead
Many expat partners ask themselves what to do with their life after moving abroad – especially when the “socially-approved”, traditional corporate job or raising children is not a scenario. We often forget that there is a different path we can go: Not working, investing all the time and energy into ourselves, and be happy as hell. I am thrilled that Simone, who is actually also one of my coaching clients, is open to sharing her story and her personal approach in a blog post with us. Simone is a huge inspiration for me, and I bet you will be inspired after reading her reasoning behind her choice as well. Enjoy getting to know Simone and her creative, bold, confident, and clever approach to spending her time abroad. If you want to know more about her, check out her very own blog on www.windycitymoments.com.
Expat Spouse Interview
Simone Podgorny is a Senior HR Professional with more than 12 years of experience in the field of Human Resources. Born and raised in Germany, Simone holds a Master of Science in Economics from Copenhagen Business School and has most recently worked as a Global HR Business Partner for Bayer at its German Headquarters. Simone quit her job at the end of last year to join her husband on an international assignment to Chicago where she has consciously decided to take time off from the workforce to pursue some of her dreams, explore the city and enjoy life. Playing guitar, starting her journey as a Coach and volunteering as a Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line are some of Simone’s newly discovered passions.
Why I chose not to work and what I do instead
When the offer came on the table to join my husband on an international assignment to Chicago – this was in July 2018 while we were vacationing in a little hut high up in the Alps and over dinner a text came in from my husband’s manager – my immediate reaction was that of course, that is what we will do. We would pack our things, move to the US, figure things out, done deal. I did not have a single doubt that this was the decision to be made. I was in full support of my husband’s career and the opportunities this created for him. And I saw some possibilities for me as well.
My initial image of me living abroad
When imagining myself abroad at that time, I knew I would want to be working, too. That is what I had been doing in Germany for over a decade, so I did not question this lifestyle for even a tiny second. I always loved working, as it is something that gives me identity, day-to-day challenges, a fun community, and pays my bills. I imagined myself working somewhere in downtown Chicago, in an interesting and challenging position, at an office in one of those cool high-rise buildings, which I could walk to every day with my coffee mug in hands.
Not a minute did I see myself as a spouse who would ‘just come along’, so this was not an option I explored any further. I had too many (true or not) images in my mind of expat partners hanging out most of the time, “cappuccino-ing” their days through town, playing tennis, and spending their (mostly) husbands’ money until it was time to move back home. Not an image that fit me well, I felt.
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In need for a plan B
Soon after we officially made the decision to relocate, it became apparent that it is not as easy as I anticipated to find meaningful work. I did not have a work visa yet, the time that was planned for us to be in the US did not feel long enough for any decent type of employment and the company that I was with at the time did not have an office big enough for me to just change location. My nicely laid out plan just plopped right in front of my eyes, and I was forced to aim for a plan B. I was forced to move out of my comfort zone.
This plan B developed with a very simple question to start with: If I was given a year or so of time off and there are enough savings to cover for that period, what would I want to do? Did you ever ask yourself that question? What would your response be? Would you decide to spend more time with your family, climb the highest mountains on the planet, become a Yoga teacher in India, open a diving school on Bali, start your own business, join the Peace Corps, write a book or sell your house and all your belongings and just see where life takes you?
My mental list of things to do was very short at first. Knowing that I would certainly live in Chicago, I was a bit clueless and went for some of the more obvious ideas: do an MBA, train for a marathon and find exciting US vacation spots which we would travel to. Hmm, not bad, but nothing that would really sweep me off my feet in a moment of excitement. Thankfully, I had several months to think this through, great conversations with family, friends, and colleagues and yes, I also did a ton of research to find out if what I made up in my mind was at all possible and affordable.
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Seeing a whole new set of opportunities
With every week that passed, my plans grew more and more concrete, and at the same time, my enthusiasm rose so much, it gave me sleepless nights. I was dying to finally get on that plane and start my adventure – my sabbatical. All the thinking and talking and researching and calculating eventually led to four areas that I wanted to dedicate my time and money too. Those would be areas I might have neglected for some time and wanted to give more weight in my life, areas that would help me plant seeds for potential future possibilities, areas I enjoy and thrive in, and new areas I want to discover.
The first one is learning and personal growth. I love learning new things, from typing with ten fingers instead of just three (looks much more elegant), to becoming a Certified Professional Coach (certainly more demanding than learning how to type), and a few other topics I had always wanted to dig my head into. Learning is what is at the top of my list and will consume probably most of my time.
The second item is improving my fitness level. Over the past several years, I went from holding a gym membership but never entering one, to exercising for at least 3-4 hours every week. I feel there is still potential for more, and since Chicago offers so many possibilities for working out, I can almost try out a new type of sport every week. Doing a few official 5-10k runs is at the top of my work-out agenda and something I will start training for immediately.
The third item on my list is giving back to those in need. I consider myself as very fortunate when it comes to the status of my health, educational background, and financial situation, but I know that there are millions of people around the world – and thousands of them in Chicago – who are not that lucky. Now that I have the time, I want to help where my resource and energy can make a difference. I worked through Chicago Cares to find a few very meaningful volunteer activities of things that are close to my heart and which I feel I want to commit to for a longer period.
The fourth and last item on my list is doing lots of fun things. This involves starting my own blog, exploring everything Chicago has to offer, traveling the country, learning to play an instrument (yep, you heard right, that is on my bucket list as well, and I am in the process of finding my best-fit music school), networking with the locals (easier than I thought) and sometimes just reading a book or simply doing nothing. There is a wealth of things to experience, and already now I feel that I do not have enough hours in the day.
Embracing those moments of doubt
While this sounds super exciting, there are moments of doubt. Society expects us all to work and earn our living. This is how we identify ourselves as human beings unless we are enjoying our retirement after decades of contributing. I do experience moments in which I wonder if this is where I should be devoting my time. There are moments of guilt for just spending and not earning any money (this is an especially tough one for me, I must admit). There are moments of fear for what the future might bring, and there are moments of exhaustion from all the change happening at once. Luckily these moments are rare, and I decided to embrace rather than reject them as my healthy check-in points, which allow me to every now and then calibrate where I stand.
There is something precious I have been noticing over the past few months – about myself and life in general. Work might give us purpose and identity, but a lot of other things do too, we just need to find them and make room for them in our lives. Do I plan to or can I even afford to always live like that? Certainly not. I expect to be wanting to return into the paid employment sector at some point. But until then – and I leave this moment in time completely open for now – I will enjoy my little sabbatical break and, if you want to hear more, let you take a part in it at www.windycitymoments.com.