Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Should I stay or should I go? 37: couples and family considerations 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on January 14, 2017

This is my 37th installment to a series on intentionally entered into, fundamental job and career path change, and on best practices for deciding both when and how to carry through on it (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 416 and following for Parts 1-36.)

I began discussing the role that family has on job and career planning in Part 36, with a briefly stated outline of some of the circumstances where that has real impact. And I continue its discussion here in this posting with a case in point focus on couples. I will then add wider family considerations in, after looking into this simpler and even baseline family situation and its issues.

To be more precise, I assume couples here – two adults who might or might not be legally married to each other but who are deeply committed to each other and to the relationship that binds them together. And I assume that both members of these couples work, or at the very least that both would like to be able to work and that both would want to develop and pursue their own careers and career paths while doing so. And both people working there, can even be a necessity and it is for many families where a single income would not be sufficient for meeting both here-and-now needs and expenses, and the requirements of long term planning and savings – with that including plans for having children, plans to eventually buy a home of one’s own, eventual retirement and being able to afford that, and more. And a big part of that “and more” would involve simply building up savings and available investments that could be drawn upon to meet here-and-now needs if a crisis were to arrive – such as a sudden and unexpected downsizing or health emergency.

That is what I assume here as my baseline scenario: that can still be considered a simplest one, and even for all of its uncertainties and at least potential complications. And that brings me to the crucial set of issues that I would address here, which I frame for discussion with a direct categorical assertion:

• People can and do, and with time will disagree and on both big and little issues – at least occasionally, and even if they know each other very well and are bound together in a deeply committed long-term relationship. Even then in that type of relationship context, disagreements and misunderstandings can and will still arise.

My goal for this posting is to at least begin to address that challenge, by offering a basic approach for airing possible differences of need and perspective, and for allowing for the separate individuals who make up a couple to at least better understand each other – even if they cannot readily come to agreement on everything that they each deem to be important in this act of shared discovery. What can you do and where should you start in that?

• Start with a discussion of needs and priorities – not with the details of what to do as means of meeting those needs and priorities.
• And distinguish between specific details and more overarching concerns in that, where the details might be negotiable and in ways that more general overall needs and concerns principles might not be.

This is vitally important. If you start with detailed solutions to problems and by addressing needs in specific ways, and before you have even fully thought out and discussed what those underlying problems and needs are, you close off all other possibilities to addressing them – including those of actually coming to effectively meaningful compromise or arriving at out-of-the-box alternative solutions that would meet the needs of both parties involved.

• And if I were to offer a second guiding principle here, to accompany that one, I would highlight that these should be open and candid discussions among equals.
• If either party starts out assuming that their perspective or their needs or desires are fundamentally more important than are those of their spouse or life partner, this entire process will become derailed and doomed to fail – and in resentment and resistance that will with time, corrode any short term resolutions that are reached.
• Let me take that out of the abstract, with a very real world example of where inequality in decision making rights happen: when one of the members of a couple is currently bringing in a higher salary than the other does, and simply assumes that since they are more the real bread winner of the family, they should have a stronger voice there. That presumption is essentially guaranteed to create longer-term resentment and conflict, as the less respected and listened to partner in this relationship thinks through the effort that they make in this relationship and in maintaining their household too – where that is significant and real and even when it is not directly income generating.

And this brings me to a tool that I have found invaluable in my own jobs and careers planning and execution, and that I have found to be as beneficial to others as well. It is in fact one of the first topics that I wrote of here in this blog, for inclusion in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development directory: the constraints box. And I begin this line of discussion by citing some relevant resource links concerning constraints boxes and their use as an insight organizing and decision shaping tool:

Structuring an Effective Elevator Pitch (where I first briefly define the term),
Job Search and Your Constraints Box,
Globalization and Your Constraints Box, and
Working In-House, Working as a Consultant and Your Constraints Box

Start this with both members of a couple’s relationship sitting down and writing out their own constraints box narratives and as separate individual efforts, but with a goal of coming together to share and discuss what these two stories say, and with a goal of finding a mutually acceptable combined-needs constraint box from them.

Now what precisely is your constraints box and what goes into it? In brief terms, it is as complete an inventory as makes sense for you, of baseline requirements that you would want to see met, that collectively shape your workplace and career needs. This means your geographic and other boundaries that you would primarily seek to job search within and that you would want or even overtly need to work within. And an effective constraints box consists primarily if not entirely of more underlying needs, and not of the specific details of possible ways of meeting them.

I cited geographic constraints there, so I will begin with them. This might mean you’re preferring to stay in a specific geographic region, state or even local community. It can mean you’re placing constraints on how distant or time consuming a commute to and from work would be. It might for example, to widen this discussion beyond a couple’s only perspective, mean you’re needing to live and work near an elderly parent in need or so your children can stay in the school they have been thriving in. But there are at least seemingly, as wide a range of other non-geographic considerations that could enter into a constraints box as there are people who would think through and list them. Do you, for example, have specific need for flex-time or other accommodation in your workplace scheduling? Do you have strongly held beliefs that would lead you specifically to seek out work with nonprofits that hew to societally important missions and visions, such as protection of the environment, or fighting cancer? Do you seek out work opportunities that would give you greater opportunity to obtain an advanced degree or professional certification? List everything that would be of importance to you. And then go through your list and refine it and add to it and rephrase where necessary – and then add in notes as appropriate as to the significance that you place on your entries.

Your constraints box list, and detailed consideration of goals and priorities in all of this, become centrally important when you and your spouse or life partner sit down to share your constraints box stories with each other, and how and why you have each arrived at them. And it is that discussion, if carried out with open and caring minds, that will lead you both to a combined perhaps compromise, perhaps out-of-the-box shared constraints box that would work for both of you.

I find myself thinking at least in part in terms of the classic fairy tale plot line as I write that, with the bulk of a story offering a narration in which an at least eventually happy couple finds each other and comes together – generally after an adventure or two. And then “they live happily ever after.” That, is in effect where I leave off this narrative as I end this posting – at the start of what is hopefully that happily ever after. Coming to at least provisional and here and now based agreement on overall goals and priorities, at least at the constraints box level is just a first step in a longer process. I am going to continue this narrative in a next series installment where I will at least point out some possible directions for finding and taking that next step. And in anticipation of that, I recommend starting with a list of shared goals and priorities, and with a focus on ones that are centrally important to both involved parties. I will develop this narrative from there in my next posting to this series, where I will also at least begin to address change and how it impacts on us as individuals and as couples.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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