by Alphild Dick, former Head Editor, INALJ Washington
previously published 6/9/14
You and Me and Library Makes Three: Negotiating Dual-Career Households
When I started library school, I was under few illusions that finding the traditional librarian position that I wanted would be easy. And time consuming. And frustrating. It was the reality of pursuing work that I was passionate about. As time passed, I had the good fortune to find work in my preferred field and in my community. But life, as it can be, gets tricky. Why? My “community” is not exactly my community. In addition to being a degreed librarian and a card-carrying member of ALA, I am also a military spouse.
I’m proud of my husband and the work that he does. He works 12-14 hour days and he is passionate about what he does. Moreover, as a medical officer, he compensated well and gets good benefits, including a pretty gold-star retirement plan. However, it is not a career path that is friendly to a dual-career household, especially when one party has career goals that are as localized as a public librarian’s. At some point, we’ll get marching orders. Who knows where we will end up and what I will end up doing. This eventuality is stressful, especially since I love my job so, so much. I’ll admit it: Having to possibly give up what I worked hard to get makes me frustrated, and a little bitter. There is, of course, the alternative: he could leave the military and pursue a more stable (for me) career path. But this means asking ourselves some pretty tough questions. Is it my career that takes priority? Is it actually better for me to make the sacrifice, or him?
Looking beyond the military, our situation is not uncommon for dual-career households. There are compromises to be made when two people are both in love and professionally driven, especially early in their careers. Me? I love my job. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But would I for my husband?
From my friends and family, I keep getting the same advice: only the two of you can decide what is right. But sometimes this well-meaning advice feels pretty useless. In these situations, sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to do. Barring a fairy godmother who comes bearing sage advice, though, knowing what questions to ask might be the next best thing.
1. Is there anything else that you would be happy doing? Would I be just as happy working as a freelance researcher while living the highly mobile military lifestyle? Would my husband enjoy taking a more sedate civilian job in the healthcare industry? Egos aside, just how tied are you to the exact thing you are doing/want to be doing? (It’s fine to be tied to it, by the way.)
2. Who else will the decision affect? If you have kids or other dependents, this question can be especially weighty. Healthcare, schools, the need to provide a stable environment, proximity to family and loved ones, connections to community–the list of things that need to be considered goes on.
3. How will this decision affect your financial security? Depending on a variety of factors (student loans come to mind pretty quickly), this may be a more pressing issue for some than others. Most of us don’t go into librarianship to make millions, but we generally don’t want to go broke either. I may want to save the world through librarianship, but I’d also like to save money for retirement.
4. What is best for your team? And by team, I mean the two of you and your family. Our personal lives are just as valuable as our work lives. Will choosing one path over the other lead to a better work-life balance for the two of you? For us, the reality is that a life outside of the military is much lower key. One of the great things about public librarianship in my area? A strict adherence to the 40-hour work week.
5. Who has more flexibility? In theory, a librarian could find a job anywhere. There are libraries of all sorts all across the country. There are even more options when you branch out from traditional librarian jobs and look at the pretty amazing breadth of what trained librarians are capable of doing. But the appeal of this depends on how wedded you are to your particular professional goals and interests. (Once again, that’s totally cool if you are.)
6. What are your long-term plans for your career? For your life? Your partner’s? My own goals include being the director of a library, write a novel, and retiring to Croatia; my husband’s are to get his Master’s of Heath Administration, rebuild an old car, and retire to Croatia (at least we share one goal in common!). How do these three very different things come together? What do I need to accomplish these things? This question can be helpful, but it has its pitfalls. To quote George R.R. Martin, “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”
My husband and I don’t have any answers at this point, but we have open lines of communication on the subject and both want the other to be happy. The only thing I can say for sure here is that professional flexibility is usually a good thing. It is a mistake to think we can only have professional success in one set of circumstances. Librarians are used to being resourceful, after all.