Re-Thinking Reinvention as a Trailing Spouse

This week, our new guestblogger Leabiloe muses upon her need for reinvention during her years as an expat spouse. Leabiloe is a blogger and freelance writer, who writes about expat life, food, and books. Her blog AFRICAN wanderlust chronicles her musings on expat living. Originally from Lesotho, she has made South Africa her home; she has also lived in Ghana, and she is now living in France.

It was when I created my LinkedIn page earlier last year that the reality of it all hit me. Writer and editor? That was exactly what I have been doing for four years now. Did I start out wanting to be a writer? Of course. Doesn’t everyone? I have not yet met a single person that has not harboured dreams about writing, and yet their reasons for why they are not writing are endless: when I stop working… when my kids are grown… when I can find the time…

Similarly for me, writing was something I always thought I would do when the time was right.

A post-graduate economics degree later, a couple of years working as a research assistant, followed by my first year as a trailing spouse; subsequent years later as an analyst in an investment bank, a second expatriation, then a third, and here I was finally writing. I often look at my life and think: how did I get here?

Survival mode, that’s how an acquaintance put it. You have to find your own setting. I’d groaned inwardly when I heard this the first time. This was three years ago. Here we go, I thought, more pearls of wisdom from the experts amongst the expats. Survival mode, find your own setting – yeah, right!

Perhaps my problem was that it was not put as eloquently as I would have liked, perhaps it sounded more like a sales pitch than words from the wise. In reality it was exactly the thing every trailing spouse needs to hear, and you need to hear it in the early years of being a trailing spouse before the disenchantment sets in.

Over my four years as a trailing spouse, I have been a volunteer; a member of an International Women’s Group that does charity work; I have tried my hand at being “a lady that lunches” – I did not enjoy that role too much; ultimately I have settled on writing. Writing is something I have always done, granted then it was economic reports and marketing documents rather than lifestyle writing and blogging. As it turns out I really do enjoy doing it – which is an added bonus.

I have, over the years, met a PhD graduate turned artist, a medical doctor turned volunteer, a concert pianist turned jewelry designer and creator, numerous marketing professionals turned NGO workers, a lawyer who sits on her daughters’ school board, and various other smart, educated, former professionals who are now living completely different lives.

When I hear people say that they gave up their careers and carved out entirely different lives for themselves as artists, writers, and photographers, I am envious.

My getting to this place would have been so much easier if I had simply accepted that my life as I knew and wanted it would change irrevocably; that it was best to seek professional fulfillment in other ways, in the earlier years. I would not have spent years longing for a career I had to give up. I would have made my five-year-plan about getting on with my life under the changed circumstances. I would have started writing sooner – more seriously. I would have taken online courses to improve my craft earlier.

I would have appreciated that I no longer had to feel guilty about not seeing my children enough because I had to work, or to feel guilty about leaving work early because I had a sick child at home. I would not have balked at the idea of joining an expat women’s group – seeing it as demeaning to be part of a club of women that do no work.

Would I have marketed myself more as a writer? Without a doubt. I would not have abandoned my networking skills – not ever. I would have aggressively followed up more on those words uttered over morning coffees and evening cocktails: call me so we can talk, email me your profile – your ideas – your writing samples.

In short, I would have completely embraced the fact that reinvention was the key to me surviving living my years as a trailing spouse.

(Photocredit: Leabiloe M.)

11 Responses to “Re-Thinking Reinvention as a Trailing Spouse”

  1. Hi! Your blog comes at a good time for me. I am from Canada and am currently living in Costa Rica…been here 7 months now. We are here for the year and then need to determine if we stay, explore other areas such as Panama or Nicaragua or return home. It’s a significant decision that will be coming up in the next 3 months…if we stay, I give up my career and my income. Scares the hell outta me!

    My partner on the other hand is employed in oil and gas and he continues to work commuting back and forth to Canada on his schedule. This leaves me in a new country by myself, struggling to make friends, not knowing the language and feeling both proud that I have managed so far yet, displaced, discouraged and fearful as I flounder to make my way here.

    In the last few weeks I have updated my resume, created a CV and begun an active job search…only to find that my options are really limited. As your whole blog describes, I am quickly realizing that I will have no choice but to reinvent myself and focus of work. Tough when I’ve spent the last 20 years in the same career with the education to go along with it.

    I think my best bet will be to attempt freelance positions in writing or blogging. With that said, I still have no experience in doing these things and am not sure how to even begin. Do you have any advice, leads, suggestions, websites, contacts…anything that may help me find the new me? I will take any and all information not from just you but from anyone reading this!


  2. @Angela:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have Leabiloe’s experience as an expat spouse, but I do hope you’ll face the challenges life has in store for you. I hope that, instead of practical advice, good wishes are also welcome. You sound as though you’re having a rather tough choice to make, and I do wish you the best of luck.

  3. So true, and beautifully written. After years of having my own career, I too had to adapt last year to being a trailing spouse with our family’s move from Cape Town South Africa to Bangalore India. It was tough – but I’m slowly finding a new identity. Still managing to do long-distance work for some South African clients and exploring new areas such as art and dance. I still want to join the local Overseas women’s group but keep putting it off – will get there eventually… I will start reading your BLOG for inspiration… Stay well.

  4. I’m really glad that you liked our latest guestpost, Nicky, and I hope you’ll enjoy Leabiloe’s blog too. I certainly found it interesting. 🙂

  5. Thank you for articulating this so beautifully.

    I’m an expat American living in Northern Ireland. While not a trailing spouse, it was a desire to relocate was my impetus to leap. The net has appeared.

    Trained as a career counselor I can’t emphasize enough your quote:

    “I would have made my five-year-plan about getting on with my life under the changed circumstances.”

    The world economy has changed all our circumstances. Work & career as we have known them no longer exist.

    We all need to embrace this wisdom. It is only in our adaptability that any of us will thrive.

    Congratulations and thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  6. What a fantastic article. I am just in the process of coming to the same realisation, after having lived in a variety of places due to my other half, that I have to accept life for me will probably always be constantly changing. Therefore, my career aspirations need to be adapted accordingly.

    I, like you, have also been blogging about my life abroad and the changes this brings. I find this is a very positive thing to be doing.

    Thank you for this blog, it is nice to find other people who are in the same situation and that I am not the only one who has struggled to let go of my previous career plans. In fact, after recently relocating to Norway I am now seeing that not having a structured career path is very liberating and allows me the chance to explore different avenues. Whether that is volunteering in a soup kitchen, working in a dinosaur section of a museum or becoming involved in an international company.

    With the right balance of determination and positivity, the possibilities are vast.

    Thank you.

  7. Hi Leabiloe,

    Reading your blog was great. I’m a new expat wife and this life is a strange one. It’s a difficult adjustment to a new country where the language is so completely different as are the customs and way of life.
    I feel like I have lost my identity in this move as here I am just the wife…and it’s a strange position to be in…
    I suppose I shall find my way soon but right now , this is a lonely place to be in…
    Good luck with your venture…

  8. I am an expat wife and am not yet comfortable with being a “trailing spouse”. I am new to the process; a new wife, only having been married a year, new to Singapore, having arrived a week ago and new to having plenty of time to fill, but not knowing how to fill it.

    Having the opportunity to take on new challenges and choose how I spend my time is confronting. Do I continue in the corporate sector, gain more experience and further develop my career? Do I go down the not-for-profit path or volunteer for a new experience? Do I study or re-qualify and try something different?

    At the moment, the allure of having such freedom is outweighed by a great sense of uncertainty.

    Either way, I have to “get on with my life under the changed circumstances” as attending to household administrative duties, for a family of two, is hardly time consuming or personally fulfilling.

    Thank you for your insight and advice.

  9. Hi Ylana,

    I’m glad to hear that Leabiloe’s guest post resonated with you, and I’d like to wish you good luck for your new life in Singapore.

  10. What an inspiring article. It is always nice when a light bulb comes on in the mind and illuminates areas that were previously dark.
    I am now in my 11th year as an accompanying spouse (Kenyan, currently living in Addis Ababa) but it was not until I got support from a life coach at the beginning of last year that I discovered what great opportunities exist for reinvention and self actualization once one leaves the boundaries and/or safety of employment and familiar surroundings as the case maybe. My eyes were opened to the experiences, talents and resources I had in my fingertips and I have now started my own company to support others to play to their strengths. My best wishes to everyone who is an accompanying spouse. I believe sharing our experiences helps others too.

  11. Hi Colleta,

    I’m glad to hear you found this article inspiring. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, and good luck in your new home in Ethopia!

Leave a Reply