norman lebrecht

September 01, 2023

From our agony aunt:

Dear Alma,

I am in arts administration, as is my husband. I have always been very career-oriented, climbing the ladder and pushing myself to take on ambitious projects. My husband has been in the same, low-level admin job for years, and never applies for a promotion or asks for a raise. He is very supportive of what I do but it drives me crazy that he has no ambition whatsoever. He is very happy and is a great dad, and other than my frustrations at his lack of ambition, our home life is terrific. I just got an amazing new job which is in a different city, but my husband wants to just stay here, doing the same old job. What should I do?

So Frustrated

Dear So Frustrated,

This is a tricky situation. You have to look at the balance of it all, finding your priorities. What are yours? What are his? Realize that it’s a composite picture you need, not equal happiness for both of you in all matters. In a nutshell, I personally distill life down to fulfillment, family, and love. And these things can mean different things to different people. Keep in mind that you also have kids and their priorities to consider, which will have an affect on all of the above.

I wonder if you can have it all? It’s worth trying, although many naysayers will tell you it is impossible.

Firstly, it seems as if fulfillment means something different for you and your husband. Yours involves career, which he supports, and his involves something else – maybe calm happiness. Try to understand his definition of fulfillment and respect that. He respects yours. You can’t change someone’s nature, it only ends in anger and resentment. Every person has their own compass, and no one can (or should) convince another person that one thing is more important than another. In classical music, we all have a kind of built-in career worship, and are overly aware of who is doing “better” or “worse” than we are. In the age of cultivated social media lives, this is all the more apparent. It seems as if your husband is wonderfully immune to this pull.

If he supports your career but is happy where he and your family are, why don’t you suggest this? Take a one year leave of absence from your current job, and commute to the new job, taking a pied-à-terre. This might mean being away Monday-Friday, or two weeks away, one week home. Negotiate with the new job to make it as workable as possible. If they want you, they will make this happen. Take the year to make sure it’s a job you love, in a place that would be good for your family. Bring everyone out to see if it’s a good fit. You can talk about the pros and cons for each of you and make a decision as a family, one that might include you permanently commuting. Lots of people do just that (mostly men) and it works.

Take a step back and enjoy your husband’s contentment, the happiness of your family, and your mutual love and respect. You have an almost perfect balance. Be ambitions in your career – you deserve the success you have. Tread carefully and thoughtfully, and I believe you can find the success in your home life that you crave.

By mrtrv