Letting Go of the Career Ladder

By: Amanda van Mulligen

Taking a step back in your career is never a satisfying move, but if the fact that you don’t speak the local language limits your job opportunities and you need to survive, sometimes you have no choice. I know that firsthand. When I moved to the Netherlands I took what I could. Admittedly the job was in my field but it meant a step down the career ladder. I spent six years trying to grapple my way back up the ladder until I decided to let go of the ladder completely and hope there was a safety net there to catch me.

Luckily there was.

I worked in Human Resources (HR) before I moved abroad and I continued in HR when I carved out a new life for myself in the Netherlands. But for most of the decade it made up my working life I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. I just wasn’t made for the 9 to 5 office cubicle drudgery. I didn’t feel comfortable working for a multinational company. Companies where money is the most important factor. I felt stifled. I felt bound by policies and rules. Bound by other’s expectations of how I should behave. I had no sense of independence. My creativity was suppressed deep inside me. I felt more and more miserable and without purpose in my daily working life.

In 2006, our dream to start a family became reality and at the end of my maternity leave an opportunity arose that meant I could choose not to return to the role that left me feeling sapped on a daily basis. It meant I could stay home with my baby boy and start working for myself. It meant allowing my heart to lead the way and not my bank account. It was an offer I could not pass up. I released my grip on the career ladder. I let myself fall into the unknown. I followed my passion.

I set up my own writing business.

The physical set up of the business was easy; I took a trip to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce, took a web design course and built a basic website, a blog platform and started building a network. The emotional side of setting up a business was much harder; financial security is hard to say goodbye to, believing in your own abilities in untested waters is a challenge, giving up a decade in one profession can feel like madness, and finding your way in a new field takes time.

But life is too short not to take risks. Life is too short to do things you don’t really want to do because it’s the easiest route. After all, most of us wouldn’t be expats if we weren’t prepared to take a leap of faith.

As my son’s first birthday approached, I breathed life into a new business. I worked whilst my son napped. Whilst everyone else was lunching, relaxing in the evenings and at weekends, I was working.

I now have three little boys and my working life is moulded around them. It’s not always easy but it’s much easier than the alternative life I could have had – a daily commute to a job that was little by little destroying my soul, a role that was gradually sucking the creative energy from me with every passing assignment, an occupation that left me feeling less like me every day.

Whether you move abroad for work or love, moving to a new country is a big step. Wherever you move to, you still need to be able to support yourself, keep your career on track and follow your dreams. But when you move abroad you suddenly see life through different eyes. Stepping down a rung on the professional career ladder proved to be a catalyst for change, a chance for me to step back and take the time to observe. What I saw was someone walking in shoes too big for them; like my three-year-old boy putting on his father’s shoes and shuffling across the living room. My job didn’t fit me and it was hindering my walk through life.

Expat life awoke my passion and made a career move possible. It inspires me to put pen to paper on a daily basis - I write about expat life, about the challenges and joys of living abroad, about parenting in a country I did not grow up in, about raising bilingual children and sharing my culture with them. My creativity has been set free and I finally walk in shoes that fit me. My career and life are in harmony. Letting go of the career ladder was the most rewarding career move I’ve ever made.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAmanda van Mulligen is a British expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: This blog is my tale of mothering abroad, about the ups and downs of parenting in a foreign country.
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Contest Comments » There are 13 comments

What a beautiful touching text! I know so many other women who experienced the same thing you did- they worked in big ccorporations before, and changed careers after they became moms. Not one of them looked back.

Jo Parfitt wrote 7 years ago:

Amanda is a great writer and a brave one too. Her courage will encourage others to take that step and follow their hearts.

Robin Pascoe wrote 7 years ago:

I have always enjoyed reading Amanda because her blog is so well-written and entertaining. It also allows readers to both identify with her content but as well, to be informed. To me, that's an award winning combination. Well done Amanda on this latest post!

Excellent, Amanda. Studies say expats are more creative, adventurous and resourceful than non-expats. Not a great surprise; as an expat you have to be to survive. It takes courage and determination to step out of one's comfort zone. You did it and succeeded.

Amanda wrote 7 years ago:
(AUTHOR)

Thank you all so much for such lovely comments! It makes me realise what a step it was in hindsight. Luckily indeed us expats are a creative lot and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in :-)

MissNeriss wrote 7 years ago:

Letting go is such a daunting prospect. I'm also in a job and a company that leaves me dissatisfied, but my fear of 1. inability to find another job and 2. even bigger fear that my fledgling business will flounder keeps me here. That and the mortgage. I envy you Amanda!

Ute wrote 7 years ago:

Your writings are very inspiring and what you did is a great example for so many other expat women and men! Reinventing yourself and persuing your passion is the best alternative to a job that doesn't fit you anymore. Thanks for this.

Lindaajanssen wrote 7 years ago:

This post exemplifies Amanda's writing talent, skill and connection to her subject. The point about seeing things with new eyes after moving abroad especially resonates.

Chris Van Der Vlugt wrote 7 years ago:

Goed verhaal! Misschien moet ik ook maar naar het buitenland verhuizen. Inspirerend! Say hi to Lars! Chris

Ingrid Huibers wrote 7 years ago:

Brave move Amanda! I only started following your blog a few weeks ago, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. I am a Dutch mum, but I have been living abraod for the past eight years. This summer I am moving back to the Netherlands with my family. Anyway, keep the blog alive! (I will do the same for mine....)

Lars Van Mulligen wrote 7 years ago:

Admiring her work by default, this is again a little masterpiece! And Chris: Hi! (",)

Alida wrote 7 years ago:

Great post, Amanda. I always enjoy both your blogs!

Michelle wrote 6 years ago:

So true. I just finally let go and now work doing inventory and software design. It's been an uphill battle but doing what you love is what's important.

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