My husband and I have pursued dramatically different careers; I spend my life in front of a computer, and he spends his life climbing trees (he’s a professional arborist). But one commonality we share is that we both shine when we have the flexibility to pursue our talents and passions in the way that makes us happiest. At the moment, this pursuit has led us all the way from frosty New England to Hawaii, and to the beach from which I’m writing. Here’s how work flexibility helped us get here.
For my husband, flexibility has meant years of travelling the world. Through a strong network of fellow tree climbers, he’s found job opportunities that have taken him all across his native England as well as to Germany, Sweden, Norway, Bermuda, and Canada. His international stints have lasted anywhere from a few days to many months. Each day for him is different—he might be climbing a 200-foot Douglas Fir or pruning a four-foot Japanese Maple. Most mornings he starts work before the crack of dawn, but sometimes he finishes by noon and other times not until after sunset.
But the one way that my husband’s job is rigid is that he has to be physically present in the trees he’s working on. And that for him is the real joy of what he does; he loves the variety each day brings, with a new tree in a new place.
Now that we’re married, as much as we both love to travel, his transient lifestyle wouldn’t be the best fit for us as a couple long-term. And as he’s gotten older he’s realized it’s not quite as much fun as it once was to be in a new country every few months. So for the most part, we are comfortably settled in New England, where there’s a huge variety of trees even in a small-ish area to make him happy.
But snowy, stormy winters don’t make for ideal tree climbing conditions. So this year, when he was offered a temporary post in Hawaii for January & February, it was a no-brainer for him to jump at the chance and go.
And thanks to the flexibility of my own job (location is irrelevant to the work I do), we were able to make a decision as a couple to make the trip together. As a result, I’m now writing this post from a beach on the coast of Oahu! Isn’t work flexibility fantastic?
No doubt, my husband and I are hugely fortunate to be in a position to take advantage of an opportunity like this one. And in this case, our work flex certainly seems like a perk rather than a necessity—it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if he had gone off to Hawaii by himself for a few weeks and I had stayed behind.
But throughout our relationship, he and I have faced situation after situation where we’ve needed the flexibility to be in the same place at the same time. First, when he broke his back and spent many months in a brace unable to walk, and needed my help around the house to make sure he didn’t injure himself further. Next, when his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in England while we were based in the U.S., and he desperately needed to travel to be with her during her the last months of her life. Next, when work where we were living went dry for him and his only opportunity to make any sort of income was to travel to where the work was.
A few years ago, at my last job, when all these various circumstances came up, I was told by management that we all have choices to make in our lives, and sometimes those choices mean that we can’t be the caretaker and the breadwinner at the same time, or that husbands and wives have to be apart for periods of time. That’s just the way the world works, I was told.
It’s true that the world used to work that way. Countless women and men have had to choose between caretaking and breadwinning, and countless couples have endured lengthy separations due to the pulls of jobs and/or family. But thanks to our incredible advances in technology, that’s no longer the way the world *has* to work.
Of course, we do all have choices to make in our lives. And fortunately I was able to choose to leave the rigidity and old-fashioned mindset of my previous employer, and move on to an organization and a movement redefining the very meaning of choice. That means that if my husband ever needs me to take care of him for any reason, I’ll be able to do that. It means that if a family member of ours is suddenly taken ill, we’ll be able to spend time with them together. And right now, it means that my husband and I can both work in Hawaii during a cold winter, and I can write this blog post sitting by the ocean.
Isn’t it time we should all be able to say that this is the way the world works? Help make sure everyone has the same access to choices that make sense for the 21st century. Join 1 Million for Work Flexibility today.
photo credit: Emma Plumb—My “desk” in Hawaii