(Book Excerpt) We have heard a lot about the need for women to “lean in” to their careers. Throughout my life, work always defined who I was. I never needed any encouragement to make the most out of every career or professional opportunity that came my way. But when my husband Alan became an US ambassador, I had to shift my frame of reference and make the best of a series of opportunities outside of what I had considered my “career” to that point. What I learned during my time in Spain is that it is possible to recreate one’s assigned role—and to reinvent one’s career in the process.
I believe in seizing opportunities, even when we don’t really know how they will turn out. With openness and a willingness to experiment, not to mention persistence and a little hard work, we can make any situation our own. That’s just as true for me as it would be for the wife of a soldier assigned to a new base clear across the country, for the husband of a woman who has just been named CEO, or for anyone seeking a new identity or voice. Whatever your new reality is, you can play second fiddle—and yet not be second fiddle. If spouse doesn’t really capture this new, more complex way of being, then we need to create a new name for it. We can find ways to make a difference and create meaningful paths for ourselves.
This book describes my efforts to find a new identity for myself, and recounts the joy and power I experienced while finding my voice.
Ultimately, I believe my journey illustrates what’s possible for all of us in life. After my time in Spain, I can tell you that a middle-aged woman can uproot herself from her comfortable existence and find her way. We often hear about the “gig economy” and how people’s lives are no longer set in stone, where they take one job, stay with it their entire life, and then retire. Instead, people now embark on many different jobs and career paths, sometimes simultaneously, and in no set order.
These days, retirement—a word I strongly dislike—often is just another word for a life change. My experience as recounted in this book thus reflects what is happening to millions of men and women across the country and the world. My personal story demonstrates that even after enjoying a career that has defined your entire life, you can embark on a fresh and fulfilling path. This is true even when you occupy a status with no salary, role, or concrete set of expectations.
Read her book Lost and Found in Spain Tales of an Ambassador’s Wife by Susan Lewis Solomont.