I'm a restless European -- should I come to America?

I'm full of ideas, and my company headquarters is there.

By Cary Tennis
Published October 29, 2008 10:00AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a European working for a great global company in a regional office in Europe, and I like my job. I have a loving wife and a wonderful baby son, and we're not too far away from our families in Europe.

But inevitably, part of me yearns for more. This year I've made moves to find out about openings at headquarters in the good old U.S. of A., and in fact a couple of really great opportunities have turned up. These wouldn't be permanent, just a year or two.

What are my motivations? Well, partly it's true that more interesting stuff goes on in the center: Inevitably out here in the sticks you're a bit of a poorer cousin. I have (or at least I believe I have) all these great ideas, and I think to myself, if only I could spend some time where it's at in the big H.Q., I could cut through all this regional politics and have a big impact (and do good stuff; I believe in the company). But it's also true that I like the idea of the adventure, seeing and experiencing a different part of the world, the travel possibilities, the new friends. And what I know of the U.S. lifestyle and attitude, I like.

So where's the problem? It's on the family side. My wife really, really doesn't want to do this. She likes the idea of an adventure in principle, but the reality of being 4,000 miles away from home, a new start, distance from her family -- that weighs on her much, much more. She's dreading the idea much more than looking forward to it. A couple of other things are in play here as well -- she's taken some time out from her career, partly to start a family with me, and wants to get it back on track before it's too late. In theory she could work in the U.S., but without the network, etc., that looks to her like a tough ask. She wants to buy a big house close to family, settle in and start saving to put the kids through college.

At the same time, I've got an opportunity for advancement in a new and fairly interesting role here in Europe with the same company. It's not quite my dream job, but given the reality of spending most of my future career here, it's a good opportunity, which I'll have to think seriously about turning down.

All these issues are very much out in the open between us; they've caused some tension, but for the most part we're trying to work through them together. In fact, where we are now is kind of a stalemate of consideration; I'm leaning toward not going, she's pushing me back the other way because she doesn't want to tread on my dreams. Then the next day I'm trying to talk up the pros of going, and she's pushing back on me about the sacrifices she'll have to make.

In writing all this down I realize there's a hidden issue here: Her dream is the big house, two big jobs, private school, elite college for the kids. Very much the dream and path of our group of friends. It's not my dream. I mean, I don't object to it, and I want to give it to her, but on my own I wouldn't go that route. I would value experience, adventure, creativity, being able to have an impact on the world much higher; and I'd make sacrifices on where we live and income to get to that. Of course, one doesn't necessarily have to make those sacrifices -- if it all works out everyone can be happy. But I worry a bit that I'll get trapped in a mortgage, school fees, expensive-lifestyle cycle, on a career path that's good but not quite what I love. So this adventure for a year or two would be kind of a last hurrah before settling down for that.

Of course, I know you're going to say that in my heart of hearts I know what I want and I should follow that path, but honestly, I don't. For myself, I'd like to go, but the last thing I want is to make my wife really unhappy. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that in the meantime, living with the decision is really debilitating. Can your wise words help us steer a path here?

Frozen in the Headlights

Dear Frozen in the Headlights,

I confess I am a little envious; I picture your plans, your friends, your opportunities, and yes, I am a little envious but also a little concerned that you do not make the wrong choice.

America may seem like a wide open place to a European. Especially to a European of ambition and wit and good intentions, the kind of man you would think America would embrace, it must seem like his soul's destination. But to mistake our personal lack of circumspection for openness to new ideas in the corporate world might well be to expose your gullet to the bodkins of a corporate world governed by the same savage, clannish competition for power and security that has governed the houses of Europe for millenniums, a world that, frankly, may take savage, clannish delight in crushing not only the ideas but the very person of the bright, innovative stranger from Europe.

It depends, of course. You know who you're working for. But your chance of success or failure in the royal court of the home office is only part of the argument. The main part has to do with your relative chances for a long, happy and harmonious marriage and family life.

You know what your wife wants. She's bending over backward to make you happy but you know what she wants. If you made the wrong choice she would go along. She would rouse herself and might even enjoy parts of it.

But it would be, in a sense, a breaking of faith. She is not going to hold you down. She is hoping she doesn't have to. She is hoping, I believe, that you will see through her eyes the beautiful life that is ahead of you, and that you will see that it must be grown carefully, that every year counts.

So why not be conservative and appreciate the beautiful, orderly and modest way that your family and your fortunes can grow, close to home, in the bosom of home and loved ones, on the soil that you know and love, in a realm you understand.

My wish for you is that in the emotional economy of your marriage, you are conservative about the store of goods, that you bank this one as you would bank the coals of a late-night fire for the morning.

You may need it when you run for office, or decide to dig in the land of the pharaohs.

Where is home? Where should we live? Read pp. 13, 192, 196, 200 ...

Heck, just read the whole book!

"Since You Asked," the best of Cary Tennis, signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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