Working with your Spouseby Tourguide on Thu 04 Nov 2010, 01 PM CET, Views: 715
Well it’s been two months, and thus far we are settling just fine here in Germany. I’ve hit the ground running in my new job and Rachel has really gotten back into the swing of things being a software training as well. Often, I must remind myself that, while this job is really only a subtle transformation of the activities I’ve already been performing for the past few years, for Rachel this is a much more radical adjustment.
Many of my work colleagues are new to her, even though she’s heard me discuss them in the past, and much about AHLTA, the software she teaches, has changed considerably since she walked away from it in 2006. I must say though that she’s been a trooper about all of this.
Following your husband into the same job can be a challenge. Particularly, since I have made a pretty good name for myself in the small world that is military medicine. Opening yourself up to be compared and contrasted with your spouse professionally can put a strain on any marriage, and I can think of few other people who would ever attempt it.
Additionally, there will be assumptions of nepotism. While there are over 30 sites across Europe for AHLTA trainers to be assigned to, the spots here at Landstuhl, the flagship of Europe, are a prized commodity. And several trainers got bumped out of the way to make room for Rachel. There’s no question that there will be those that think that Rachel got her job here at Landstuhl only by her affiliation with me, and that she may be unqualified to perform it.
As there are relatively few trainers in the world who have a background in AHLTA, and no one has heard Rachel’s name in the four years since she left, this is a natural conclusion. Besides, how many husband wife teams are really dual qualified?
However, I would never put Rachel in a position in which I didn’t think she could succeed, and I openly welcome challenges from those who feel Rachel’s hiring into the GS system and transfer here to Germany was purely based on who-she-knows and not what-she-knows.
Let’s look at her resume. Rachel is a formally trained AHLTA trainer, graduating in the last TPW class to ever take place (the formal AHLTA trainer certification program), with over a year of field training experience at military facilities around the world. Rachel holds a Master’s degree that is clinically related, has worked extensively in a hospital in a clinical capacity, and she has been a credentialed teacher for the last 7 years.
I mean, …damn. If I were looking for someone to teach AHLTA to clinicians in a hospital, I would be hard pressed to find a better candidate. Off paper Rachel offers even more. A warm personality, caring demeanor, strong work ethic and a perpetual desire to make herself better at her job. Rachel was an all-star trainer when she walked away from the field in 2006, and I predict it will just be a few months before she finds her footing again and silences those who think she is just “Ron Yeaw’s wife.”
I have also have had some work to do justifying my near meteoric rise in the GS system. Coming straight from “lowly contractor” into a managerial GS position within the European region certainly got the attention of those who have spent careers here toiling their way up the government ladder. Thus far, I think I have handled these concerns as tactfully as possibly when interacting with the other regional staff. Like Rachel, I feel that I will be successful here, and that in short order my actions and capabilities will wholeheartedly justify the decisions of those who chose to give me this amazing opportunity.
But, such is life for anyone who starts a new job in a new town. Being the” new guy” in a tightly closed and controlled system, like the GS world, is a tough a label. And its one that Rachel and I both share. But I’m used to interacting in new worlds each time I go to a new Army hospital, and I’m used to be considerably younger than my peers (a distinction that fades a bit more every year).
But one good thing about the IT world is that it is almost “expected” that IT gurus are younger than everyone, which is an odd inversion of the whole age=experience paradigm. One of my bosses here says anyone over 40 is what he calls a “digital immigrant,” and folks in my generation are “digital natives.” There is some truth to that. I like to see it as some are actually “digital refugees,” sure they came over, …but they ain’t happy about it. 😉
The best piece of advice I can offer for walking into a new place, is to not try too hard to impress everyone when you first arrive. Listen, take in your environment, and try to absorb the culture and politics of your new surroundings as much as possible, before you do *anything* that may impact it.
As my boss also says, you don’t walk into someone’s house and start moving their furniture around. Sure the furniture may look better your way, but it is not your place. The “relationship” phase is the most tumultuous part of any new job transition. Slowly, you have to build the trust and respect of those peers you will be working with, for, and managing. I’ve found that if you simply focus on learning the rules of engagement and stick to doing your job as well as possible, the rest will come.
However, no matter which way you play it, there is a time period that must occur for this professional respect to build organically. You try to shortcut that through shortsighted, over-exuberant actions, and you could build walls within your new environment that could take years to tear down.
There is no question Rachel and I are still in this phase now. But I believe we are both handling it well. I give her the space she needs to work independently with her new training colleagues to develop that connection, and she does what she can to give me the space I need when it’s clear that certain management activities, that directly affect her peers, are occurring.
It’s a tough road working alongside your spouse, particularly when you are in similar swim lanes, but thus far we have navigated it well. The best part about working with your spouse is when you come home from a long, hard day at work you don’t have to talk about it. You already know, because you both were there. This is powerful for numerous reasons.
The most common cause behind divorces are couples who wake up one day and realize that their lives have simply drifted apart. They have evolved into different people, independent of their partner. A big cause of this is the large part of your life that occurs at work. Sadly, the most energetic and engaging part of our days are spent from 9am to 5pm. What remains for our spouses and loved ones when we get home is, often, leftovers.
You’re tired, spent both physically and emotionally. You just want to unplug and veg out when you finally leave work. However, imagine being able to spend that time of the day with them when you are filled with the most energy, when you are truly yourself. That is what Rachel and I get to do.
Still, its not all roses working with your spouse. Particularly when work gets stressful. One good part about leaving drama at work, is that it stays there. When your spouse is part of that drama, it comes home with you. The toughest thing for Rachel and I to do is to have to sit there at times and bite our tongue. It is *so* easy to want to defend one another, or advocate for each other, at the office, but, often, it is not appropriate. Knowing when we are playing the role of husband-wife and when we are just work colleagues can be a tough tightrope to navigate. Particularly, as I am a manager, there are times when I am forced to just walk away from a situation.
I’ve seen doctors blow up at Rachel for no other reason than that they are stressed out, and I’ve seen tense interactions with her peers over professional disagreements. In each one of them I would have been able to exert influence in the situation, but it just wasn’t my place. At times I have to let Rachel, as a colleague, fight her own battles. And she has to do the same for me. I’ve seen her in meetings physically biting her lip and just staring up at the ceiling when my boss has reprimanded me over something that I had nothing to do with (well, almost nothing, ha, ha). It’s hard to see your loved ones struggle.
Additionally, I also have to be careful should Rachel do well. If she is praised, or called out by a doctor for doing great work, I need to make sure I distance myself so others don’t suspect that I somehow orchestrated it. Believe me, …they will. If Rachel is select for a much sought-after conference or assignment (i.e. going to Venice or back to the States), I have to spend a good amount of energy making my part in all of it be as transparent as possible. She takes what she earns, no more, …no less.
Unfortunately, this also means trying to keep an, at times, overly professional demeanor with each other in public. It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to be holding hands or be overly familiar with each other at work, which is a really odd transition for us, as you can imagine. Now I won’t say we don’t give each other the occasional reassuring squeeze on the arm, or steal a kiss on the cheek from time to time, but we do what we can to not make others uncomfortable.
If we can maintain an ability to be independently appraised, while still being mutually successful, we will have succeeded. Seeing Rachel excel and accomplish so much already fills me with endless pride, but I have to keep it to myself. Thus is the life of married spouses working in the same space. It can be tough at times, and a difficult road to navigate, but it can also be amazingly rewarding. We are always husband and wife, but in meetings, and at conferences we go about business as two very talented colleagues.
A majority of the doctors and nurses we meet have no indication that we’re married. From a professional perspective this is what I want to accomplish. And, thus far, I think we’ve done a great job. I do my job, Rachel does hers, and at the end of the day we both transition back to being a happily married couple, many folks none-the-wiser.
Still I do have to chuckle when I doctor or coworker comes up to me and says, “Wow, …so who’s the new girl?” 😉