How I Lost Myself, Found Myself, and Reinvented Myself after an international move ...
Updated: Mar 30
The personal growth I’ve undergone in the last 5 years as an accompanying spouse has been tremendous and transformative. But rarely was this growth easy. At times, it has been daunting, destabilizing, paralyzing, and exhausting.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but in my first year as an accompanying spouse, I went through an identity crisis. Who was I in the world? What was my purpose? What do I contribute? What is my value? What am I doing? I felt disconnected from myself and from the world around me.
When I left Canada in 2017 and moved to Europe with my partner, I left behind a strong community of family and friends who helped me feel connected and grounded. Without them, I felt untethered. When I moved, I didn’t anticipate how much leaving behind a 10-year career in higher education would impact my sense of self. I suddenly felt listless when I wasn’t spending my days connecting with colleagues and supporting students. In my first months as an accompanying spouse, I lost sight of my strengths; I had no outlet for who I was, what I enjoyed, or what fed my soul.
When you don’t feel like yourself anymore, where do you begin?
Looking Inward: I had to remind myself of my values, strengths, and purpose. When the outside world feels unfamiliar, refocus internally and remind yourself of exactly who you are and what value you bring to the world. When I felt most lost, I had to rediscover my sense of self, piece by piece. I achieved this through reflection and discussions with a coach, friends, and family.
Looking Outward: I had to figure out what activities helped me feel like myself, and practice those activities as often as I could. For me, I am a helper, so I sought ways to help. It required me to get creative, and to adjust my expectations, because traditional employment wasn’t immediately accessible for me. I could not recreate what I had done before I moved; I needed to try something new in order to reconnect with myself.
It was only after I started feeling like myself again that I was able to take the next steps and reinvent myself.
Growing up as a woman in Canada, diplomacy is praised. I learned to let go of some of my diplomatic instincts that were holding me back, and my communication style has become more direct, confident, and powerful. I also found the vision, courage, and drive to start my own coaching business, something I NEVER would have considered until my initial career trajectory was disrupted.
I hesitate to write about my identity journey, wondering, “Will this discourage people from moving internationally?” I certainly hope not. I want to encourage partners and families to move internationally. I do not regret my time as an accompanying spouse: I am a healthier, stronger version of myself because of it, and that growth wouldn’t have happened had I stayed in my home country. I choose to be honest in my writing because I think it’s crucial to approach an international relocation with eyes wide open.
Too often we assume that accompanying spouses live a life of leisure, adventure, and ease. To a certain degree, this can be true - I acknowledge there is immense freedom and privilege in being an accompanying spouse. But that’s not the whole story. So many of us want to contribute, want to feel valued and purposeful, and we are longing, grasping for any opportunity to reclaim our sense of self in our new, unfamiliar home.
My goals in writing about my experiences are:
If you are an accompanying spouse and you feel lost, know that you are not alone, and that it gets better.
If you’re not an accompanying spouse, please adjust your understanding of our experience.
Moving internationally for your partner’s job can be a wondrous, transformative, destabilizing adventure, and I am the better for it.
Liz Parsons has been an accompanying spouse since 2017, through 2 international relocations. She is a certified coach with 10+ years experience, a Master of Education degree, and the Founder of Comfort Challenge Coaching. Liz helps accompanying spouses and partners feel like themselves again after an international move.