“In March, the whole company is going to San Francisco for a week,” my husband Andreas told me one night last January.
We'd been living in Copenhagen since 2008. I didn't have a job lined up when I finished graduate school in the U.S., and since Andreas did, I'd moved with him back to his native Denmark.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
I hadn't been home to the States in two years, so when he mentioned San Francisco, I shrieked, “We’re going home!”
The move to Copenhagen was meant to be temporary—a sort of gap year for me to write and explore. Nearly three years later, Andreas's company had become a hit in the start-up world. Since we couldn’t walk away from the opportunity to see his work through to the next phase—and because I could be based anywhere as a journalist—we hadn’t left.
His and Hers Entrepreneurs
When Andreas and I met in 2006, he’d been building collaborative online software with two friends as a side project. By 2009, he’d joined his friends full time. Although we didn't expect him to make much money, we agreed it was a great opportunity. He loved what he was doing and felt lucky to work with friends every day. How could I not support that?
At the same time, I was struggling to get my freelance writing career off the ground. Being one half of an entrepreneurial couple should have been reassuring, but it made me increasingly self-conscious instead. No matter how many hours I’d clock in front of my monitor, sending pitches and letters of introduction to editors, Andreas would usually work just as much—or more—than I did. Since I often had less to show for my efforts, I felt that I had to work even harder, which seemed impossible.
What bothered me most was the constant assumption that I—the woman—would readily take one for the team.
We also didn’t have financial reserves to fall back on. The cost of the move to Europe, and the associated immigration bureaucracy, wiped out our savings. For the first few years—especially as I was struggling to make what I considered to be enough—we were terrified.
At night, we’d lay awake, unable to sleep, talking about the best- and worst-case scenarios, wondering if we should be doing things differently.
Why I Was Convinced I'd Made a Huge Mistake
While some people relish the opportunity to live overseas, I initially loathed it with a fierceness that was bewildering and unbecoming. Life in Europe is supposed to be glamorous and exciting, but the pain of being so far away from home—without knowing exactly when I’d return—permeated my emotional core.
What bothered me most was the constant assumption that I—the woman—would readily take one for the team. Putting my career on hold, as if my aspirations were less important, actually seemed to make sense to other expat couples we met. Most of the wives followed their husbands' jobs from country to country, and it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that we might be getting the short end of the stick.
I worried that, despite our best efforts, Andreas and I wouldn’t be able to undo the precedent we’d set—that his career might always come first or his ability to make more money would somehow determine how we prioritized our goals. Shortly after moving, I’d realized that my career could only grow so much without opportunities to network in person. I was concerned that, in the long term, not being able to make a lot of headway at that time would mean that I’d forever make less money and have a lesser career—even if I didn’t entirely know what that meant.
To make ends meet, I took on some dog-walking clients, but my self-esteem only plummeted further when I realized that my strongest competition was neighborhood teens willing to pet-sit for free. The one desk job that I did manage to find was in an office full of similarly desperate, miserable expats who seemed to take special pride in sabotaging one another.
The lack of job opportunities for foreigners eclipsed all of the other wonderful things in my life: the new friends we were making, the weeks and weeks of vacation we had each summer, the long evening bike rides into the countryside that gave us time to bond as a couple. While battling culture shock and wallowing in my self-pity, I had ignored the fact that I was once thrilled to move to Copenhagen.
Why I Now Think It Was the Best Decision
“She left before they were bought by Google,” Andreas said one night, referencing a well-known start-up co-founder who departed her fledgling company before it was acquired. “I mean, she probably made a lot of money, anyway,” he went on. “I doubt she regrets it, but I still think she left too early.”
Why is he telling me this? I wondered. “Do you worry about leaving your company too soon?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I just think it’s an interesting story,” he said.
Without meaning to, he'd reminded me that we were both working toward exciting, long-term goals. Even if his dedication to his company didn’t pay off with an acquisition or exit typical of innovative start-ups, he’d built something he cared about—and learned a lot while doing it. He wanted to see it through to some kind of natural end. This was something that we agreed he deserved to do.
The thing I’d been lacking was perspective: What we have is the definition of a partnership, and compromise is just part of the deal.
Most importantly, we were equally committed to our life together. Neither of us had to walk away from our dreams or each other. I had everything I wanted—a terrific partner, my career of choice and the chance to live in a beautiful city.
The thing I’d been lacking was some perspective: What we have is the definition of a partnership, and compromise is just part of the deal.
After that, things got crazy very quickly for Andreas' company. The months of exponential growth—a stretch of 2010 that rocketed four guys huddled in a basement into an office with nearly 20 employees—are a blur. Last fall, Andreas and I relocated to San Francisco, where the new U.S. office was up and running.
Since arriving, my network has rapidly expanded, and my income has tripled. Early last year, a multinational public company acquired the company Andreas had helped build. Looking back, I finally feel that our Copenhagen compromise paid off. We were fortunate to ride out the worst of the recession abroad, only to come back and land on our feet. We wouldn't have done it any other way.
And we’re even luckier that we got to do it together.
Brittany Shoot is a San Francisco-based journalist who writes for Time, Mental Floss and Spirituality & Health.
Love reading other people’s financial tales? Check out more great LearnVest-exclusive personal stories.