by NIGEL MARSH
Yesterday I took part in the worst radio interview. Ever.
“We welcome Nigel Marsh from Australia to the show. Thanks for getting up so early Nigel. Let’s get straight to it – why do you advise our male listeners take a career break to stay at home?”
“Err… I wouldn’t. I don’t know any of them and in many cases I’m sure leaving their job to stay at home would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.”
I waited for him to ask me to elaborate on my views. Instead , after a buttock –clenchingly awkward silence, he cut to a commercial break and we proceeded to have an argument off air after which he wouldn’t let me back on air. Oh well maybe I’ll conquer America next year.
There’s a serious point to the story however. I continually meet people who want me to parrot a simple ‘all men should take a year off’ mantra – because that’s what I’ve done, several times in fact. But I refuse, as I believe the issue is a complex one and warrants a more thorough and thoughtful analysis. So this is what I intended to say if he had continued the interview with a simple follow up “please explain” question…
Most people can ill afford to take time off from their work. Even if they can afford it in the short term it can have a seriously negative impact on their future career prospects and earning potential. If the financial side of things is covered I still advice caution as many men that talk to me have a tendency to romanticize the wonderful life they could live if they didn’t have to go the office. I describe the frequent loneliness, uncertainty, lack of structure, fall in status and never ending domestic tasks that can be a real shock to a man who has only ever plowed the corporate path.
But even if all the above doesn’t put you off I still don’t recommend anyone does it unless they have got to the bottom of what their partner feels about it. And I don’t mean what they say to be supportive, but what they truly feel in their heart.
Every case is different so it is impossible to generalize for your listeners. But assume for a moment one of them is a married man who up until now has been the breadwinner whilst his partner has taken on the responsibility for bringing up the kids and running the home. I would be at pains to warn him of the devastating effect taking a career break could have on his wife. She could be enormously uncomfortable with having her space at home suddenly invaded by a newly stay at home Dad.
Indeed one Mum told me it felt like she had been fired from her job when her husband was fired from his. If up until now the unwritten agreement was that he would earn the money its not unreasonable that his partner mightn’t appreciate him reneging on the deal without properly consulting her. Whilst the decision to break free from the joyless grind of the Hamster Wheel could be invigorating and life affirming for him it could be deeply depressing and frustrating for her.
There is also one other sensitive topic – and there’s no gentle way to put this – it is entirely possible that his partner won’t be as attracted to him if he stops work. I’m not talking here about the tiny unrepresentative minority of women who just view their husbands as walking wallets and run for the hills when things go wrong. I’m talking about real, rounded, loving, intelligent people. If the person they fell for twenty years ago was a thrusting corporate warrior it can take a bit of adjustment to feel the same way about him once he’s turned into bread baking, school run organizing homebody.
Some people, however subconsciously, need to see their partners striding out of the door, masterfully carrying a briefcase to find them appealing (its not by chance that the lead character in 50 Shades is written as a CEO not a SAHD) . And I’m not blaming them. Everyone is different. While I like to believe in the real world people grow in love rather than fall in love and change is a good thing – not everyone does. Nor should they. The bottom line is however much you might want a break your partner might not want you at home.
Obviously that’s not to say you should stay in a soul destroying job for the next ten years just so you can get your leg over, but it is to say your partners perspective needs to be thoroughly examined before you do anything drastic. Having said all that if you still want to make the leap I truly believe it can be the best ,most joyous, decision you ever make – both for your soul and your relationship. But hey, I would say that wouldn’t I?
Now I humbly reckon that would have made a far better interview than the five second version I was actually allowed to give.
Nigel is the bestselling author of ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’ and ‘Overworked and Underlaid‘. Currently making a TV series of his first book with the creators of Friends, Nigel’s third book , ‘Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up‘ , was launched this week.