In American culture, a person's identity is linked to his or her job. We make assumptions, sometimes incorrectly, about an individual based on his or her profession. When a person is occupied in a way that makes it difficult to label him or her as a teacher, doctor, lawyer, homemaker, etc., the average American may find him or herself at a loss as how to define this person. We want want to know what you do.
Indeed, having something to do is important to our sense of self, and having fulfilling work contributes to our happiness, but the nature of the foreign service lifestyle requires an FSO's family members to be extraordinarily flexible regarding career opportunities, school choices, and many other aspects of daily life. For some FS family members, it is difficult to see past these losses to appreciate the rewards.
When our family decided to pursue a life in the foreign service, we agreed that I would not be expected to have a paid job. Although many foreign service families do not feel that one income will support their needs--perhaps especially those with kids heading to college--foreign service family members are not guaranteed a job at post. Thus, family member employment is an important element of the Family Liaison Office's advocacy and resource development. However, even though I do not feel compelled to have a paid job, I do seek "active indispensable employment."
Regardless of whether or not I am paid, I will always be able to define myself as a social worker as long as my work contributes to social justice and social change. However, before we left Florida, I wasn't sure that volunteer work could sustain my career. And I was concerned that not being paid could make me feel that I was less of a contributing family member.
I am no longer worried. As I research the opportunities to practice social work in Manila, I find myself drawn to volunteer and per diem work rather than full time paid jobs. Although that may change, I also realize that if I have a full time job as an embassy office worker, I will have less time to explore the city and learn about Filipino culture. However I employ myself, looking for work as a foreign service spouse is difficult, but offers the opportunity to expand one's definition of a meaningful occupation.