Career change: Poor spouse, poor me

My husband recently changed careers. Well, not really recently– actually two years ago. But for those of you who have never endured a career change, two years is nothing. It still feels like the beginning because salary-wise, you are at the beginning.

For the most part, his switch has been going well. He went from management positions in the entertainment industry to field research in a social justice think tank. Basically, he spends his days in prisons, trying to get the government to implement new programs.

He made the change exactly the way a career advisor would recommend– not surprising since he has to eat dinner with one every night. For those of you considering a change, here's the plan he followed:

Step 1. Soul search. Consider all aspects of change including lifestyle, pay, and any education you'll need. Be realistic about what you value in life and work.

Step 2. Downsize. Get rid of huge car payments, huge mortgage payments, and huge expectations for dinners, vacations, and clothes.

Step 3. Network. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs do not have skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.

Step 4. Try it out. You'll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering– or taking a part-time job– will allow you to go back to your original career if need be.

After step four, there is nothing but taking the leap. So my husband did. His mentor at his new job is 10 years younger than he is. His boss makes 25 percent less than what my husband's paycheck used to be. The people below my husband in the pecking order are college interns. And this is two years after he made the switch.

By all measures, though, my husband is flourishing in his new career. He's at a top non-profit agency, he's writing significant papers, he's working with geniuses. But he's making no money.

I keep telling myself that this is what we knew would happen. That we traded money for career happiness. I assure myself that my husband will make more money later, when he's not swimming in the ranks of college interns.

I know he feels guilty because he really, really, really, doesn't want to go back to the entertainment industry. And I can't stop thinking, "If you're unhappy in both careers, why not be unhappy in the one that pays more?"

I know you're thinking, "Gosh, Penelope, can you be a little more supportive?" But don't say that until you've had a spouse throw away a lucrative career. And anyway, I'm trying; I see there is one more step on the career change checklist that we probably should have done:

Step 5: Set spousal expectations. I should have gone through the process with my husband. I should have evaluated with him what sacrifices I can make, what lifestyle expectations I had, even how happy I expected him to be. I was so determined to let him make his own decisions that I'm finding now that I'm the one floundering.

You think, at some point, that you know for sure a career change was good. But that's not true for everyone. Or, maybe it's true for everyone, but not in the first few years. Yes, you can be sure that the new job is more fun or more rewarding than the old job, but how much more fun do you need to be having in order to justify the financial sacrifice?

I'm not sure. So we keep going on the career change path, hoping to find the answer buried beneath the indignities.