What to Do When Your Spouse Fails Miserably at a New Job

When my husband grew tired of his mortuary job in 2013, I wasn’t all that surprised. After all, working as a mortician means working in one of the most stressful and consuming jobs on the planet.

With constant days and evenings on call, a work schedule that frequently includes holidays and weekends, and the stress that comes with caring for grieving families, it’s enough to send almost anyone over the edge. In fact, the stress of the funeral industry is one of the reasons I quit working with him (in the mortuary office) when we started a side business just a year before.

Knowing just how stressful it was, I was extremely supportive when he started looking for a new job in a new field. But when he said he wanted to begin a new career for a financial and insurance company in sales, I was truly intrigued.

The fact that he’d never worked in sales before didn’t bug me at all; I felt confident in his ability to succeed in anything he put his mind to. The thing is, I just couldn’t imagine him working in sales. In my eyes, he wasn’t pushy enough to be a salesman – and he was far, far too sweet.

Still, I gave him the green light because he was so darned adamant about it. And with my support, he put in a three-week notice at work and began preparing for his new job. Because of the nature of life insurance sales, that included studying for some licensing exams he would need to take before he started training. Since he’s such a focused person, the work quickly consumed him.

And once his final day at work wrapped up, he was ecstatic. He would no longer be “on call” for work, plus he could quit working holidays and weekends, spend more time with his family, and have the potential to earn more money. Yes, his new career in life insurance would be commission-based — but he was so determined, he thought, there was no way he could fail.

And I believed him.

A Career in Sales Isn’t for Everyone

The first week of my husband’s training went fairly well, or so I thought. After sitting in a classroom from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, he would come home and tell me about his day. He was overwhelmed but determined to push through, he told me. I could tell he was stressed out, but I thought it was just par for the course.

But the illusion of hopeful success wore off soon enough, and I began to see how much he was really struggling. Where he was once relaxed and jovial in the evenings, he started to come off stressed, disturbed, and always deep in thought. After dinner, I would catch him staring off into space with a hopeless look in his eyes.

He was trying desperately to keep up appearances, but as his wife, I could see right through it. And about three weeks into training, he finally broke down and told me what was wrong.

As part of his sales job, he had to call 40 people he knew on the phone every single day. The intention of those calls was not only to set up appointments, but to get the names and numbers of more people to add to his rolls.

He hated this part, he said, because he loathed cold calling. Worse, he absolutely hated asking people he knew for their friends’ and family’s contact information. As a final nail in the coffin of his sales job dreams, he confided in me that he didn’t have a lot of faith in what he was selling– specifically, their whole-life insurance products.

While he outwardly expressed his desire to make his new job work, I could tell he was crumbling from within. So I wasn’t surprised at all when he told me he just couldn’t do it.

Goodbye, Dreams

Looking back, I should have known it would end this way. I mean, I worked with the boy for six years at his old job and saw him in action every day.

While I don’t know everything, I did know this: My husband isn’t a salesman.

In his role as a mortician, he went out of his way to help people save money. Where most people try to sell as much as they can, my husband always took a thoughtful approach when planning a funeral with a family– suggesting inexpensive alternatives when asked, never pushing the most expensive products or services, and helping people stay well within their spending limits.

He was never meant to work in sales to begin with because he isn’t a salesman; he is a helper. He’s the kind of person who isn’t motivated just by money, but by the greater good. He has always slept better at night knowing he’s made someone’s life easier – or that he helped them through a difficult time – but never because he made a certain amount of money or met a sales goal. Money has never been what drives him.

When my husband started having night sweats and panic attacks, we knew it was time to throw in the towel. The next few months were extremely hard as we figured out what to do and where to go from there.

Because my husband had one major skill set at the time – he opted to jump right back into the mortuary industry, the one place he was comfortable. Sadly, mortuary jobs are highly dependent on where you live. Since you generally need to live within 20 or 30 minutes of your job to perform your “on call” duties, we knew we would probably need to sell our house and move.

My husband remembers vividly what all of that was like – the feelings of failure he endured each moment he was awake, the sadness we felt selling the only home our children had known, and the desperation he felt leaving everything we knew behind.

Still, we came out the other end in a much better place. While I, too, shed many tears and spent countless hours worrying about my husband and our family, I have come to believe this change was exactly what we needed. And in the end, I’m so glad it happened – regardless of the pain we endured in the process.

How We Survived When My Husband Failed at His Job

Reaching that point took time and a lot of self-reflection, but I got there nonetheless. Although our recovery from the process felt natural and happened organically, I now recognize how each step we took helped us heal. Here’s how we managed – one step at a time:

Survival Tip #1: Take the time to really understand what they are going through.

When my husband started having second thoughts about his new job in sales, I tried not to judge. Instead, I listened intently to what he was telling me. No matter what, I knew I couldn’t help him until I really understood what was going on.

Because I learned what was really bothering him and listened without judgment, I was able to see why his new situation wasn’t working out. And since I understood the root of the problem, it was much easier for me to accept his decision and begin moving forward.

I asked myself if I could survive in a high-pressure sales environment, and I quickly realized the answer was “no.” A career in sales isn’t for everyone, we told ourselves, and that was perfectly okay. At the end of the day, I was proud of him for trying something new – something scary. Not everyone has the guts to jump out of their comfort zone, I told him, and I knew he had our best interests at heart all along.

Survival Tip #2: Reassess your budget.

While I was initially stressed out about money, I didn’t want to force my husband to endure a job he was miserable in, either. Either way, we needed to reassess our budget before I let him walk away from his new career.

In our case, the numbers worked out. Because I was earning a steady income at the time and our expenses were low, I was able to cover our bills in their entirety while he waited a month for his first paycheck from his new job. And since we had quite a bit of equity in our home, we were able to sell it without taking a loss.

This part is crucial for any family living through a job loss or unexpected work change: When paychecks aren’t coming in, it’s important to have a plan.

Of course, coming together on financial matters had other benefits for our family as well. In fact, sitting down together to figure out this part actually brought us closer together and reinforced the idea that we’re a team.

Survival Tip #3: Look at the bright side of things.

Where I could have spent years being bitter over the loss of our home and the fact that we had to move away from family and friends, I started looking at the bright side of things fairly quickly. While part of my new attitude was simply a strategy to encourage my husband and ease his fears, I really did find a lot to be happy about.

First, the area we were moving to had far superior schools than the area we were moving from. As a result, we moved from a struggling school district to one that is constantly rated as one of the top 15 in our state. Second, I quickly fell in love with our new area – the local parks, the city river, and the quirky downtown area. Finally, I learned to love our modest but new-to-us home, which is nestled in a mature neighborhood with two public pools and three parks.

I could have easily wallowed on what we’d lost instead – our old house, and the comfort that came with my husband’s stressful, but manageable old job. But if I had, I could have easily missed out on recognizing everything we gained.

While it’s hard to remain positive when you’re struggling, I’m so glad we found the courage to be hopeful. We still had our health, and we still had each other, after all. Everything else was just icing on the cake.

Survival Tip #4: Learn from the experience.

While my husband’s foray into sales and his subsequent failure was painful for all of us, we learned several hard-hitting lessons from the experience. And those lessons are ones we will carry into each new stage of our lives.

First, we learned that neither one of us is truly cut out for a job in sales. While we’re both hard workers, we aren’t the type who feel comfortable cold-calling family members and friends, or asking people to do things we wouldn’t do ourselves. And if either one of us could ever work in sales, it would have to be with a product we truly believed in.

Second, we realized the importance of the financial principles we were already living by – zero-sum budgeting, and of course, living below our means. If we weren’t living so far below our means, it would have been extremely difficult for my husband to quit his old job to try something new, and then to sell our home and move when it didn’t work out.

Come to think of it, all of the decisions we made – both good and bad – were made possible by the fact that we lived well below our means. And I suppose that’s the best lesson of all – the idea that what we’re doing actually works. Living below our means and well within our budget is what has given us options and freedom in our lives – and that includes the freedom to make mistakes.

I have always heard that there is a lesson to be learned in every struggle, and I believe that with my whole heart. But sometimes, you have to dig a little to find it.

The Bottom Line

My husband may not be a salesman, but he has plenty of other positive attributes that more than make up for it. He’s a patient and loving father. He’s honest and hard-working. He’s thoughtful and caring in ways I don’t always appreciate or expect. And, most importantly, he puts his family first – not work, hot his hobbies, and not his friends.

Failing at life insurance sales doesn’t define him, nor should it. The truth is, we’re all good at some things and not-so-great at others. Why should he be any different?

The only thing that has ever mattered to me was that he dusted himself off and kept trying. And that’s exactly what we did – together. After working another year or so in the mortuary business, my husband was finally able to quit his job to work on our online business with me. But that was only possible because he poured his heart and soul into making it work and creating a job for himself – one where he could work hard, but on his own terms.

Years later, we’re finally doing exactly what we wanted to do all along – working together at home doing something we love. If my husband had never had the courage to quit his job and try something new, I’m not sure we would be here.

Over time, I’ve learned that life was never meant to be perfect. Each triumph and loss has a hidden lesson, and we can use each of those lessons to become better – to become stronger. That’s why I supported my husband then and still support him now. Regardless of what job he works in, marriage is so much more.

Through thick and thin – for rich or for poor. Jobs are meant to come and go, but family is forever.

Have you ever failed at a job you were really excited about? How did you make it through? Please share your story below.

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Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.