According to the U.S. Census, more than 35 million Americans pack up their homes and move each year. The third most popular reason for moving is work related--behind only getting a new house or starting a family. Though most of these moves are within the country (and even more are within the same state), a significant number of professionals are moving abroad to seek the unique opportunities that multinational businesses offer.
My husband's business took our family to China for three years and then Kenya for another year. I know of several other entrepreneurs who have moved to places as varied as Nepal, India, and The Gambia (in West Africa).
Moving While Starting a Business is Especially Hard
For entrepreneurs and their families, moving to a new area poses particular challenges. Adjusting to life in an unfamiliar place and culture can already be all-consuming. Throw a startup into the mix, and you have created a perfect storm of stress that could overwhelm your family.
We can use the Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, a list of stressful life events that contribute to illness, to think about this quantitatively. If you add together all the changes that starting a new business and moving to a new place lead to, these two choices could easily put you and your family over the scale's threshold score for someone at high risk of illness.
When we lived in China, in the early days of my husband's company, we worked sixteen-hour days while trying to adjust to life in a foreign mega-city where we were illiterate and didn't know how anything worked. We had no support network, and no time to build a support network. During those years, we both battled numerous infections and illnesses, as well as anxiety, depression, and burnout.
How to Do Both in a Sustainable Way
But our time in Kenya has been entirely different, mainly because we learned some hard lessons in China that we applied during our second stint overseas. We've learned that it is possible to run your business and live in a new place in a sustainable way.
When evaluating whether or not to move for your company, the location itself absolutely matters. Can this place provide what your family needs?
Here are five questions, most of which you should be able to answer in the affirmative before asking your family to move with you:
1) Can you find a home that feels comfortable and safe?
When moving to an unfamiliar place, your home will feel like a refuge. It is the one place where you and your family can feel in control of their surroundings. Make sure it is a realistic and affordable option for you to find a home in which the entire family will feel comfortable and safe.
2) Will there be something meaningful for your spouse to do?
"Trailing spouse syndrome" plagues individuals who move with their partners to a new place and find themselves without work, community, or purpose. No individual--man or woman--wants to live with such aimlessness. If your spouse is not working in the business, make sure he or she will have options for meaningful activity in the form of employment, volunteer opportunities, or social events.
3) Are there places, organizations, and activities available that will help you connect socially?
No entrepreneur can succeed alone, and neither can an entrepreneur's family. Making friends in your new location is a priority. One simple way to assess the friend potential of an area is to see whether any of the activities that you enjoy most as a family--such as outdoor sports, arts and culture, or church services--are available. If so, then you have a good chance of meeting like-minded families there.
4) Are there decent, doable schooling and activity options for your children?
When we moved to Kenya, my greatest concerns were for the well-being and education of our young son. We explored everything from hiring a nanny to enrolling him in local and international schools. Once my son was settled into his preschool, everything else about the transition felt easier. You and your spouse will be happier and have more capacity to manage the move if you know your children will be well cared for.
5) Can you find at least one trustworthy individual in the area who can help you when necessary?
Having casual friends is one thing; having someone you can call on if you are seriously stuck or in an emergency is quite another. Since the entrepreneur in the family will likely be extremely busy and may even travel out of the area, your family will benefit greatly from knowing that they have a safety net--someone who will look out for them if anything goes wrong.