You Lost Your Spouse – Do You Need a New Career?

Professional woman reconsidering her career after death of husband

Losing your spouse turns your world upside down.  Everything changes.  Plans you have had, goals you were working towards, can all change, sometimes in an instant.  It can be hard to wrap your mind around everything that has changed, and that will change, in your life.  One major change that often results from losing a spouse is a career change.  Whether it’s going back to work after a period home with the kids, needing to earn a higher salary to support the household on your own or having to dial back an intense career without a spouse there to help with the kids, change is often a consideration.  In this post, I will provide guidance on deciding whether a career change is necessary, or beneficial, after the death of your spouse.

Assess Your Current Situation

Making major life decisions, on top of major life changes, is overwhelming.  In fact, many experts will recommend that you wait a year before making any major decisions.  And while that can give you the time and space to make a more well thought out decision, it may not work given the reality of your situation.  But regardless of whether you have the luxury of time or not, you want to be as thoughtful as you can.  That starts with a thorough assessment of your current situation.

If you are already working, examine your current role.  How fulfilled are you by the work?  Is it something you are doing just for the income, or do you have a deeper connection with it?  Further, does the job provide a sense of purpose?  What about stability?  Examining how you feel about your current job will help you start to form a picture of what you really want.

Another major consideration is your financial stability.  When you had a partner earning income, things were probably very different financially.  And depending on what sorts of life insurance and other assets that you have, you may or may not need to increase your income.  The first step in understanding this is a thorough examination of your expenses and what it will take to keep your family financially stable.  Are you able to maintain your current situation or do you need more income or to sell your home or another solution to right size things now that you will be the sole earner?  Having a very clear understanding of your financial realities will be crucial in any career decisions that you make.

A final consideration is your work-life balance.  Having kids in the home in a two-career household is a challenge.  It will be even more challenging for you to balance as a single parent.  Will your current job allow you to manage new personal responsibilities?  If you must travel or work long hours, that may have worked with a husband to help with the kids but may not be possible now unless you have another support system.  How flexible and supportive has your employer been recently?  Do you think they will continue to be supportive as you adjust to being a single parent?  While it would be amazing if all employers were understanding and flexible with their employees, very few are and only you know how far your employer will stretch to support you.

Reflect on Your Personal and Professional Goals

This is also a good time to think about your career goals.  And if goals that you used to have still apply or if things have evolved.  Many women take a step back in their careers when they have kids to be able to be there when their families need them.  If you did that, are you now interested in reaccelerating your career?  Or alternatively, if you have a big job but relied on your husband being home to make it all work, do you need to dial back now?

Many women also consider work that is more aligned with their interests.  While having a part-time job that is boring but brings in some extra income might have been acceptable when you were married, if you now how to do it full-time, is it the right fit?  Would you be happier finding a full-time job that is more aligned with your interests so that you find it more fulfilling?

Also think about your longer-term aspirations.  What do you envision for yourself?  Do you want to be a C-suite executive or a business owner?  Or do you want to have a job that you can leave at the office every day so that you have time for your family and other pursuits?  Everyone has different values, and you need to understand what you value so that you can make a decision that will align with those values.

Once you understand where you want to go, then you can analyze how well your current situation fits with that.   Is there the potential for growth and advancement in your current field?  Or is it the right time to start that business that you have always had in the back of your mind?  Can you take on more risk or do you need to maintain the status quo for a while?

Explore Your Options

As you start to form a picture of what you want going forward, you can then start researching potential new career paths.  What industries or roles align with your interests and skills?  Do you have the necessary qualifications for what you want to do or is added education needed?  And if you need to pursue more education, how long will it take and what will it cost?

Pursuing a new industry is obviously going to take more time and money, and perhaps be riskier.  Do you have the resources to allow you to take that kind of risk at this time?  What about the energy?  You have already been through a lot, are you ready for the emotional and psychological impacts of another major life change? 

Think through the pros and cons of each possibility.  Lay them all out on a spreadsheet so you can compare.  Look for alternative options and paths.  It may not make sense for you to quit working and go back to school full-time, but if you really want to pursue more education, is there a way you can do it part-time while continuing to work?  Sure, it will take longer, but just being on the path to your goal will be much more fulfilling then drudging through a day-to-day that you hate because you don’t feel like you have any options.

Seek Support and Guidance

Before your husband passed, this was likely the kind of thing you would have discussed with him.  Now that he is not around to be your sounding board, you need to lean on your support network.  This may include family, friends, and colleagues that can provide emotional and practical support.

This is also a good time to seek advice and mentorship.  Is there someone in your company who you admire that you can turn to for mentorship and guidance at this time?  You can also talk to career counselors or mentors about your situation and aspirations.  And don’t forget to leverage support groups or networks for widows in transition.

It may also be a good time to get professional help.  This can come in different forms.  Consider working with a career coach who is familiar with your industry (or target industry) and can help you position yourself for success.  You may also consider a financial advisor who can help you think through the financial implications of going back to school or starting a business.  Have someone with experience run different financial scenarios for you to make sure that you have the runway you need to get where you want to go.

This is not a decision you want to make all on your own.  There are a number of resources that you can use to help you think through your options and make a sound decision.


Losing your spouse will often result in you reexamining every area in your life.  Through this process you may want to reconsider your career as well.  With all of the upheaval in your life, it can feel crazy to think about changing careers, but that doesn’t mean you should rule it out.  It is not a decision to take lightly or rush into.  Take the time to examine your options and get the support you need.  It is possible to transition to a fulfilling and suitable career path, but it is going to take some careful consideration and some time.

By carefully evaluating your current situation, reflecting on your goals, and seeking the right support, you can make an informed decision about whether a career change is the right step for you after the loss of your spouse.

Sara Zuckerman, CFP®, CDFA® is the founder of Reset Financial Planning located Scottsdale, AZ and serving women across the country with a focus on helping women who find themselves suddenly single in mid-life, align their financial resources with their values to plan for the next chapter of their lives.


If you are interested in learning about how I can help you take charge of your finances as a newly single woman, please contact me at  or schedule a free 20-minute consultation.


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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Reset Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved.