What do you hope for?
I’m an adult Third Culture Kid, and I’m also a TCK therapist and founder of Life Story. When people ask me about what Life Story does, I answer that I work with people of highly mobile or complex backgrounds, engaging constructively with their histories to gain clarity and purpose in their present-day lives. I use life stories as the basis of my work with TCKs, and use the past as an aid to gaining the perspective and compassion necessary to live life fully in the present.
But I also work with Hope:
Hope that the past does not dictate the future;
Hope that life stories can change trajectory;
Hope that we can become the heroes of our own stories.
The TCKs I work with often come to me with their capacity for hope in tatters. They have lost hope that their stories matter. They have lost hope that they can belong. They have lost hope that they can find a place in this world to call their own.
And my job? My job is to stand with them while we piece together the tattered fragments of their Selves, to shine a light on the story they are telling, and to give them Hope.
Your voice matters.
I’ve listened to many voices, as both researcher and therapist, and though the stories they tell are varied and full of the messiness of life, they are all valid, and they matter. Hugely. Your voice matters—Not because it’s fascinating, Not because it’s more ‘true’ than anyone else’s, but because it’s yours, And your story matters.
There are many TCKs who have never had the opportunity to tell their whole story. We become so accustomed to adapting to our ever-changing environment that we often tell only one colour and one fragment at a time. Our kaleidoscope is only seen in its full beauty when all the colours collide and we see our story as complete, as a whole.
Then there are those TCKs whose stories have been silenced, both intentionally and unintentionally. Voices are silenced when the stories they tell undermine popular narratives about our world and our communities and introduce uncomfortable thoughts about race, gender, abuse. Or perhaps voices have been silenced because our experiences contradict the image people would like to hold of us, the story they would have us tell.
You can have a tribe.
Bennett (1993) wrote about ‘encapsulated’ and ‘constructive’ experiences of marginality. Perhaps you’ve always felt on the edge of other people’s lives. Perhaps it’s only a recent transition that has introduced you to these arid borderlands. It’s possible that you feel so ‘different’ that building meaningful relationships with people around you feels as alien as though you were living on another planet. Or perhaps you have many people in your life but feel insecure in their attachments to you, as though the flimsy tendrils of connection are painfully tender.
With support, I believe that TCKs can move from encapsulated and isolating experiences of marginality to the connectedness and empathy of constructive marginality. Marginality is a defining element of the TCK experience, but it need not be a negative one. Where marginality connects, it strengthens not only individuals but communities also. There is comfort and power in building a tribe of our own, in being marginal together!
You can have a place of your own.
Home: A word that alternately elicits discomfort and longing in many a TCK. How to feel ‘at home’? What does ‘home’ mean? Where is ‘home’ for me? Do I even want one? Some TCKs are skilled at ‘making house’ and have honed their ‘home-making’ skills to a fine art over the years. Others would rather live out of a suitcase, ready to change homes at a moment’s notice. Others long for a home of their own, a place over which they feel a sense of ownership, but struggle to even put a poster up onto their walls – fearing the implied commitment to one place this would imply.
Home can be yours to create, to build. Home can be a place of freedom, rather than constraint; of well-managed boundaries and investment, rather than caged flightlessness. You can learn to feel at home in yourself and your locality; it’s within reach simply because you are the architect, and properly resourced and supported, you have all you need to build a place of your own.
Perhaps you have stopped hoping. Perhaps you stopped hoping a long time ago.
Reach out. Reach out to your TCK community. Reach out to your local community. Reach out to your many Selves competing for your attention. And if you need help keeping the sputtering flames of hope alive? Reach out some more and find professional, specialist support that can help you walk into the blazing life that you want. It’s your Life Story – your voice, your tribe, your place.
You can find more about Dr. Rachel and her work here.
*Bennett, J., 1993. Cultural Marginality: Identity Issues in Intercultural Training. In Paige, E. M., ed., 1993. Education for the Intercultural Experience. Intercultural Press: Yarmouth, Maine. pp. 109-136