So a new year beckons, and as the saying goes: a new year, a new you. Trouble is, there are often so many ‘me’s for us Third Culture Kids already! Which one do I feel the need to ‘improve’ or ‘reinvent’? A new year, a new TCK? It can be giddy-making… And apparently we aren’t the only ones who think so – only one in four Brits made resolutions last new year.
Some of us grew up delighting in the regular opportunities to reinvent ourselves or, put another way, to dig into different elements of our identities. We got to explore different kinds of friendship, hobbies, and expressions of self. For some of us, every new year brought with it a new TCK.
As we grew up, many of us grafted these identities onto ourselves, finding ways to move between them. We tap into these different parts depending on our context – be it social or geographical. We can develop fondness for some over others, or find some feel more acceptable to other people. We often sense a kind of inner hierarchy develop in terms of which identity element’s needs get prioritized.
For example, my English part gets prioritized most these days, given that I’ve settled in the UK. I run my home, my work, my life in ways that are more (or less!) acceptable to English sensibilities and ‘make sense’ in this context. That part of me comes first most days. This part is what I need to tap into to be able to function well in my current context.
However (there is always a however!) the other parts of me matter too. And if I don’t check in with them occasionally there is a good chance I’ll begin to feel internally antsy. The Nigerien side of me has a need to be expressed too – through food, music and sometimes decor choices. The French part of me is most antsy – it knows I’ve neglected to keep up my language skills and the books on my bookshelf beckon me. And then there is the American/International School student part of me – this one comes out without much conscious effort, when I watch something American and my accent flips. I also associate my more affectionate and expressive elements of self with this part.
In the past, these other parts would get ‘triggered’ when I moved context, or spent time with people who connected me to these parts of my story. Settledness (plus pandemic) have removed these externally initiated triggers so I look to check on them more intentionally.
What has all this got to do with the new year, and feeling a new TCK?
Well, setting a goal or resolution is often hard for TCKs. I mean, it’s often hard for non-TCKs too (!) but I suspect there are complicating factors for many TCKs.
Firstly, we often think in short term bursts. Our sense of time often runs short, reflective of our experiences of mobility that often left us with a missing sense of investment now, reap rewards later. Many of us could simply not count on being able to CONTINUE things – hobbies, skill-learning, friendships. And this makes setting goals tough.
Secondly, our multi-faceted sense of identity often leads to a multi-faceted sense of agenda or priority. Setting a goal for my English part is rendered redundant if it conflicts with other elements of my identity. One element of life that constantly trips me up is weight management. The English part of me reckons I need to lose weight. The Nigerien part of me reminds me that bigger is beautiful and healthier. The American part of me generally backs up my English-focused goal but then sabotages me by reminding me of all my lovely American recipes for cakes and cookies. The French part of me generally despairs. See how it goes?!
Of course we need not despair completely. Simply being more aware of the different agendas and priorities we carry within can help us over those stumbling blocks. I can soothe my Nigerien self around weight loss if I understand why I’m resisting it. I can understand my baking fixation if I understand how integral it was to my experience of growing up and experiencing the mothers around me and how they communicated love.
Given all this, I have an alternative suggestion for this new year; instead of resolutions (or at least as a precursor to setting them), let’s spend time celebrating our different identity elements. Let’s name them, get to know them, give them voice. We can celebrate what they contribute to our lives, and more specifically, how they’ve contributed to helping us through 2020. Better understanding of their talents and priorities will lay an important foundation for any goals we might want to set for 2021.
You can just journal ‘freehand’ along this theme of a new year, a new TCK of course, but if you’d like to make use of a free printable I’ve created, you can download it here.
Here’s to a new year. And to celebrating the many yous of you!