I’m really excited to be sitting here at my desk, writing to you. I had a ‘TCK moment’ yesterday when I realised I needed to move all the furniture around in my office to get my writing mojo back – and a few hours of mess, one dismantled desk and a big bag of rubbish later – I’m in a much better place. Literally.
One of the reasons I don’t ascribe to the integration-based definition of TCKs (that the third culture is a kind of hybridisation of the child’s first and second cultures), is because of things like this moving furniture “quirk”. It’s not an individual quirk. It’s not exclusively TCK either, of course, but it is a feature of many TCK stories that I hear – a sense of needing change, and if there isn’t a travel solution to this need then creating change on a more domestic level becomes a regular feature of life.
Third Culture, in my experience, is not simply a case of mashing together or cherry-picking elements from cultures 1 and 2 (or 3 and 4!) Instead, third culture is more about the creation of something new – a set of behaviours, rituals and beliefs that are shared between people. A Swiss-Italian raised in Kenya and France is likely to recognise and identify shared ‘ways of being’ in an American-German raised in Scotland and Belgium. How can this be if each are simply integrating elements of their passport and host cultures into a particular blend known only to themselves? The fact that so many of us recognise behaviours in people we *only* have shared mobility or shared sending organisations in common with tells me our Third Culture is not merely integrative, but creative.
And creating is exactly what I was doing last night as I lumped furniture around and explored how to make the room work for me.
How to make it work for me. Me.
As my clients hear me say often enough, identity is a creative act. It’s not something that just happens to to us – through there are elements of this of course – ascribed identities such as gender at birth, ethnicity, age, citizenship… But these categories of self are fleshed out, attributed meaning, by our creative acts of Self.
To go back to my office space – when I move furniture I’m not simply moving it for moving it’s sake. Yes, on the face of it, I have an urgent need for change, in and of itself. I’ve lived here nearly a year, a long time for this TCK brain, and the season I’m now entering is summertime – the season of packing and moving in my own personal life story timeline.
But when I’m moving things, the question lying beneath the surface of my actions is, “how do I make this space work better for me?” or even more precisely, “how can my space be better arranged so as to help me be more of the me I want to be?” It’s absolutely about identity. And taking creative control of that identity.
Or should I say, *identities* – because we carry so many. Of course, one of the wonderful things about people in general is social multi-facetedness. I fell in love with Sociology because of how it broke down the many roles we play in our social relationships into discrete categories that reveals these different facets of Self. But the trick to happiness (perhaps the whole point of *applied* Sociology) is consciously making sure they all get to shine.
This can get complicated for TCKs because while more settled people are carrying multiple identities (one reason I can’t bring myself to use the term monocultural in reference to them) such as Daughter, Nurse, Friend – a TCK is carrying multiple cultural understandings of how to be a *good* daughter, nurse or friend. Am I going to be a good daughter today by UK standards or Nigerian?
Dealing with the multiplicity of cultural demands can risk a utilitarian approach to meeting these – whatever culture I am currently in is the one whose expectations I will try and meet. Adaptation works right? And typically leads to lovely positive feedback. But. When we are in a settled space in our lives, one where the cultural expectations aren’t changing with sufficient frequency to give voice to all our multi-faceted Self, then we can get restless, stressed, overcome with a sense of failure or straight up depressed.
One coping strategy deployed instinctively by many of us is born of our experience of how a shift in environment invites a different facet of ourselves to get expressed. In other words, if we can change our environment, we get to be a different version of ourselves. We are physically creating space for ourselves to express the identity we need or want to be in our next chapter.
I’ve spent years (seven actually!) focusing on client work. I still do and it remains the bulk of how I orient my time and how I spend my emotional energies at work. In the early years I did a lot more blogging and communication work, trying to create clarity about who I was as a life story practitioner, and how I could serve adult TCKs. But when I did that work I felt a lot of tension around it – I’m *not* a blogger, I’d tell myself. I’m not a *proper* podcaster. And I’d carry a lot of imposter syndrome around feeling behind in how many books I needed to read before I could claim to be informed.
All of this showed up in how I set up my office. Not to beat up on my subconscious self but I set up my desk in a way that didn’t scream writer – I ignored my beautiful bureau from my Grandmother that just screams *writer* (because I’m not really) and I had my back to my wonderful library (because of shame around how many more I need to read) and just focused on there being space for my laptop.
And then I wondered why I was struggling to inhabit identities of writer, blogger, social communicator and expert in the field.
Moving furniture around is a fun behavioural impulse shared by many of us. And I believe it’s a ritual that leads us to actively engage with an identity struggle – who do we want this room to say we are?
For those of us who grew up feeling our life scripts handed to us by our environments, this TCK quirk may be one of the most empowering things we can do to imbue our home spaces with our identity. Can we flip the script to invite our environment to tell our story, the way we want it told instead?
I love my new office layout. I face the door, tucked in the back corner behind my beautiful bureau stacked with stationary and books and paperwork. The wall behind me is bright saffron, and reminds me of a West African sun, and how wonderful it felt to impose such a loud colour on my wall. I feel cosy and safe, and lady of the manor as I have my wonderful bookshelves to my right – my eye catches them and I decide to get excited by all there is still to read and absorb.
My office is a better place. Better simply because it tells the story of who I am more fully now – I am therapist, writer, social communicator, creative designer and life long learner.
What story does your place tell of you?
What would taking creative control of your story look like?