“Balance”. It’s been a buzzword for a while now, but especially comes into its own around January. The core of so many of our resolutions aim to bring life “back into balance” in some way. So, on this last day of January, how’s it gone for you? Are you feeling more balanced? Or are you still feeling wobbly, precarious, about to topple? For Third Culture Kids, and any others who have lived through multiple transitions, balancing all the varying expectations and demands of life can feel like a game with perilously high stakes.
I believe there are three elements of life that work together to keep us in, or out, of balance. These are Belonging, Identity and Place.
We experience identity as those attributed (nationality, race, ethnicity, age) and experienced (values, preferences, giftings, beliefs about self and others) characteristics that we become known by, to others and to ourselves. Our identities might find expression through national affiliation, career or calling, a sense of our own uniqueness. Those expressions that affirm our stories and continue to develop and nurture our distinct contribution to the world around us, that’s identity.
We experience belonging as that which connects us to others, both individuals and groups, community, feeling ‘at home’ in a social network or culture. Belonging can be found in family, friendships, romantic relationships, work environments, or more broadly in cultures and subcultures, music, literary and artistic communities. Those connections with others that affirm who we are, and where we are welcome… that’s belonging.
We experience place as the vital and necessary context of our stories. Place explains where we became ourselves, and provides the landscape in which we connect to others. We may be rooted in place, deeply connected to the immediate locality, or we may (as do many TCKs) exist slightly above the surface of our place(s), playing a perpetual game of “lava” with our lives, rather than the sofa cushions of our childhood.
When we feel ourselves to be “out of” balance, it can be a helpful exercise to ask ourselves which of our three elements is wobbling.
Is Place missing from our triad? Are we a tightrope walker floating above the earth, disconnected from our immediate environment? Or are we lacking context in some other way, with the places of our past so disconnected and distant that our own story feels out of focus?
Or is it our Identity that feels wobbly? Have we got competing selves that refuse to cooperate, jostling each other out of definition? Lacking expression, we seem to exist simply to become whatever those around us need or want us to be, become a vehicle for their stories and purposes rather than our own. Are we a swing, coming into existence only when others acknowledge or recognise us? We are grounded in Place, we are connected to others, but we are so obligingly adaptable to their purposes that our own identity and agenda feels ill-defined by comparison.
Or is it Belonging that is toppling us? Like the elephant on the circus ball, your disconnectedness feels conspicuous, perhaps even mildly ridiculous. There is so much of you, of your story, how can you possibly connect effectively with others? It feels as though there is nothing to grasp at to steady yourself. You know who you are, and where you are, but your wobbles are rooted in your distinctiveness, your you-ness that seems to keep you apart, precarious and vulnerable.
Whichever you may feel yourself to be – tightrope walker, swing, or elephant on a ball – you are not alone! We all get out of balance at times; perhaps we’ve never felt in balance. But here is the method behind the madness of my metaphors: when we can identify the area that wobbles, we can take steps to strengthen it. Knowledge really is power, and spending some dedicated time to explore ways of shoring up our sense of Place, our identity or our belonging is time well spent.
Balance can be practised. Balance is within reach.
So let’s reach for it together – contact me here if you’d like some support on the journey.