Due to their life circumstances changing so often, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) learn to adjust quickly. New country, new language, new culture, new city, new school, new friends, new day care, new house, new food, new customs, new smells, new sounds… Like it or not, these children do not have much of a choice, do they? But there is one thing most TCKs learn to perfection: adjusting
Like other TCKs, I changed schools every year until second grade. Then, when my family moved to a new country, I was enrolled in an International School for the next eleven years, making new friends and saying goodbye to old ones every year. At least I was stationary, you think? Well, instead of countries, I changed family. Due to my mom getting remarried, I became a member of a new family in what was to me a still-unknown culture. On top of that, we changed homes every other year; in a city of millions, a new neighborhood sometimes feels like a new city in itself.
How did all of this affect me?
I became excellent at adjusting to environments and circumstances (HSP a skill that my sensitive, overachieving nervous system was already predisposed to do). My experiences with change supported me in reading people’s emotions and wishes so well that I found myself always adjusting, adjusting, adjusting - sometimes even to expectations that other people were not aware that they held.
Working with clients, I often do an exercise called ‘The benefit of this behavior is…’. One of my clients is highly energetic and super busy, even to the point of having a workaholic lifestyle. So he sometimes complains that he has no time for sports. I then start the exercise by asking: ‘What skills have you developed from a lifestyle in which you are so very busy and working 15 hours a day?’ Possible answers are: I’m persistent, I’m highly focused, I’m a high achiever, I have climbed the career ladder in no time, I have learned to perform under non-ideal circumstances (too little sleep/not enough sports).
The idea is to acknowledge and embrace, rather than fight, the current situation for its benefits, by taking a step back, detaching and gradually changing perspective.
Let's do this exercise for my case. My adjustment skills, highly developed over nearly five decades, were of great benefit when I became a mom; when I did temporary work for various jobs and industries; and most of all, when coaching expatriates working in global organizations and living around the world. As a coach, it is of immense benefit to be able to read clients, to be deeply empathetic, to put myself in my client’s shoes and to meet them where they’re at. Today I can say with all modesty that I'm a pretty good people-reader. Within zero time I can sense what people are going to say. Or whether, in the future, people will keep the promises they are making so sincerely today. Would I have become that good of a coach in the first place if it hadn’t been for the adjustment skills I learned from my early childhood circumstances?
Now, every skill used to an extreme loses its brilliance. In my client‘s case above, what suffered was his ability to detach, to take breaks or sleep well, and to step back for a moment to look at the bigger picture.
In my own case, I had for sure neglected self-care. Physical symptoms made me realize over the years something wasn't right. When I signed up to work with an awareness coach, his first question was ‘Regina, what is it that you like?’. That was a real eye-opener for me. From then onward, I started looking at myself – body, mind and soul – in a more mindful, careful and understanding way. A long journey started toward finding a healthy balance between adjustment and self-care.
Do you recognize yourself in this scenario, torn between adjustment and self-care? Take a moment and rate your own skills on the scale below.
Awareness Exercise ‘Self-Care Evaluation’
How much I adjust in the office/with friends /with clients
1: never, 10: always
How much I adjust around my family/friends/partner
1: never, 10: always
How often per week I take time for my own needs
1: once, 10: every day
How often per week I would want to take time for my own needs
1: once, 10: every day
Take a moment to reflect. Looking at the scale:
Congratulations, you’ve just raised your awareness of your own ‘adjustment/self-care balance'!
Like day and night, every skill has a counterpart; they need and feed one another. If your adjustment skills strive towards perfection, then your self-care gets neglected and starved, and although it might sound like a paradox, the ability to adjust starves with it. Without question, adjustment is absolutely crucial for TCKs dealing with change. But over the long run, self-care is necessary to bring our best to the world and shine.
Edited by Robyn Penny
Published by Joomag, edition March/April 2019, p.14/15