The Challenge of Subconscious Expectations (Part 1: How is Life "Supposed to Go"?)
Most TCKs grow up and abruptly lose their lifestyle. This is one of the most significant "hidden losses" that TCKs eventually encounter.
Third Culture Kids have spent their lives hopping on international flights, traveling to exotic destinations, and integrating with different cultures and people around the world. For most, the globally mobile lifestyle is no longer a given once they reach adulthood. Flights are no longer paid for by a parent's organization or business and they realize that working a job is a necessary part of life and that having a job makes traveling the world, challenging. Many assume they will just naturally settle down into this new life, but when they get to the point of actually doing so, they realize it feels far from natural. They may not realize that their subconscious expectations of how life is "supposed to go" contributes to their sense of restlessness, rootlessness, and general unhappiness with how their life is unfolding. Many times, TCKs don't realize that they even desire to live the same lifestyle that they did growing up until they attempt to settle down and find they have a constant itch for change.
The TCK's overseas upbringing created the belief that if they are not living a globally mobile lifestyle, they are settling for something lesser. Something boring and mundane and normal. Unfortunately, as adults, overseas living may not be a feasible, or at least simple, option. Or, they genuinely do not desire to live overseas again, but still cannot seem to find fulfillment in a stable lifestyle.
Josh Sandoz, a counselor who works with Adult Third Culture Kids in Seattle, said to me,
"Subconscious, unmet expectations are one of the root causes of many of the issues that adult TCKs deal with."
People who grow up in a single country typically expect that they will live a similar lifestyle as the people around them. They see their parents, their peers, and others following similar paths (completing high school, going to college, starting a career, settling down with a family, etc.) Their culture has yielded a general idea of what their trajectory looks like and if they decide to do something different, it is usually a conscious decision. TCKs, however, grow up living a lifestyle that may not be possible to maintain after they leave their parent's household. They leave for college, realize over time that they are feeling restless living in one place, and simultaneously know that they can't simply return to the lifestyle with which they are comfortable and familiar.
Because many adult TCKs don't realize that subconscious expectations are the root cause of their discontentment, the issue may go unresolved for many years. They often end up in the office of a counselor with depression, anxiety, relationship issues, or many other challenges that statistics have shown many adult TCKs encounter at some point in their life. In order to begin thinking about what their hopes, desires, and ideals are for their adult life, they must first acknowledge and deliberately discover what the expectations are that their childhood lifestyle instilled. Then, they can begin to consciously decide which aspects they want to integrate into their adult life, and which they want to leave behind as they forge their own path.
So, how can parents and caregivers of young TCKs help them wade through these expectations starting in childhood? Check back next week for some practical ideas.