Category Archives: Adult TCK

Cover Vote

Hey TCK Life Reader! I need your help!

If you’ve read recently, you know I’m converting Third Culture Kid Life into a book called Third Culture Kid Life: Twenty Something where I’m publishing every single article in this collection written throughout my twenties and then writing a follow-up “looking back” segment at the end talking about my thoughts on that piece today. It has been a blast so far reading the work and responding in a way I’ve never done before, and as of today I’m just shy of 30 chapters of 50. Now, I need your help!

Below you’ll find two cover options. I need you to vote and tell me what your favourite is. I’m struggling between a graphical look and a photographic look. I want you to let me know, as readers of TCK Life, which one represents the life and mind of a TCK the best. I appreciate your help, and it means a lot! To satisfy any potential curiosity: yes, that’s a picture of my brother and me.

twenty-something-front-cover-picturetwenty-something-front-cover-graphic-1

 

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Third Culture Kid Life: A Book [UPDATE 2017-01-10]

tck-life-a-bookI’m turning 30 soon. This month, in fact. It doesn’t really mean anything to me personally. It’s just another rotation around the sun I’ve experienced, tallying 30. Well, actually, thanks to the Gregorian calendar not being entirely accurate, it’s probably going to be a little more than 30 years if you were to average out all the added seconds and minutes we’ve received. Or is it less? I don’t remember, I did the math once on how the past 30 years relative to me based on additions, subtractions, and alterations compounded by the incorrect value of a year impacted my time on earth in rotations around the sun, but I have no memory of the outcome. I probably did the math wrong too if we’re honest.

But that’s not the point, As usual, I’ve digressed. The point is, I had an idea. I’ve been writing this collection and The Illusive Home for a decade now. Granted, The Illusive Home is done, but it was the start of this, the realization that I was never done writing about the perspective of a TCK as he progressed through his life. So, like I said, I had an idea, one that I’ve been working on for a while now that I’m hoping to have completed just as I turn 30.

I’m turning the past decade’s worth of work into a book. That’s right, TCK Life, the digital collection, is going to become Third Culture Kid Life: Twenty Something. The objective is to take everything I wrote in my 20s and publish it as one cohesive collection, starting from the beginning and working to today. But that’s not all, because then I’d just be printing the internet and there’s no point in doing that. So, I’ve made some additions.

I’ve always said on here I’m not going to explain myself for my words. I’ll offer guidance, but if you draw a theme or an idea that’s yours. It helps you connect to the experiences if you do it that way. But there’s a lot of depth behind some of these pieces I’ve written that you don’t know all the details for. So, for every piece that ends up in the book, it’ll be followed with an explanation of the moment, looking back, from me. Each article you’ve read on TCK Life will have the look-back of a man at the end of his 20s, transitioning into another decade of TCK Life writing, and see what I think of these words, these experiences, today. Some of them will be looking as far back as 9 years ago. Others, will be looking back to this year.

I’ve already written some of these and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it. It’s neat looking back at the things I used to talk about, worry about, the problems I was facing at the time, and how they shaped me into the person writing now. But what’s most exciting is how that shapes this collection.

Third Culture Kid Life has always been about showing you what a TCK thinks and feels from the perspective of me. I’m just one in the field of many, and while I use central themes to the TCK experience, I leverage my personal experiences to inform other TCKs that they’re not alone in the roller coaster of adult TCK life they’re experiencing. More importantly, parents of existing and developing TCKs are a large chunk of my readership. Reading where I am now, and what I think of the past comments as I stand today might offer even further insight into the expectations of the TCK their developing, and that could be really helpful.

So, I wanted to let you know it was coming, and that I’m not done here. We’re about to start a whole new decade of my life, which means you’re going to get writings about what it’s like from a 30 something TCK as well. I don’t feel any different personally, but looking back, a lot has changed. And that, to me, is quite exciting.

I’ll also be writing a book exclusive article that’s about the end of my 20s and a summary of my life as a TCK so far, which will talk about changes in the world, changes in myself, and how I’ve seen myself evolve as a TCK over the years in reflection. Also, there’s an introduction that’s entirely unique, so there’s quite a bit of new content for my supporting readers looking to add the book to their bookshelf.

Thank you for all your support, and I’ll update this page with links as soon as the book is available. Oh, it’ll be both digital and paperback, so you pick if you’re interested.

Thanks again for all your support.

UPDATE: January 10, 2017 – So, it turns out this is going to be a longer project than expected, which is great news for my readers! My “Looking Back” portions as I’ve decided to name them are ending up as long as the articles themselves, in many cases longer. I’m also doing them on ever single piece, so we’re looking at double the content of what you’ve read so far, with every single article you’ve read here having its own “Looking Back” accompanying article about how I view that event, perception, or experience today.

The Culture of 21st Century Employees

Culture-of-21st-Century-EmployeesBeing naturally inclined to analyze culture in all its forms, I have noticed some very interesting trends in 21st century work culture, especially in regards to the complete polar difference in the employee culture of the generation that came before me and the generation that I am a part of. I am very good friends with members of both cultures in the employment space, and those friendships extend from executive management to everyone else. Throughout these relationships and my time in the working world, I have noticed a very interesting and very rapid cultural shift that has changed the entire way we, as workers in the 21st century, should be viewing the employees coming through our door, and how we let them communicate outside of our office walls.

As many of my regular readers are aware, my employment situation is a chaotic one at best. I have multiple jobs at any given time being a consultant and a full time employee for a waste company in North Carolina. As the Marketing Manager at my company, I have a bit more freedom than most when it comes to my access to the internet, and it is this freedom by comparison to my peers in this office, and the freedoms that are possessed by very close friends in various companies all over the world, that I began to really notice that technology has completely changed the way 21st century employees are getting their jobs done.

To explain what I mean with the best possible accuracy, I will, as always, start by using myself as an example, and I’ll ignore my other jobs and only focus on my role at Waste Industries to prove my point. Granted, my normal day-to-day is usually quite a bit more chaotic than this, but focus is key here, so I’ll simplify a working-day in the life of James for the sake of argument. To people in my generation, this is all going to make sense, but for those that came before me, this may be a bit of a difference. And the reason is that my generation was the very first generation to fully embrace a world that is driven by digital communication. And no, I’m not talking about email, though that’s a part of it. I’m talking about a complete social network of individuals, all with different skill sets, all with different abilities, and all within the click of a button away. But before I get into the details, here’s a quick overview of a random day in my life:

I come to work and power up my system. I open chrome first, hangouts second, and email third. Before I even check my email, I send out my standard 6 “good morning” (good morrow if it’s going to my friend Bryan) to my 6 key conversation points that I will be talking to all day. Then, I check my email. I respond to emails while jumping back to hangouts, catching up on people’s evenings and days so far with brief, 10-15 word responses max sent at usually 3-15 minute intervals. It’s a chat, but it’s a slow one. Then, I start designing a project. As I’m designing, I realize that I’m having an issue with my computer processing a certain command. Instead of reaching for the phone or putting in an IT support ticket, I throw open the hangouts window and begin a conversation with my IT department friend that works Air Liquide in Houston, a good 1000 miles away from me and an hour behind me in time:

Me: Bryan, my computer is being a jerk. It won’t let me control 5 to turn these paths into guides.
Bryan: Well you tell that computer if it doesn’t stop being a jerk, you’ll take away its power button as punishment.
Me: I tried that, it just shocked me as a response. It doesn’t appear to like being threatened.
Bryan: Ah yes, it’s probably the leprechauns in there. Ok, go to Start –> run –> enter (Bryan says some IT stuff and I just do it) and tell me what the second line there says.
Me: It says (random stuff IT people get).
Bryan: Ok, just go ahead and close that and open your control panel, go to keyboard, and change your setting from A to B.
Me: Awesome, thanks mate!

Done.

I go on with my business, continuing my design. I get a phone call a few minutes later that is a request for me to produce 30 shirts with a design for a charity event we are participating in. I begin work on the design, but as I do, I pull up my Hangouts window and send a message to Shelton, my long-time friend and partner in crime on many other projects:

Me: Hey, I need 30 white T-shirts, don’t care about quality, that will host this logo [link attached]. Thoughts? Die sub or screen?
Shelton: Screen. Definitely. What’s it for?
Me: An outdoor heart walk event. They’ll be wearing them while they walk around in the sun.
Shelton: Poly blend, if you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks. But I can probably find them on discount somewhere. Hold on.
[break while I finalize design]
Shelton: Ok, how does 16.50 a shirt sound, three color screen front and two color screen back?
Me: Did you get competing quotes?
Shelton: Yea. [link attached].
Me: Looks good, get them ordered.
Shelton: Done.

And done again.

At some point in the day, as I’m working through a design, a message comes in my way from Kitney (no that’s not her real name… well yea it is, to us), who works for a company on the first floor of my building:

Kitney: How much would it cost me to put together a press release?
Me: Depends? Attaching picture or just the release? And are you writing it or having me do it?
Kitney: I’ll write it if you’ll edit it. Yea he wants a picture.
Me: That works. And it’ll cost you about 1200 to do it yourself, but you can piggie back on my account for 900 if you’re doing a picture.
Kitney: Ok, thanks!

Done.

I finish my designs for the day and begin gathering information on what has happened in the world of internet marketing while I was designing to make sure I’m still on top of my game, and as I do that, my final hangout comes in from Chelsea asking me about sales buttons on the website she manages.

Chelsea: I need a way to make these sections look more balanced. Any ideas?
Me: I’d put a direct link button that says “Get your copy of this book today!” at the bottom to cause a line break and give you a direct conversion point from your homepage.
Chelsea: How big?
Me: Here, I’ll design it and send it over– [link attached]
Chelsea: Thanks!

And there we go, done again.

It’s this exact form of communication that makes 21st century employees so interesting to me from a cultural perspective. I mean sure, people had the ability to do this in the past with phones and then in recent years with emails, but there’s something about the social networking age that has opened up our generation to a cultural acceptance of sharing everything about our lives, including our talents.

It used to be that when a company hired one employee, they had to find the employee with the best skills for one particular job. Now, however, you can hire an employee with the skill set of one particular job and you’ll get the skill-sets of multiple other jobs in a shared networking experience that blows any previous hiring potential out of the water. You literally pay one employee and get the knowledge of their entire network, all because this culture learned to thrive on the sharing of information.

Obviously, I love culture. I’m a Third Culture Kid, and I can’t help myself, and with this cultural element I feel as though I’m watching something completely new, an entirely new office culture that the world has never seen and that many are not prepared for. So many people who have this networked potential are completely locked down, incapable of getting on hangouts or Facebook chat or the likes without getting in trouble. But that’s the remnant of a dying generation of leaders, and with every passing day this new, completely connected culture moves closer and closer to running the organizations that are not even remotely prepared to handle them.

And honestly, as a man obsessed with culture, especially new ones like this, I couldn’t be more excited to see how this all unfolds. So, readers, here’s my question to you: What does your knowledge network look like?

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The True Pioneers in TCK Life

True-Pioneers-BannerPeople are always asking me what it was like to grow up all over the world. I know I’m not alone when I say that, and I know I’m not alone when I struggle to respond to that question. The thing is, it’s not like I know any different. Other people asking me what it was like growing up all over the world is like me asking them what it was like growing up in the same place. “It was normal, I guess?” You might as well ask someone what it’s like to breathe, or think, or smell. “It’s all pretty normal, I guess?”

It got me thinking, though, about what people think when they talk to me about my travels. I get so many “Wow that’s so amazing,” or “I’m so jealous,” and mostly “I could never do that…,” but what’s the motive behind the question, really? So, I started asking. When people asked me what it was like, I’d answer, and then ask them why they wanted to know. The answers varied, but they all sort of followed a similar theme in some sense, and that was the idea that it was something brave or pioneering of me to be a person that grew up around the world, always travelling.

Yet, it isn’t really pioneering at all, is it? It’s certainly not brave. It’s just life. This is the way we grew up, it’s not like we had a choice in the matter, it’s just something that happened to us, like eating lunch or driving to a friends house. It’s all just part of life. Our parents took us from country to country because that was what they had to do, and we, as TCKs in production mode, tagged along and did what do best: we thrived on culture.

This very idea that there is some sort of inherent pioneering nature or bravery in the mind of a developing TCK also made sense of something else that we as TCKs experience far too often. When FCKs hear about our travels, they have a tendency to think that we’re bragging. Even my girlfriend has said that to me: “Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk about how you’ve been all over the world and how cultured you are all the time in your blog?”

“Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk to me about how you’ve spent your whole life with your family on your doorstep, with friends you’ve never had to say goodbye to every three years, and how you had a consistent and strong education without spending six months to a year every two to three years readjusting to your entire life being turned upside down?”

It’s not our fault, and it never was, that we became who we are today, just like it’s not the fault of an FCK they did not travel in their youth. We are the products of someone else’s decisions, and like any child going through a developmental period, we simply learned to adjust to what was our new period of normality. There isn’t bragging in our words, or at least there aren’t in mine. It’s just a life, like so many others, with a different background and a different string of experiences. To ignore it would be to ignore who I am, and ignoring that I like the person I am would be a massive disservice to myself and my parents.

And then it all suddenly made sense. The FCKs who are looking at me and seeing a guy who loves to travel, one that wants to get up and go all the time, who loves cultures and different corners of the world and back alleys that lead to mysterious places, they’re confusing my sense of adventure with something bigger. They see a pioneer in me, someone who isn’t scared to step outside of what’s considered culturally normal to them, but I’m nothing special.

The people that are special are our parents.

They were pioneers to their core, completely brave, completely original. Our parents, barring those few of us who have TCK parents, in which case it was your Grandparents most likely who fall into this category, broke the mold of everything that is culturally normal to them. They, like all of those around them, were born and raised into a First Culture Kid life. They grew up with the same friends, went to the same schools, had their families all around them all that time, knew the feeling so well of someone being on their doorstep at a moments notice when need be.

But they chose to leave. They chose, knowing the entire foundation of their life would be so far away, to jump into something completely different and new. They chose something that so many seem terrified of. They chose to do the thing that so many FCKs wrongly credit me for doing, me, a creature of habit, chasing the only thing I know how to do in terms of travel, and that’s to keep going. They credit me for this bug, this itch, this endless need to go, when to me that’s nothing but a natural and inherent desire.

The bravery, the pioneering nature, that belongs to the generation that built me, the ones that said “I may be terrified, and this may be different, but you know what… I’m going to do it anyhow.”

Me, I sit here and think about how terrifying of a concept it is to stay put, something I hope never ends up happening to me. I want to go, I want to keep running, I want to see it all and never stop. And that’s exactly what I was built to do. In a way, I am no different to any FCK that doesn’t want to move. We are both just creatures of our development.

Our parents, on the other hand, reshaped their world to make us. And while some of us may still be in that transitional phase of realization, and others may have made it through and love their TCK nature, and others still don’t even realize they have the TCK inside of them yet, it was our parents that took the plunge and changed everything.

So, in the spirit of the season, whatever cultural celebration you may be having at this time of year, or perhaps just in the spirit of us being people thrust into this crazy world: This TCK would like to thank all the parents in the world who were brave enough to take that leap of faith and do what so few have the courage to do. You left a life of comfort, predictability, and normality behind, and in the end, you created us.

So truly, thank you.

We love you guys.

___________

James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Why Your Company Needs a TCK Leader

TCK-Company-Leader-v1.2Globalization is an unavoidable truth. The world has changed a lot over the decades, and in that time we have transitioned from being a planet of fairly isolated industries to a global unit that crosses all borders and feeds off the people, resources, and cultures of countries that may not even be our neighbors. That’s the way of the world, and it is only getting smaller with every passing day.

For that very reason, leadership in every company needs an individual or individuals who fundamentally understand the varying differences between cultures and countries. The ability to look with great detail at the decision making ability and the cultural norms tied to a specific company is paramount to the success of your business. To truly understand the inner workings of your relationship with a particular business or community is a deal-making opportunity, and it’s one that no company can pass up if they want to succeed and grow.

The common misconception that cultures are isolated in today’s world is tied to a mentality that is flawed to its core. Many companies believe that they are an exception to globalization, all because they operate in a small area, they cater to a specific group, or they are restricted to working in one country, county, or community. Unfortunately for these organizations, they are heading down a path that leads them to falling very far behind, and possibly resulting in them losing touch with their customer base to a level that they will not be able to continue competing in the not-too-distant-future.

You see, the problem with believing that you are an exception to globalization is based on the flawed belief that globalization is only impacted by your personal social and professional reach. By saying “Well I only operate on the East Coast of the United States, so I only need to know about Americans that live on the East Coast” says two things: The first is that you do not recognize the fact that the East Coast is populated with countless thousands of cultures and sub cultures, all impacted by people coming and going from different parts of the country, and even entering and exiting from around the world. The second thing this says is that you, as a company, fail to recognize that the building-blocks of your business, no matter what it may be that you do, are pieced together from products, teachings, and practices provided by all parts of the planet.

“No, that’s not true, I am an American company!” Is that so? Well, let’s think about that for a second shall we? Let’s say you sell T-Shirts that say “Proud American!” which must be an american product, right? Not necessarily, actually. Your cotton could be coming from Brazil, your production done in Bangladesh or Indonesia, your shipping handled by a Chinese shipping vessel through an international channel, your customer service could be based in India, your marketing firm is from Australia, your investor capital is coming from Germany, and the final production piece, say a pocket on the front of the shirt and the label attached to the finished product, is done in the USA. Right there, you are touching seven different countries in a single sweep, just to build a single T-shirt, and each of those countries has its own cultures and subcultures, its own practices, its own form of manners, its own style of business, its own ethical values, its own legal values, and its own personal goals.

But lets pretend that isn’t the case shall we? Let’s pretend that you somehow got every single piece of your design from the United States, and no external hands touched it anywhere else along the way. When you distribute this item, who do you think is buying it? The most common misconception here, especially for First Culture Kids who have spent the majority of their lives, or all of their lives, in one city/town/state/county, is that they rarely realize their market. I say this out of personal experience; Your market is never what you expect. So, FCKs generally assume their market is people like them (continuing our T-shirt making company example), natural born Americans with a good strong accent from [insert location here] who love all things America. But what about everyone else? Not only was this country born on globalization, it has continued to be a hub for people from all over the world. In 2012, almost a million people became Americans, and this number does not include a single person born here. Those people are new citizens, people who came here from somewhere else, a great many of whom love America and want to show their support, a group of people with different backgrounds and different cultures to that of County X. These people are going to be a big part of your market.

And so we come to the point of it all: Why should I, as an HR Director or an owner of a small local company, care? What does a Third Culture Kid have to offer that the guy down the street doesn’t? Well, maybe nothing. People are all different. But, from a law of averages perspective, TCKs naturally offer your business the following skills that many FCKs do not:

  1. Cultural Bridging – TCKs have developed into natural cultural melting pots. They learn a culture quickly, fit into it easily, and have no problem mixing and mingling with cultures that would otherwise seem foreign or distant to an FCK. Why? Because TCKs have never had a single culture to latch onto, and so they have spent their whole lives building their own. This is a valuable commodity when you are trying to strike a deal with someone “foreign” or trying to communicate an idea to a potential customer that has different cultural values.
  2. Global Mindset – You may not be thinking about how many subcultures are impacted by your company or brand, but I can promise you your TCK partner is. While you’re paying attention to the big community in your area, the TCK is constantly looking at how to pull in all the other cultures, too.
  3. From Handshake to Bow – Business deals are struck all over the world. If you’re visiting a factory in Indonesia, or sitting around a conference room table in Shanghai, the cultural norms are going to be very different to what you’re used to. This is where a TCK really shines. If they don’t know the culture yet, they’ll have it down very very quickly. Their natural ability to pick up on cultural queues is unmatched, and they’ll rapidly have techniques for polite business transactions and authoritative stands alike down to a art.
  4. Manners are Key – Sometimes, something as simple as eating with your left hand can lose all the respect you have earned over the years. Remember, every community has different rules. And if you can’t remember, just ask your TCK. They’ve been silently learning how the culture works from watching people on the plane before you even landed outside of your element.
  5. Travel Away – Got a new facility opening up in a country 5,000+ miles away from home? Can’t find anyone who really wants to be on board with the move and help get things rolling? Well, you obviously haven’t asked the TCK you hired yet, have you? As natural movers, we’re the most likely to say yes, and we’ll blend exceptionally well with the new hires at our most recent branch of operations. It’s what we were raised to do!
  6. An Eye on Globalization – Globalization is only going to keep growing. That means that if you don’t stay with it, you’re going to fall behind. If you are going to remain a front runner, you need to get used to the fact that things are changing more and more every day, and the global-political discussions that are taking place right now mean a lot more than you think. Make sure you’re in the right position by having someone on board who understands this.
  7. Minority Thinking – If you haven’t noticed that offending people is becoming a rather consistent trend in the business world these days, that means you either don’t care about your customers, or you forgot social media existed. Regardless of the race, creed, or culture of a group, a TCK is very aware of your minority market. After all, we have spent most of our lives as a minority in the first place.

The world is a small place, and it’s only getting smaller. Remember that when you are looking at your next hire. TCKs have all different types of professional backgrounds. We are normal people with normally different desires and goals, so we are highly diverse in what we have to offer. So when you draft that letter asking for a person who can do X, Y, Z, why not throw in a little piece about wanting someone with international travel experience and a strong understanding of various cultures. See what happens.

I promise, you’ll be happy you did.

___________

James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

From Expat TCK to Domestic TCK

Domestic Expat TCKOne of the most common questions I get from First Culture Kids, after the initial wave of questions inspired by the shock of my multicultural upbringing subsides, is “and what do you think about [insert current place I’m living]?” I’ve written an article about this before in which I discussed how I, as a Third Culture Kid, define myself by the place I’m not living, but I’ve never really answered in a way that satisfies the original intentions of this collection. In truth, the question seems inconsequential to any FCK, but to a TCK looking back on their lives, it is often weighted with so much more than anyone would guess.

To fully understand the weight of this question, I first need to explain the difference between two separate stages of a TCK life; At any point, a TCK is either an Expat TCK, or a Domestic TCK. Now, I understand that saying Expat and TCK together is rather redundant,  but I think it’s important to note the difference between an Expat TCK and a Domestic TCK. Regardless of where you are, as a TCK, you will always feel like a Third Culture Kid. That’s inevitable. Our upbringings have created a permanent level of separation between us and natural FCK society. It’s the way of our lives. But there’s a big difference between Expat TCKs and Domestic TCKs, one that shapes the entire way we operate in the culture we’re actively involved in. So, what do they actually mean?

Expat TCK – A Third Culture Kid who lives in a foreign country in which they are the obvious minority, be it through language, skin colour, accent, customs, etc. It is obvious to both the TCK and the culture in which the aforementioned TCK is living that he/she has moved there like many other Expats. The TCK is forced to blend by showing their knowledge of the culture they are living in, not by natural or physical means.

Domestic TCK – A Third Culture Kid that lives in a foreign country (or their passport country) that matches many of their external identifiers, such as skin colour, accent, language, customs, etc. This type of TCK blends naturally and is only recognized as “different” when a relationship with this TCK is established and particular foreign cultural adoptions become evident.

Now back to the question at hand: What happens when someone asks what it’s like living in [insert current country here]? The curious element of this question is that it has only ever been asked when I have been in Domestic TCK mode. Something about being an Expat TCK tends to lead to a more quiet acceptance of your presence, one that lacks a good deal of approach from others, with people having a tendency to wait for you to make the move in drawing a connection rather than you doing so. This has a lot to do with cultural restrictions. We are naturally more comfortable with what we understand and know, and things that are foreign to us make us weary. This doesn’t change with people, so Expat TCKs are forced to engage in order to break down boundaries, where Domestic TCKs fit in well enough that at first glance no boundary is perceivable.

When I was first asked what it was like living in [insert place] over the others, I was back in Houston after all my international travels had come to a close. I knew that traveling was behind me for a while, but I had no idea that 11 years later I would still be living in the same country with no immediate promise of departing. So, when I was asked what I thought about Houston, I was naturally resistant. People saw this as a resistance to the place itself, but the truth is, that’s never what’s happening with TCKs. We are natural movers. We do it so well that we may be the only group on the planet that the “Most Stressful Life Event: Moving” rule doesn’t apply to. In fact, I am more relaxed moving than I am sitting still.

The reason for our resistance is the shift from Expat TCK to Domestic TCK. Most of us have spent our entire lives being the minority outsider, forcing connections and demonstrating our cultural understanding in order to be accepted as more than just the foreigner. The greatest moment of any TCK experience is that very first second in which a majority individual accepts you, at least in part, as a member of their culture due to your understanding, respect, and participation in their cultural practices. There is no greater feeling of euphoria in the world for us. It’s what we live for!

Of course, that means that when we are stripped of our Expat TCK status and are transitioned into our Domestic TCK status, we are stripped of the vitality of our experiences. The unfortunate truth is, everything that we know has been completely turned around. Like I said before, people are made uncomfortable by what they do not understand, and unless you are a TCK yourself, the TCK mentality is impossible to understand. So where an Expat TCK starts every relationship with a lack of trust and understanding, building up to a state of cultural acceptance, the Domestic TCK suffers a much harsher reality.

Whenever a Domestic TCK starts a relationship, it is always assumed they are part of that culture. Then, as the relationship begins to unfold, Cultural Slips begin to happen at random intervals, revealing the foreignness of our true identity. The subconscious is a powerful tool, and for FCKs, they feel as though they have been tricked or deceived. Unless the person has an open mind, a trait that is unfortunately sparse, the doors go from open to closed on trusting and accepting the TCK. And as everyone knows, it’s much harder to regain lost trust than it is to gain trust from a blank slate.

In becoming a Domestic TCK, our lives become an endless struggle to walk the line between being different and blending in. We have to polarize our lifestyle, completely flipping how we used to act. We go from intentionally blending into the culture to show our respect to intentionally rejecting it to stand out, effectively avoiding the mistrust that is created, albeit subconsciously, when it becomes evident we are not who people think we are.

But that’s not us. We did not learn and grow by making ourselves overtly known. We are not natural rejecters of culture; We are natural blenders. To make statements like “I’m English” when in an American culture hurts us, not because it’s not part of who we are, but because it’s just one tiny fragment of who we are. We are not English or American or Chinese or Indonesian or French or Spanish or any other country in the world. We are all of them we have touched. And we are endlessly proud of every tiny fraction of a culture we have picked up.

So when we are asked what it’s like to live wherever we’re living, we aren’t reacting the way we do for the reasons you think. We reject because to be a Domestic TCK is to contradict everything you were raised to do. It’s to make apparent who we are, instead of blending into what we aren’t. And that moment when the shift takes place is the single most challenging part of any Third Culture Kid’s life.

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Building Company Culture

Building-Company-CultureWhile this collection is based on a foundation of the Third Culture through the eyes of me, a particular Third Culture Kid that has grown up and joined the world of First Culture “normies,” I have started to realize that this isn’t really about the Third Culture exclusively. In reality, it’s about culture in general, it’s just that the Third Culture is a collection of so many cultures that it is the melting pot standard that provides a general level of understanding and bridging acceptance that is absent in most other cultures. Of course, that still means that in order for you as a read to appreciate this collection, you first have to appreciate, but more importantly to understand, culture as a whole. What is it, what does it mean, what does it do?

I have been thinking about this immensely since my talk at the University of Warwick’s One World Week Social Integration Forum. I got asked a question about how a person can find a job in a foreign country they aren’t officially allowed to work in. My default thought was “well, I mean you can’t. That’s illegal and you’ll get deported and won’t ever be able to come back.” Of course, I didn’t say that because that’s honest and I am generally only brutally honest when I’m writing here. But what that question did do, admittedly without its intention to do, was to get me thinking about the problem that company’s have with developing a company culture.

Company culture is a word like “Green” or “Sustainability.” Everyone loves it, but the more I work and the more I deal with people using the word (I’m a marketing and operations consultant, so much of my working life is using words like that to boost internal and external support), the more I realize that no one has a single clue what it means. Companies keep touting their great culture and how amazing it is, cramming their mission statement and motto down employee’s throats, but when you step back and look, the culture they claim to have created never existed in the first place. It was an illusion, a facade, a fake. An idea that never had any hope of becoming anything more than the words on a piece of paper a new employee was forced to read once and immediately forgot about.

A good example of this would be a little start-up I worked at called CityVoice. The Angel Investor there was the founder of a huge company I’m sure many of you know of if you’re even remotely internet literate, the managed hosting company known as RackSpace. RackSpace had an excellent culture, and it was believed by many of the original team who started RackSpace who also joined CityVoice that the culture was one of the main reasons for their overwhelming success. Everyone loved working there, and everyone loved using RackSpace for hosting. It was just an incredible environment to be in regardless of which side of the table you sat at.

When CityVoice started, they tried to duplicate that culture that had made RackSpace so incredible. It was all they talked about, maintaining the culture, loving the culture, living the culture. The culture was everything! But the culture they were describing wasn’t the culture the office had. It was a fun place to work, sure. We had nerf gun wars in the office, had a fridge stocked full of beer, had arcade machines and couches, an open working environment where everyone was sat in the same space as equals, but this happy-go-lucky culture just didn’t seem to grip.

And when the culture wouldn’t stick, the managers got mad.

I remember one time, my boss at CityVoice who was on the founding team of RackSpace for marketing pulled me into a meeting and said that I didn’t seem to be embracing the company culture. As a Third Culture Kid, I honestly found this quite comical and had to choke back a laugh and a serious argument and education lesson about culture.  Of course, “culture” was so important to these people that I knew this statement had serious ramifications regarding my continued employment, so I chose not to explain what I know and instead rejected a lifetime of conditioning for this very moment. But I’m not going to shy away from that now. Too many companies think this way, and I believe that it is my job as a Culture Specialist to address a too-often misunderstood concept:

Culture, not just company culture, is not something you create at will. It is something that is created by the actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of a community. One person doesn’t make a culture. A group makes a culture, and that culture is impacted, shaped, and developed based on the external influences of other cultures and individuals. It can strengthen a culture, or it can weaken a culture.

A strong company culture is created by doing everything the right way. Look at Google and Netflix, two of the most successful culture stories of any business anywhere. They both treat their employees with the utmost respect. Their vacation policy is: “If you need it, take it. No hours, no tracking. Just get your job done and be happy.” They have fun as much as they work, and in doing so they work harder than ever. They are happy with their peers because their peers are equals, even in corporate hierarchy. Everyone’s opinion is valid, and everyone’s ideas are the building blocks to their success. Everyone matters. And above all, the customer is always the primary goal. When your card expires at Netflix, they just keep your account rolling and send you an email saying “Hey, your card has expired. Would you please update your card when you have a chance? We’ve kept your account rolling, so whenever you have time. Your streaming won’t be affected.” In doing that, they create a support level from customers that makes employees proud to work there, proud to be part of the team, proud to be providing a service that the vast majority loves and supports.

Those cultures weren’t built by saying “This is the culture, live it.” They were built because a company started with an informal motto of “Don’t be Evil.” That external goal, the desire to do everything they can to help better their community and peers, is what created a harmonic culture. A  shared idea, a desire to be part of something more, that’s what created the culture.

Unfortunately, that’s what most companies and leaders miss. They keep their employees on tight schedules, dock them holiday hours for needing to go to the doctor, watch their email and internet and write them up if they leave 5 minutes early or come in 5 minutes late. They Big Brother everything and put no faith into their team to be good, hard working individuals. They reject customer complaints and ignore change because “we know best,” and then they wonder why so many of their employees are miserable, quitting, not doing their jobs, or are incredibly inefficient. They wonder why customers hate them, why their churn rates are so high, why they are sales driven instead of retention driven.

And then they blame the people for not perpetuating the culture.

When I was eventually asked to leave CityVoice for oh so many reasons, one of the main being that I was constantly battling with people to stop forcing a culture and start doing things right for a change instead of lying to our employees and customers, I started consulting because I couldn’t bring myself to be in a situation like that again. Now, I work no less than four jobs at any given time, one of which is always full time work, and the others are just sort of “on the side for fun projects.” And in all of those jobs, in all elements of the success therein, I have focused on my understanding of culture to inspire and create a sense of belonging for everyone I work with.

And it’s all built first and foremost upon my understanding of culture in the world, and how you can strengthen the power of your team by making them proud to be by your side.

It’s a shame, really, that more TCKs aren’t in positions of leadership. Of course, we are still a young generation, and that will change over time, but one of the most crucial foundations for success in a business is a strong company culture, and that’s something too few seem to understand how to achieve. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: It’s better to have 1 employee who wants more than anything to be part of what you’re doing than it is to have 10 who don’t care if they have a job with you tomorrow.

So, leaders of the world, let me leave you with this: Stop forcing culture. Make your people, both employees and customers, never want to leave your side just by doing the right thing, which more often than not you’ll see is as easy as stepping back and thinking “if I were them, what would I want from this situation.” Only then will you find the culture you’re looking for.

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JM-003-72-condensed

Post by: James R. Mitchener