Patience is a Virtue

Transitions are never easy, no matter your age or where you are. Times of change and going into the unknown will always be simultaneously scary and exciting. As third culture kids we have more experience with change and so we may understand the challenges better, but it doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. Sure, we have more practice with adapting and we know it gets better, but even we feel lost, lonely and confused. Even we question ourselves and doubt our capabilities when we’re thrown into a completely new environment. And surprisingly, we question ourselves even more when we are in a supposedly familiar place, and still struggle to adapt. We pride ourselves on being resilient and being able to settle in anywhere, so when we have a hard time doing that we doubt ourselves. We get frustrated and feel something must be wrong with us for not figuring it out.

This is something I’ve experienced during these past years since I’ve returned to my passport country. I wondered why it was taking me so long to adapt here and why, even years later, I was still struggling. I couldn’t understand and I was frustrated, questioning how I could call myself resilient when I couldn’t even settle here properly. I’ve written recently about my struggle to adapt, sharing my realization of something crucial: I was being so hard on myself because I kept viewing it as a re-entry, when really it was a new entry. This experience also helped me learn a very valuable lesson that applies no matter where you are or what you are going through: be patient and kind with yourself. I have read this before and my mom recently said it to me, but I had never truly understood its meaning or importance until these last few years. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, but also one of the toughest. You only learn it the hard way and it’s very difficult to stick by. It’s so much easier to doubt and question yourself, to get frustrated and feel inadequate… It’s so much easier to do that than to say, “Hey, this is tough and I’m doing the best I can. I just need time and I’ll figure it out.”

We can be so patient and understanding with others, yet we refuse ourselves that same kindness. We forget that what we are doing is no easy feat and that years of experience doesn’t mean we have everything figured out from day one. We (or at least I) also seem to forget that the challenges we faced as third culture kids are not exactly the same as adult third culture kids.

I’ve written this from my point of view as an adult third culture kid, but I believe this is a lesson that applies to everyone. The words ‘you are your own worst enemy’ or ‘you are your harshest critic’ ring so true for many us. But we should learn to not be so hard on ourselves and not be so quick to doubt what we’re capable of. Whatever transitions you may be going through, wherever you are in the world, however old you are… Remember to be patient and to be kind – not just with others, but with yourself too.

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10 thoughts on “Patience is a Virtue

  1. Wow – as usual, your words struck a chord with me. You may be writing them from the viewpoint of a third culture kid, but as you mentioned they apply to everyone. I read them from the vantage point of a widow, and, more recently, as someone who just took a new job after 14 years. Transition is tough and understanding does not always come easily. Change is hard for all of us. But your advice is good and I will try to give myself a break in the months to come! : ) Happy New Year!

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    1. I thought you might enjoy this post, as I recall you mentioning that there would be many changes coming up for you! I hope that the current transitions you’re going through are good and that you’re enjoying your new job. It’s true that understanding does not always come easily, but it’s important to give ourselves credit and recognize our achievements (however big or small they may be). I hope that any and all transitions this year will be pleasant and that you’ll take the time to give yourself a pat on the back regularly! 🙂 Happy new year to you and all the best for 2014!

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  2. Thanks for the first post of 2014! Made me think, as your posts always do. Someone fairly well-known -I think a French philosopher perhaps?- said something to the effect of ‘When I examine myself I am alarmed, but when I compare myself to others I am reassured’. That really spoke to me: we do tend to be hard on ourselves but when I look around at how people around me are doing, people close to me or not, I realize that I am very lucky and very happy to be where I am! Happy New Year to you Dounia!

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    1. That’s an interesting quote, which made me think in turn… I find that sometimes comparing myself to others I am reassured and other times the comparison doesn’t help. But I’ve learned that I need to find what makes me happy regardless of what others have or don’t have. I know I am very lucky and blessed in so many ways – sometimes I just need to remind myself of that! 😉 And we do tend to be very hard on ourselves, so it’s important to take a moment to realize all that we have accomplished and everything we have to look forward to. Thanks for your first comment of 2014, which made me think, like your comments often do! 🙂 I hope that 2014 is off to a beautiful start and that you are all doing well! Bonne annee et meilleurs voeux pour 2014!

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  3. It took me many years to feel like I was operating at close to full capacity in the US, after growing up in Colombia, and while I’m fully competent at US life, I still maintain an outsider’s perspective. In my job, which I’ve had for 14 years, I also feel like I’m not an insider. It doesn’t bother me. I’ve kept myself detached on purpose, to a large extent. And now that I’m married to a Colombian, my future has changed. I will probably retire in or near Medellín and only spend part of each year here in the north.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean about taking time to operate close to full capacity in the US. It’s something I’ve realized since moving back and I don’t know if I’ll ever be at full capacity here. It’s definitely been a learning process, but it doesn’t bother me much. It’s been an interesting experience and one that will only make me grow, as all the other moves have done. Luckily I’m married to another TCK, so it’s not our plan to be here indefinitely. We would both very much like to have the opportunity to move around and continue the life we had growing up.

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  4. I can definitely see how this point relates to so many people. I wonder if TCKs have a hard time being patient with themselves because there is the expectation (like you said) that after so many moves, we should be more resilient. We expect ourselves to have an easier time after the 3rd or 4th move… and the culture arounds us expects us to adapt easily, but there is certainly a need for the TCK to allow himself/herself a lot of time for adjusting. Great post!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Harmony – it’s always great to hear from other TCKs and I’m really happy you enjoyed this post! I definitely think TCKs have a higher expectation for themselves when it comes to adjusting somewhere. Like you said, we’ve done it so many times before that we expect to be able to do it without any issues. As an added complexity, when you’re back in our passport country, people do expect you to adapt more easily – not only because of the experiences you’ve had, but more importantly because you’re “back home”. They don’t understand why it would be difficult to settle back into your own culture. But when you’re made up of many different cultures and you’ve grown up far away from your passport country, you can’t just fit right in and feel at home. So I think it’s both our expectations and everyone else’s that makes it difficult… Like you so rightly stated, we need to remember that even TCKs need to allow themselves time to adjust and sometimes it just takes longer than others.

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  5. “We can be so patient and understanding with others, yet we refuse ourselves that same kindness.”

    Very true. I sometimes ask myself how I would respond or what I would say to someone else who was going through what I’m experiencing. The contrast with the things I say to myself is usually pretty jolting.

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    1. I think we all have a tendency to be much tougher on ourselves than others. The disparity between what we tell others and what we say to ourselves regarding the same situation can be very surprising when we stop to think about it. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts – I really appreciate it!

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