THIRD CULTURE KID on January 28th, 2016

1. The buck stops with you.

Practice accountability but ultimately you, the leader, is responsible. As tempting as it is, don’t blame others.

2. Don’t gossip about people.

Nothing else undermines your credibility more, or contributes the most to an unpleasant environment. Don’t play people against each other.

3. Don’t get caught up in petty bickering.

Personalities will clash. People will look to get ahead by getting others down. Sometimes bickering will suck you in too. Regardless, don’t get involved.

4. Keep your eyes on the end game.

Have a clear vision. If you are in leadership it is probably because for a time or space you are responsible for getting a job done. Don’t get distracted.

5. The job is the key, not your ego.

This continues on from No. 4. If you are doing a good job, there will be others wanting a piece of the pie, the praise and the pay. Even the job. Don’t allow insecurity to drive your actions. If it’s time for you to step down, then so be it. If not, keep going.

6. Keep short accounts.

Forgive, forgive, and when you’re done, forgive again. This includes yourself. You want to travel light.

7. Appreciate diversity.

Everyone has something to bring to the table. If you are struggling to see this, perhaps you need to team up with someone else who can.


8. Collaboration is another key.

No one person can do it all. When you have a team on a journey and everyone has a sense of ownership, then everyone is emotionally invested. What more can a leader want?

9. Be honest.

The truth is a heck of a lot easier to remember than a lie.

10. Be respectful.

Don’t be a bully. Be appreciative of others’ efforts and remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ And do No. 9 with gentleness and courtesy.

People matter more than results.

11. Pull up your sleeves and get in there.

Doing the real work keeps you in touch with what’s going on with everyone in the team. It helps you remember you are a part of a whole, not a detached demi-god.

Your team isn’t there to serve you, but to serve a higher end.


I have learnt each lesson above at some point some where from others who are leaders. All these points resonate strongly with me. I like to think that they are the secrets of leadership that is radically relational and am continually challenged by these as I lead.

Of course, I am not a successful CEO of an international corporation. My efforts at leadership are quite puny. And I understand that there are many leadership styles. So I am interested in hearing what you think should be added to or taken away from this list.

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THIRD CULTURE KID on January 15th, 2016

‘Home’ is probably one of the most emotionally charged words for a third culture kid.

Is ‘home’ found in a place or a group of people? Is it one place, or many? Is it bricks and mortar, or something intangible – perhaps a feeling or a state of being? Most third culture kids and other migratory people can identify with these questions.

So… what or where is home?

For me, I wonder if ‘home’ is the country in South Asia where I was born, where my ethnic identity is from. Or is ‘home’ the Australian city I have lived in for the past 23 years? Perhaps home, or a part of it, is where my surviving parent and sibling live – about 2500 km away from me – a place which I have never lived in but visit regularly.

I was interested to see that my cousin has specified the town where our family originates from as her hometown on Facebook. I admire the clear-cut thinking that is behind her doing this even though she has spent close to twenty years (and half her life) in Australia.

On the other hand, I have mixed feelings about the place I was born. I have felt both accepted and rejected in the country. Accepted because I belong by blood. Rejected because I am weird. How can a place like that be ‘home?’ Again this is something many of my fellow-TCKs will probably relate to.

Interestingly, in my adopted country Australia I feel at home because I am free to be different. Any social weirdness can be attributed to my very obviously different skin colour. In spite of this, I find my natural human desire to be liked and respected to be very, very strong. Therefore I am, as are many TCKs, a cultural chameleon. Working to fit in is simply how I operate every day. It seems vitally important to me that I work hard to limit the level of weirdness and ‘differentness’ that I present!

Being a cultural chameleon

David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken discuss this concept their book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.” I won’t steal their thunder by redefining it here – suffice to say that their book is a must-read if you are a third culture kid.

On a personal level, being a cultural chameleon means forever reading people’s feelings, emotions and opinions by closely observing their words, actions and expressions. It means crunching those observations through a complicated program in my brain and putting out a corresponding feeling, action or expression to suit the occasion.

It is a difficult task. It is made easier by the familiarity of long practice. But every new cultural environment I encounter involves cranking up the program into full gear and starting again.

It was therefore a pleasant shock to find, when we visited Africa last year, that my cultural chameleon program didn’t need to be running full bore. We visited Zambia, where my husband grew up. From the moment I landed in the place to the moment I left I moved from social situation to situation with relative ease – a rarity for me.

Surprising – I actually felt ‘at home.’

I grew up in West Africa, but have never been back. My memories of that time are hazy – both because memories fade over time, but also because I have learnt since leaving Africa that it is a scary, uncomfortable place. Therefore I was fully expecting to experience culture shock like I have when visiting countries in Asia. I wasn’t expecting to feel comfortable there.

I learnt that ultimately ‘home’ means a state in which I feel comfortable.

But why here?

Perhaps I felt comfortable because of all the stories my husband and his family tell of Zambia. They are amazingly adept at keeping their memories alive. Therefore each place I visited felt like an old friend.

Perhaps I felt comfortable because of the friendliness of the people. Zambians are awesomely welcoming!

Perhaps I felt comfortable because I was travelling with a group of other third culture kids (the others were on a trip down memory lane).

It was probably all of these. And yet I think it was something more.

I grew up in Africa.

You see, my childhood consisted primarily of being an expatriate in an African country with many similarities to the one we visited. And so I was going right back to my roots. I didn’t have to pretend or struggle to learn how to ‘be’ in this place. Because I had, at a stage in life where we learn the fastest and the most, learnt how to function among the beautiful African people. And the lessons were just sitting there in me, waiting to be tapped.

To me, that is home. I only wish I hadn’t waited 28 years to come back!

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THIRD CULTURE KID on October 6th, 2015

I love the in-between places.

On a road trip, the car can become a homely space. I have many memories of long trips in cars and the journeys hold a brighter place in my memory than the destinations themselves.

Similarly, on a journey by air, one’s own little corner of the plane can become a temporary home. This is perhaps more true on long-haul flights than short ones. Again I love the space thus given to relax and indulge in my favourite pastimes – reading, thinking and observing.

In fact, I write this as I come to the end of a long-haul flight – fourteen hours – from Sydney to Johannesburg. I am grateful for this opportunity for the introverted side of me to just be, and not do or engage.

Perhaps it is this introverted side of me that loves the waiting that is the journey. It gives me a chance to energize. No pressure to perform, no plans for a set goal – just be. In the waiting that is the journey, there is space for thoughts to bubble up and crystallize into words. Just as these have been formed.

Paradoxically, the very fact that one doesn’t need to engage can make meaningful engagement with others possible. Much of my day-to-day interactions with people consist of goal-oriented conversations – like the current project at work.

The sort of significant engagement that I long for is the kind I would expect to happen over a meal. In this time-poor world I don’t often get to dine with people outside my immediate family.

This makes me appreciate even more the conversations that can happen in those in-between places. The space created by the journey itself has made significant engagement with self and others possible.

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THIRD CULTURE KID on December 6th, 2013

‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ ~ Nelson Mandela

The practice of peace among mankind seems impossible – until it is done.

Creating a level playing field for men, women and children everywhere seems impossible – until it is done.

Caring for those creatures that share our home seems impossible – until it is done.

Turning around the effects of our destructive use of this planet seems impossible – until it is done.

What cause does your heart burn for today?

RIP Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)

THIRD CULTURE KID on October 24th, 2013

I think this article by Joel Hollier titled “I’m a Christian and my house just burned down” is a must-read for every Christian trying to work through the seemingly random occurrences of suffering.

He says “Those of us who have lost all of our physical possessions- whether they be cameras or photos, are now left with a gaping identity crisis as the facade of security is wiped away from our eyes and we realise that what we so often thought of as permanent was nothing more than a smoke screen.”

As someone who, like many others, has experienced recurring loss of homes, personal possessions, relationships and loved ones through the accumulated effects of successive moves and war, I realise that Joel and I are really on the same journey. And we come to the same conclusions.

That’s just a teaser, you will have to read the actual article (given here again), to find out what those conclusions are.

The suffering, in the last few weeks, of those who have fought and lost the battle for homes in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, is heart-breaking.

If you would like to help those families rebuild their lives, please donate to the NSW Bush Fires Appeals at:
The Red Cross
The Salvation Army

THIRD CULTURE KID on November 11th, 2012

“Girls should be modest and soft-spoken.”

“Women make bad leaders.”

“If a girl is too domineering, no man will want to marry her.”

If you are from a very Western upbringing, such statements would probably shock you.

However they are what I grew up with, in a culture where strong views of gender roles held sway, where shame was a big issue, and saving face for one’s parents, family and community was of paramount importance.

I was brought up to believe that it was bad form to be an assertive, ambitious, leader-like woman who spoke her mind. People spoke respectfully, yet in slightly derogatory terms, of strong women leaders like Margaret Thatcher. It was okay to be aggressive or domineering if one was a man – because you were then going to go places and do things. But a woman…?

For many years (and fueled by what I now realise is unbiblical teaching on the roles of male and female), I believed that women who were in high positions of leadership, who were assertive, driven, and who spoke their minds, were aberrations to God’s perfect plan for humankind. That is, the existence of such women was yet another example of the fallen, sinful nature of this world. One friend, who strongly opposes (to this day) the idea of women in leadership, said that women leaders existed as a concession – because there weren’t enough men stepping up to take their rightful roles as leaders.

Did I mention that this doesn’t just happen in the East, or in conservative Western Christian circles only? In the secular Western world, such sentiments still prevail, though perhaps more subtly. “She’s got him firmly under her thumb”, or “She wears the pants in the house.”

Personally, I don’t believe aggression and domineering are healthy qualities in either a man or a woman. If we wrote a list of why, we can start with the fact that both put a stop to open and honest communication, both are used to control people, and… then the list is endless. We have all read of countless dictators who were strong leaders gone wrong.

The point in this post though is that, to this day, society tends to have opinions on what a man can be and what a woman can be. Though that is, thankfully, changing.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I am one of those bossy, assertive women. And you can probably also guess that I had a tempestuous upbringing.

As a child, my strong-willed personality clashed almost continually with the other strong-willed assertive personality in the house, which was my father’s. All my relatives (who are mostly women) to this day attribute my strong personality to his influence. They seem to believe that, left to myself or a different father, I would never have turned out the way I am. I recall plenty of criticism, advice, and encouragement to overcome those assertive out-spoken personality traits. My family, and so I, treated these traits in me as if they were handicaps.

I learned to try to hide these traits from others around me. I tried to suppress my outspokenness, my urge to take over and rule the roost. But it would sometimes feel like trying to plug holes in a dam with a powerful river surging right on the other side. I would inevitably feel the injustice of something, and speak up strongly – and as I was not encouraged to do so, it would often come out inappropriately. Or my strong urge to take over would assert itself in the absence of what I perceived as a lack of leadership. And as I did not have practice, I would lead inappropriately, often in a way, my family said, that was disrespectful of those around me.

I am now in my thirties.

A little while ago I picked up Florence Littauer’s book “Personality Plus”, and found it insightful. Florence’s book is based around the basic Four Temperaments’, which is a theory of psychology that in turn is based on an ancient concept of classifying different personality types.

I know there are strong critics of this method of classifying – but though I understand what the critics are getting at, Personality Plus has been revolutionary in helping me understand that a lot of my temperament (which turns out to be Choleric-Melancholic) may actually be God-given, that I may actually be meant to be the person that I am.


It blows me away even to write it at this relatively late date! I have got so used to trying to be someone that I am not, and wallowing in guilt when I couldn’t be this non-existent person.

Another book that has recently helped me is Don & Katie Fortune’s “Motivational Gifts”. I have worked out that I definitely have up-front, speaking gifts. I don’t shy away from public-speaking in and of myself. Though the voices from my past do war with my desire to jump up and say something.

According to ‘Motivational Gifts’, I come out as primarily an Exhorter. Another ‘wow!’ moment – I felt amazingly freed to know that God actually made me to have words tumbling around inside my head, waiting to burst out.

It is going to be a long journey, retraining myself to fit back in my skin. I am enjoying knowing that my assertiveness, my ability to speak to most situations, my urge to organise and call out tasks to a team, are all a part of who God has made me.

I am enjoying knowing (whenever the truth sinks in) that I am not a freak or an accident of nature. I don’t have to feel guilty when I speak up in a situation. I do not have to beat myself up for being assertive.

It doesn’t lessen my responsibility to those around me. If anything, I have a better picture of what it looks like when we all, men and women, with our own individual characteristics, work together, each doing something significant, like the cogs in a wheel. When I lead, when I speak out, when I organise, I can now respect, honour, and be more appreciative of those around me with their own unique temperaments, opinions and gifts.

It is the beauty of God’s grand design after all, that He made each one of us different – for a reason.


THIRD CULTURE KID on August 4th, 2012

I remember a time when I was strongly attracted to a man who appeared attracted to me at first, but was forever looking for the ideal woman. The world around him told him that he could do better. I don’t know if he ever found his ideal – but at the time, it made me feel rather small.

The challenge for me, as a woman living in a world increasingly obsessed with image, performance, and perfection in both those areas, is – where do I get my self-worth from?

It’s alright if – when – I meet the current fashionable standard for perfection in image or performance. But, honestly, those times, if they exist, are fleeting. I am more likely to feel deeply conflicted by all the different expectations I try to live up to – all at once.

Then what?

There are three options. I could scoff at those expectations around me, and subscribe to lower standards to make myself feel better. I could keep trying to attain perfection – a rather desperate endeavour for me, but this is the option that I tend to choose – I am, after all, an approval addict. Or I could take a long hard look at where I get my sense of self-worth from.

In a world full of conflicting expectations, I believe that God’s expectations of us are the very best.

All He expects us to do is run into His arms, nestle, and lift our gaze trustingly to His.

THIRD CULTURE KID on June 18th, 2012

Before tonight, I didn’t know what the musical Miss Saigon was about. Rather poor for someone who loves musicals.

Having recently enjoyed a concert by Lea Salonga, the original Kim from Miss Saigon, I was curious – and read up on the musical on Wikipedia.

The result? My husband walked into the room to find me in tears.

Having come from a place where conflict and poverty is a reality, and people covet any entrée into peaceful countries like the U.K and the U.S.A – and moreover being a mother myself – the story of Kim and her son Tam hit me in the gut.

Explaining why I was so deeply moved to my husband while within earshot of our children was a challenge, requiring a lot of coding. We generally welcome our kids’ active participation in conversations at home, but of course this wasn’t appropriate – the themes in Miss Saigon are almost without exception adult.

Thankfully, the conversation turned to the need to care for children who are struggling with poverty.

Something our kids could relate to, and enthusiastically talked about. Excellent – I had been wondering recently how to inspire our kids to actively think about this.

We spent several precious minutes talking about what we could do, in our own ways, to help.

My kids were all for giving out food, toys and money. Which in turn led to some thinking about what would happen when those commodities ran out – and maybe we weren’t around, or weren’t able, to send more of the same.

Which in turn led to a conversation about giving that supports sustainability and self-sufficiency.

From Miss Saigon to sustainability.

Sometimes it’s about letting conversation happen.

THIRD CULTURE KID on June 2nd, 2012

Wow – I finally dropped back in to check this blog, and found a load of lovely comments! It’s great to know that people have been visiting even though I haven’t been :)

It has been less than a year since my last blog update, but so much has changed that I feel light-years away from that time. I will – hopefully – write about some of these changes over the coming months.

The changes were radical enough to necessitate a temporary but almost all-encompassing reduction of all the extras which were crowding our lives. It has only been recently that we have been able to come up for air (so to speak).

This has brought into sharp focus some of the attitudes and mindsets that have weighed us (and especially me) down through the years.

One of those is that I am, essentially, an approval addict. “WHAT WOULD PEOPLE THINK?” drives 90% of my decision-making.

To illustrate. This week, we started planning our son’s birthday party. I had been putting off planning it for ages. I love my kids to bits, but feel seriously stressed out organising their birthday parties.

I obsess over:
– who to invite (would they want to be invited? would they feel offended if we did not invite them?),
– where to have it (if it’s at home, I would feel totally embarrassed by the mess, if it’s somewhere else, it has to be not too pretentious so people don’t think I’m stuck up, and it has to be somewhere that will take the number of kids my son wants to invite – he doesn’t want ten kids, and most places demand at least ten kids, which again goes back to the question of who to invite. Worst case, I can do what I did one year, and PAY for ten kids, regardless of how many I invite – which would blow our much-needed cash – besides making me look totally pretentious again)
– what food to provide (not too bad an issue until the last couple of days before the party), and
– what party-favours to organise (they need to be nice enough but not too nice to be pretentious).

My stomach’s churning, my heart’s pumping, and I just want to crawl into bed and wake up after the party is over.

Occasions like these freak me out – and consequently cause stress to the rest of the family – for many weeks ahead of time. This is crazy, as I actually love having people over – except that I feel intimidated by them, and have a deep, almost immovable need to gain their approval. Go figure. Almost like a love-hate relationship.

There are many other reasons why I know that I am an approval addict. That’s for another post.

I am unsure about the precise roots of this in my life. My being a Third Culture Kid may be a contributing factor, though interestingly others in my family who are not TCKs also appear to exhibit the same symptoms of approval addiction. I know that it is bound up in my TCK’edness in that when I move into any new cultural context, I work very hard at gaining the approval of those already in that context – generally by trying to emulate them as much as possible.

This often leaves me wondering who the real me is.

My deep desire is that I get to know God and His view of me to such an extent that my need for the approval of others simply fades into insignificance.

THIRD CULTURE KID on July 3rd, 2011

originally written 14th July 2010

I am a musician.

Did you know that?

I didn’t. Well, not always.

I thought I was a counterfeit one. A pretender. A person who could act and sound like a muso, but wasn’t really one.

Strange how the search for self has permeated something as trivial – or as important – as that.

Surely it’s simple.

Dan, meet Dave. Dave plays the guitar. He sings. He gets excited listening to other guitarists, and spends hours copying their riffs.

Dan, would you call Dave a musician?

I think Dan would be losing the plot if he said Dave wasn’t.

Of course, there are hierarchies of musicians – just as in any other field.

There are those who are just starting out. Or are always just starting out.

Then there are those who can only ever play from some kind of written music.

Then there are those who can play from chords, casually classed as ‘improvisers’. I fall into that category. Stick a chord sheet and a singer in front of me, and I’m set.

Then there are those who can wing it. They are the ones who play or sing ‘by ear’. When they play, we wonder why anyone bothered to invent music stands. This is the rarefied stratosphere to which I aspire. While I can sing by ear, I have only occasionally joined those ranks in my playing. Something holds me back – probably the fact that my ear is not reliable. Five times in ten, I will pick the wrong chord.

Then there are The Song Writers.

As you can see from my hierarchy, songwriters are considered it and a bit – by me.

And someone else would have a different pecking order. Perhaps that pop or rock musicians are just not any good. Perhaps not even jazzsters. Only the classical variety get anywhere near the top of the tree.

I digress. But not very far.

I was spun into another morass of self-doubt (yes, I love cliches!) recently by a comment from a highly accomplished muso, passed on second-hand to me, that people who need sheet music to play from aren’t real musicians.

So… back and forth I went. am I a musician?

I don’t think there is anything in my life that has been as much a part of it for the whole of it, as music has. To say the same thing clearly, music is so intertwined into my life, that to separate me and it would be impossible.

I find it interesting that I think of myself as a counterfeit musician – not the real deal. I also suspect most people who know me think of me as a real musician – I play with passion and sensitivity, and I know my music. Why the contradiction?