The Case of Belonging & Identity for Multi-Cultured Solopreneurs
Lately, I’ve been very focused on the specific content that I’m consuming.
I have only been listening to certain authors, or one-person solopreneurs or coaches that have found success and are now talking about it.
I am genuinely learning a lot. These people have a lot of valuable knowledge to share and their lessons have truth them.
The only problem is that I find it difficult to relate to them. I find it difficult to transfer their journeys to my reality…
It’s pretty simple really.
The environment they grew up promoted and demoted values, principles and ways of life different to my own.
Of course there are universal lessons that can be drawn from every story, regardless of background.
But there comes a point where I’m looking for a bit more connection to the people I’m learning from. It gets damn lonely constantly trying to translate lessons from one reality to my own.
I may as well be reading fiction novels. 📚
I know I’m not the only one who feels like this.
So I reflected to figure out what was going on…
What I found out was a single trait, common to almost all the people I was learning from, that made me feel disconnected from them.
I found was that they were mostly still in the places they grew up.
They’re surrounded by everything and everyone they’ve ever known.
They simply… started (the struggle) of business building.
“Wait, why does that matter?” I hear you say. “That sounds unbelievably obvious. Why am I even reading this. Who is this guy, I hate him.”
Well, yes. It is obvious. Until it isn’t.
So it helps to look at it from another perspective.
Quick background for context
I was born in Ireland, raised for a while in Italy, schooled back in Ireland and moved to London in my early 20’s in pursuit of greener pastures.
Now I live in Milan, having bounced around three Italian cities prior.
- To see my family I have to travel to Dublin, London, Rome and Athens.
- To see my friends I have to travel to Dublin, London and Amsterdam.
This isn’t a travel flex, far from it.
I say this to showcase that there are any of us that belong to different countries and cultures.
But when you’re looking for success, it’s very difficult to sustain the consistency necessary in pursuit of your goals without a safe, comfortable and known environment.
Why is that? Has bouncing around these different countries done something to me? Or is simply a lack of discipline and focus?
If you’re one of the many, many individuals who’s family and friends network span countries, you live in an almost permanent state of transition.
Not from a physical stand-point, though.
- You might be settled in a city for years, like I did, but still feel like you’re from somewhere else
- You may feel as though you don’t belong here or you don’t belong there regardless where you actually are
- You may have the FOMO of living in the one of the other locations
So then, where do you belong?
And that’s the key I keep coming back to: belonging.
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” — Brené Brown
If we dig deep, reflect and accept, the answer is you really that we belong wherever we are.
When it comes to belonging, our backgrounds don’t matter as much as we think.
Takes a while to get to that stage, believe me, but it’s well worth it.
It takes time to get to a sense of self. Identity-building in a world where you don’t feel like you belong to any one single culture takes mental energy.
Mental energy that could have otherwise been deployed somewhere else. Like say, building a business. Or a podcast. Or a creative endevour.
The same mental resources that our successful entrepreneur counterparts may have never had to go through. Without having to question oneself, you just get on with things.
This is the challenge of the TCK (Third Culture Kid). I first discovered this term in one of my delightful crises-of-belonging a few years ago.
It’s a neat little acronym to describe a certain kind of person who grows up in the confusion of a few different cultures. These Kids may be the sons and daughters of a Spanish and German couple who now reside in Norway and face the lack of identity that a single-culture can offer.
You see, humans can easily build their identities around the culture they grew up in without any introspection at all. The vast majority do just that.
But the TCKs are exposed to three different cultures as a result of the decision made by their parents. And now, the poor things, are a bit lost.
The TCK presented the wider world with a nicely packaged problem of identity in a globalised world. People are moving countries to pursue career opportunities, having children and then potentially settling down.
With the values of three cultures to choose from this inevitably will involve a period of introspection from the TCK. They must uncover which values they actually agree and which to incorporate into their lives.
They can’t lazily hang their hat on the hook of the only culture they’ve ever known and call it a day. They have to do some work.
True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. — Brené Brown.
But the same applies to any one individual who finds themselves building their sense of identity by themselves.
They may be individuals such as myself who didn’t identify with the culture and values of the country they grew up and so emigrated.
They may be gay people coming to terms with who they really are. Or any marginalised people who don’t fit the strict yet lazy mould of the culture they find themselves in.
Turns Out We’re All Human
There isn’t a neat little acronym to describe these people because are just that: people.
People with varying backgrounds with stories that meander between running away from problems and running towards a brighter future.
These journeys naturally bring them across borders, through cultures and into themselves more and more.
When these individuals go on to create successful businesses, the amount of work they have done has simply dwarfed any single-culture entrepreneur.
They have built their own foundation of stability for their lives.
They have built their sense of self, their own values and principles, figured out who they need for support, what they need to do to recharge and what they need to do to keep going.
They have gone through the long slog of developing their sense of identity and belonging. And then decided to build a business. Phew.
That is more work that any single-culture entrepreneur will ever do.
(This is why closing border to immigrants destroys economies. You cannot beat the ironclad will of people leaving their home in the pursuit of a better life.
I would gladly bet the farm on the success of an Indian man who moved to London to open a small corner-store than a soft local lad looking to build a huge tech startup. Get the fuck.)
What if that sense of discomfort lives inside of your head? What if you’re still uncovering who you are, where you belong?
This is the internal work that many of us must do before setting out into external world of discomfort. Without it, all our external (business) efforts will become that much more difficult.
No Problems Here AFAIK
You see, when we grow up in an environment where we haven’t had to question our cultural values or our sense or self, that sense of internal calm is a given.
No matter what happens in our external world, you are you. I am me.
Because… why wouldn’t it be?
There hasn’t been any reasons why we wouldn’t be us after all. There’s just never been any problems with that.
But those us of us who have had to introspect and build our sense of self, that comfort isn’t a given. It takes work. And maintenance.
Who we are and where we belong isn’t a guarantee. It’s almost always up for debate. Especially as we continue to grow and evolve as humans.
Of course, we can all ignore the introspective work and just rumble forward into building businesses.
In fact, it’s 99% more likely that people will start building externally specifically so they don’t have to build internally.
But these businesses get built foundations of sand and anxiety. From cowardly places of inferiority, bravado and egoism. And we both know that’s not you dear reader.
“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” — Brené Brown
This is why I respect the individuals who have gone through this deep-sea soul trawling and then went on to launch business ventures.
The square pegs in the round holes. To say the least.
These people will most likely be creating more purposeful ventures, with more purposeful impact having gone through that deeper layer of life.
They also make must better dinner guests.
We need more exposure to those people to help inspire the next generation of individuals.
Truth be told, I need more exposure to those kinds of people.
I don’t know what the solution is right now. Maybe more podcasts or less podcasts. Or start my own podcast.
But if you’ve made it to the bottom of this and felt yourself agreeing and nodding along I want you to do two things:
- Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts
- Message me directly if you like :)
Hope this article helped you think more deeply. If you’re feeling stuck and creatively unfulfilled, drop me a message and we can chat about it.
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