Part 3 – Re-entry: Reconstructing a life well-lived

Continuing the Re-Entry series….

In Part I, we discussed how the development of an individual identity, a sense of belonging with one’s peers, and close personal relationships are normal developmental tasks faced by every young adult.   In Part 2, we focused on how re-entry introduces an additional, often strenuous, developmental task – reconstructing our lives.

sartre quote

What story will you tell yourself about your reconstructed future? 

In a study of 450 re-entered early-adult TCKs, the primary source for psychological well-being and for psychological distress was a sense of fulfilling life goals, life purpose or life view, in the expected directions:  The more returnees felt they were fulfilling their purpose or living a meaningful life, the higher their well-being; alternatively, the less returnees felt they were fulfilling their purpose or living a meaningful life, the greater their distress.

So how do we reconstruct lives in our home cultures that are filled with well-being and purpose? 

According to Martin Seligman, the granddaddy of positive psychology, a sense of a life well-lived is based on five elements – known by the acronym, PERMA – which lead to a sense of well-being:

Positive emotion – heartfelt emotions that create a pleasant feeling, e.g. love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, and inspiration

Engagement – a state of flow, i.e. being so absorbed in a challenging, yet doable, activity that we lose track of time

Relationships – close, high-quality social connections

Meaning – living with purpose; contributing to something bigger than the self

Accomplishment – the pursuit of mastery, achievement and success

While everyone finds their own “right” mix of these elements, many early-adult TCKs appear to be tipped toward the need for meaning, and perhaps achievement, reflecting the life reconstruction underway.  If you happen to be one who feels the angst of marginality and dissonance, know that it gets better.

TCKs’ overall mental health improved as they reconstructed ways to fulfill their life goals and life meaning.

Reconstructing our lives begins by building continuity to offset the disequilibrium brought on by the novelty we encounter in our “home” culture.

  • How can we carry past valued relationships, beliefs and values into our present and future?
  • How long must we compartmentalize those aspects of ourselves that are different – or must we?
  • What environment would be the best match for us – for a good person-environment fit?

Reconstructing our lives continues as we search for ways to bring our worlds together – to benefit from both our past and our present, to understand and navigate our new world:

  • How might we turn our re-entry experiences into opportunities and possibilities?
  • How might we reintegrate our “unused life [and] unlived life” into a multidimensional whole self?
  • How might we turn our “a part of and a part from” experiences into a skill we can use constructively?
  • How might we find meaning and purpose in our lives again?

As you look to the next chapter in your story, what are you creating?  Might you gently free your fingers from clinging too tightly to distressing stories?  Might you flex your thoughts and find possibilities?  What would your best possible future self look like?

If you’d like to explore who your best possible future selves could be – what it might look like to have a meaningful future where you are at your best, you could complete the Best Possible Selves Exercise.  You can read about how this exercise can be helpful here.  Then, give it a try by answering the following:

Think about your top core values (e.g. relationships with friends and family, religion, creativity, athleticism, etc.) and your life in the future.  Consider why these core values are important to you, and imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could in fulfilling them.  You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals.  Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams.  Now, write about what you imagined.

Do this for 20 minutes per day for three days in a row.

What story did you tell yourself about your best possible reconstructed future?

9 thoughts on “Part 3 – Re-entry: Reconstructing a life well-lived

  1. Joy, I have so appreciated reading these 3 posts. You have done such good work, and I’m sure that many have benefited and will benefit from your insights and good counsel. I’m sure it would have helped our kids to have had this kind of helpful analysis when they were finding their way through their own struggles. I would love to be able to sit down with you and ask you lots of questions! But I doubt if that will happen. Thank you so much.
    I only hear from your Mom rarely nowadays, but always enjoy our interactions. Please give her my love.


    1. Thanks for your kind words, Polly. It’s my hope that the posts were helpful. I’ll be sure to pass along your greetings to Mom. I’m sure she’ll be warmed to get them! Take good care, Joy


  2. I only wish we’d known about the perils of re-entry when I came back “home” over 30 years ago. It would have saved a lot of angst.

    I posted links back on my blog ( ) last night and wrote about how difficult re-entry was for me. I eventually adjusted, of course, but that first year back was one of the hardest of my life. Especially when our Embassy and my school in Pakistan were overrun by angry mobs and I could only helplessly watch snippets on the news about it, worrying about my friends, and without the words to explain why I was glued to the news. I had a very insensitive dorm-mate who could actually go home every night if she wanted to. Her comments still burn.

    I hope TCKs today have a little more awareness and some resources they can draw on so they avoid a lot of that emotional turmoil.


    1. Jenni: I appreciated reading this and your post on your blog. I agree that the life reconstruction task/process is stressful and different from our home-country peers. And that pre-re-entry prep as well as support from family and friends are key threads that help us more quickly weave our best possible reconstructed futures. I’m with Ruth Andrew, so glad you’ve always been a good swimmer! It sounds like the C.S. Lewis quote that I shared in the Part 2 comments could apply to you: “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Joy


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