Finding My Niche – An Oxymoron by Cindy Brandt

finding your niche map
Cindy Brandt has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before and today I’m happy to welcome her again with a contribution to the Finding Your Niche series.


TCKs and “finding your niche” seems to be an oxymoron.

 After all, we are TCKs, Third Culture Kids, as in, they couldn’t fit us in any category so they created an extra option just to throw us all in there.

 We are the miscellaneous crowd. We are the ones who can thoroughly enjoy the company of whoever it is we keep during the day, but when the sun sets, we look in the mirror and see a different color skin, or go home to speak a different language; we don’t ever fully belong anywhere. No matter which group of people we are with, there always seems to be a slice of insider information we can’t access. We scramble to uncover that knowledge, but feels a bit like flailing awkwardly at the fringes of each particular culture.

 I am reminded of my favorite children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. It’s a story of a giraffe named Gerald,

“whose neck was long and slim. His knees were awfully crooked and his legs were rather thin.” 

Each year at the Africa Jungle Dance, he freezes at the thought of dancing in front of his peers with his gangly limbs. Like Gerald, TCKs know intimately the feeling of crippling self-consciousness, and the fear of being found out we are not really one of them.

Of course, there are ways that TCKs are just like other people. We go through normal developmental phases in which we discover our own likes and dislikes; our skills and assets. We have different passions and desire to live into them. It’s just challenging to simultaneously walk this journey of self discovery while skittering on the outskirts of cultural worlds. It’s too difficult to hear the true calling inside of us over the noise of banging cymbals keeping us away from the mainstream.

In order to find our niche, we must cut through the noise and stop being led by fears of exclusion. TCKs are rich with benefits. We make the best spouses, friends, neighbors, and employees by bringing our dynamic stories and a myriad of experiences. We are strong from having endured difficult life transitions, yet sensitive from having been conditioned by a diversity of worldview. We are flexible from years of shifting from one culture to another, yet firm in our convictions having learned to hold on to core values while physically moving to and from. We are not either/or, we are both/and. We may not belong one hundred percent; but we can be one hundred percent present when we show up.

When we dart from one place to another, distracted by finding a place to belong, we miss investing the whole of ourselves in any one single space. In order to find our niche, we must bravely claim the life we’re in and start acting like we have already arrived. We don’t apologize for being different, instead, we bring our divergent ideas to sharpen the existing ones. We don’t dismiss monoculturals around us, instead we listen and learn from them, insistent upon building meaningful relationships. We vehemently find common ground until the fears and lies and insecurities of being excluded melt away by shared passion.

Gerald the giraffe was booed off the dance floor competition because he listened to the voices telling him there is no way he can dance. He retreated into a quiet clearing, lamenting his situation beneath the gleaming moon, when a small cricket coaxed him to cut through the noises of the jungle and listen to the music only he can hear. Slowly, he began moving his body to the rhythm of that music and by the end of the story, every animal stood in awe of his beautiful movements.

We don’t have to flail awkwardly on cultural perimeters. We need not continuously seek approval for being the unique persons we are. We can walk confidently onto the dance floor, clothed in the many colors of our background, take a deep breath, and just begin to dance.

It’s like what Gerald learns by the end of the story:

“We all can dance, if we find music that we love.”

You can find Cindy at ttp://

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

6 thoughts on “Finding My Niche – An Oxymoron by Cindy Brandt

  1. Ah, there are so many things I like about this post. :) Giraffes Can’t Dance is one of our children’s favorite books, first of all. But more than that, I like that you encourage us to dive in rather than holding back (as is so often my default) – invest where we are at while we have the chance. Even though I’m in my 30s now, I’m still trying to figure out who I am, but I’m confident I’ll get there eventually. It’s a work in progress.


  2. Thank you very much for this post! I always wonder if we really feel this pressure to find a place, or if this is not rather something others ask us to do and we think that we have to find it no matter what. I agree with “kathavd”: I don’t even think that there is “one” real place like that. I think this place is in ourselves: it’s our experiences, our languages, the people we met and the memories etc. and we carry it with us wherever we go. I founs other people I can share a great part of this: other TCKs and ATCKs (yes, like in the definition of TCKs by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken).


  3. I love this: “We are not either/or, we are both/and.” It’s claiming every place, every culture, every experience and letting them make us whole – not lacking, a person on his or her way to being all they were meant to be. As the saying goes, it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. Thanks for sharing yours, Cindy.


  4. Thanks for your post! It does start with the decision to invest and belong as if you had already arrived. I also like the final quote about finding music you love and can dance to.
    I was just wondering if it is actually possible for a TCK to ever find a place where you can invest your whole self in. You store so many experiences, cultures, people and histories – and I am not sure there is a place where all of these will be important at the same time. Or if they ever have to be. Loving one thing (one music) at the moment doesn’t mean that all other songs and things are bad or forgotten. It might just not be the season for them. This might take some pressure off for TCKs, and also encourage them since they have this abundance of experiences and skills in them, and all of them might be useful at some point. Not all at the same time, but definitely at the right time.


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