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The Paradox of Choice: Too Many Places To Live, Too Little Time

As part of a long adventure into the world of self-help books, I have come across a lot of different theories and mindsets which I intend to gradually share with you throughout the years on this very blog. Recently, I finished reading a book by Mark Manson, entitled; The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, and in its last few pages I found a concept that could be applied to Third Culture Kids. It’s called The Paradox of Choice and can easily be related to the aspect of Third Culture Kid lifestyle called Itchy Feet Syndrome.

For those of you who don’t know, the word Third Culture Kids pertains to people who have spent a considerable amount of time during their formative years in a country different to the passport country of their birth parents. Third Culture Kids use the term Itchy Feet Syndrome to describe the feeling they have as adults of having to move every few years or so. For a lot of Third Culture Kids, the thought of staying in one place becomes mundane and since they have lived a lifestyle where they have been able to move to different countries at a whim, the thought of suddenly moving to an unknown part of the world seems very possible to them and not at all overwhelming like it would do to non-TCKs.

The term Paradox of Choice is widely used by clinical psychologist to explain the anxiety felt at having too many options to choose from and the subsequent feeling of regret at not having made the right choice. For the person that has too many options to choose from, the burden of making the right choice is on them.

A simple example would be going to a restaurant that had a menu with 20 different pizzas, 20 different pasta-dishes and 20 different risotto-dishes, and 40 different side-dishes, 50 deserts and so forth, as opposed to a restaurant that had 5 pizzas, 5 pasta-dishes, and 3 risotto-dishes and maybe 3 side-dishes and 4 deserts. The odds that you will regret your choice even if you made the right choice is statistically higher at the first restaurant than at the second restaurant. In other words, too much choice is equal to higher self-doubt and higher rates of anxiety.


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How the Itchy Feet Syndrome works in this context is that the Third Culture Kid lifestyle is the restaurant with 20 different pizzas but instead of pizzas it’s possible areas to move to, the represents the overbearing burden of choice. Should I move back to my passport country Ghana or should I stay in Lebanon? – but Paris and New York and Bangkok also seem fun, and I loved Okinawa when I lived there! And the traditional monocultural lifestyle (living in one place for a prolonged period of time) is the restaurant with 5 pizzas. So what should a Third Culture Kid that is used to moving around and appreciates the possibility of wherever he or she wants for whatever amount of time, do? This is where Mark Manson’s comes in with his very own take on The Paradox of Choice.

Mark Manson mentions that we as humans feel a need to have a breadth of experiences. My personal thoughts on this is that we as humans are constantly reminded of the limitations of our lifespans and are therefore encouraged to YOLO. When we are young we must travel the world and live here-and-there before we have children and a career and do everything we can possibly want to do. This puts a lot of pressure on us. But Manson also reminds us of the importance of the depth of an experience and how our innate urge to have a breadth of experience works against us attaining a depth of experience. Moving around too much will make it hard for you to know your neighbours, to make high-quality friends, to establish the connections needed to get a job that you love, to see your sister’s children grow-up, to watch the neighbourhood change and trees grow.

So to all Third Culture Kids that are considering yet another move, think about all the opportunities that you might lose out on. Are you giving up on a place too easily? Are moving with a purpose or just running away from the thought of having to lay some roots? If you think about it, the thousand reasons to move may not be as compelling as the one reason you have to stay.

I know it’s hard. The concept of being a Third Culture Kid has become such a part of your identity that moving to yet another country seems like a way of maintaining it, and the very thought of staying in the same place seems as a threat to it. “If I continue to live here and become a – Plain Jane – or – Plain Bob – in this small town in rural Idaho, people will forget that I have lived in all these other places and think that I am from here.” The act of settling down in a place you love, finding a job that you love and spending time with people you love may be a threat to your identity as a Third Culture Kid, but ask yourself how much your identity as a Third Culture Kid is a threat to your happiness. Live in a place because you want to, don’t move away because you feel like you have to.


The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck

We at Cross Culture Therapy highly recommend this book. If you wish to purchase your own copy of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, by Mark Manson, click on the image below.


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Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions to people suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety and from displacement issues associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (i.e.Third Culture Kids – people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture – and Cross Culture Kids) Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 3-sessions or 5-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.

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