I remember the first time I saw the term “third culture kid,” created to describe children raised by parents from two different cultures in a third, separate culture. Suddenly I had a better understanding of myself and why everything felt so strange while I was growing up — why I feel at home nowhere and everywhere on this planet, and love the view (both literally and figuratively) from 40,000 feet.
It would have been helpful to understand this as a human attempting to be an American teenager, explaining to my parents why I’d want to sleep at someone else’s house when I had a perfectly good bed of my own, or go out to eat when we had food in the house. By the time I graduated from high school, my negotiation skills and iron will were solidified.
At that time in my life, the constant cultural translation was exhausting. With a mother from the Scottish Highlands and a father from the toe of Italy, I was raised with an unusual mix of accents, customs, and the need to navigate making that work in an American suburb. (I like to say I’m very stubborn, but throw a hell of a party.) My parents came to the US in their early 20s, just after WWII, so for them life was a blank canvas.
That blank canvas turned out to be my greatest inheritance.
One of the most critical traits to master as an entrepreneur is dexterity. The road map is a constant work in progress, created with every breath you take and the vision that pulls you forward. You need to be able to think on your feet and move quickly in response, and my childhood was excellent training for this in several ways:
AGILITY: Explaining things 3 ways? No problem. Pivoting? A way of life. Unexpected problems? An opportunity to give my brain a different way to solve for X.
COMMUNICATION: I was a living dictionary and spell-checker for my father, who loved exercising his democratic rights post-Mussolini, so he wrote to every congressman for every reason. I can still hear in my head, “Jan, how do you spell…?” (Jen became “Jan” in his accent). I’m fluent in French and can speak passable Italian, and my ears and accent adapt to the places where I spent time. I become amorphous to the culture I find myself in, without the conscious effort to do so, because that’s how I adjust to the world.
EMPATHY: When you are at home nowhere and everywhere, you have to approach the world differently, and find the throughline at a human level — the only common denominator. Empathy may not come naturally to you (it didn’t for me), so it takes some time and introspection to develop, but that human throughline has become the core of everything we do at IMPERIA.
The sum total of all of this has become a globally-minded pursuit that lights my soul on fire, a desire to find a commonality in the people I bring together so we can forge a better world.
That may sound idealistic, but I come from two humans who set off with a few suitcases and a dream to create a better life. Dreams and idealism were all they had.
This is why I’ll always put my confidence in the children of immigrants — they have a natural skill set for entrepreneurship. Their agility and resilience blend into a potent form of wisdom over a lifetime.
We’re examining those adaptive skills this month in a way that will enable you to add them to your repertoire as well, or strengthen the foundation you already have. Right now the world is demanding a level of agility that can test even an Olympian, so let’s give the world a run for its money.
With love from NYC,
Jennifer’s Table is a monthly editorial about our focus at IMPERIA, based on her decades as a successful entrepreneur and startup coach, her global travels, and the work we do with women founders around the globe.