Allen Mark

Putting Words to Paper. Or Your Screen.

Being the Younger, "Less Successful" Child

Last week I spent four days in Minneapolis (again) to attend my sister's commencement over at the University of Minnesota.

Oh yeah, so my sister got her PhD. And that is phenomenal.

She is the first person out of anyone in my extended family to earn a PhD.  My sister and I have always been very close--I'd argue she's easily one of my best friends in life--so I couldn't be prouder. 

In spite of how fun the week was, though, I couldn't help but get a sinking feeling of inadequacy. In my experience, having a sibling so close in age (21 months apart) naturally leads to comparison, both internally and from those around. Most of my life I felt like I had to play catch-up. She started playing the piano at the age of 3; around age 10 I took 2-3 years of piano only to quit (eventually taking up and loving guitar at 13). She got A's and high B's from middle to high school; I settled for B's and high C's. Then after 4 years getting degrees in Psychology and Music at Loyola Marymount University and a subsequent year at City Year, she spends 5 cold years earning a PhD at U of M--already with a job lined up once she moves back; I graduate from UC Santa Cruz with an English Literature degree after an extra quarter, only to work at my family's short-lived business, now struggling with unemployment for the better part of 8 months. I may only be 21 months behind in actuality, but I feel decades behind as an adult.

Of course, much of the tendency to compare comes from outside sources. Thankfully, my parents have always been equally supportive towards the both of us, but that never stops others in the family--aunts and uncles, of course--from doing so. Also attending the same K-8 school added an extra bit of side-by-side matchups. Often my teacher would be the one my sister had the year before, thus the expectations of her success would be projected unto me. Often I felt like people were confused that I didn't reach the same level of academic or working success that my sister achieved. Discouraging, ain't it?

But out of all this, I am only coming out more confident and motivated. If there's anything I've taken away in my time since graduating college is that success isn't a linear spectrum; I'm not trying to be better than the person next to me, I'm trying to be better than me yesterday. If anything, this wave of attention my sister is getting brought up past emotions and a mentality I used to have when I was younger. Now that I've been swimming through adulthood, I've grown out of all that and have a better sense of living through it. Sure, I'm still going through a god damn struggle and am not succeeding at the pace where I want to be, but that can also be okay. It's not as if I'm not working hard and my success isn't predicated by where my sister is in her life. In spite of how different our paths have gone, I don't feel decades behind anymore, nor do I feel 21 months behind either--we're both adults just trying to live.

With all that said, my sister is the best. And I'm trying to be the best too, just in my own way.