Even when siblings aren’t directly pitted against one another, sibling rivalry is a permanent fixture. It can be a double-edged sword. It pushes us to be the best we can be, but it can also adds pressure to live up to expectations.
My older sister declared, at 4 years old, that she wanted to become a baby doctor. Even before she knew the name for the word, she wanted to be it.
Conversely, I never had any clue what I wanted to be. But I pretended I did out of fear of becoming the disappointment child. No kid wants to be thought of as the loser child in his or her parents’ eyes. Everyone wants to be seen as a success.
I sure did.
I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I chose law school. That was the acceptable alternative.
"A doctor and a lawyer! Your parents must be so proud,” I imagined people would say. That was the only alternative to becoming the second-tier sister; the child who would always be less than her doctor sister.
After earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, I attended law school. I graduated and got a job as a lawyer.
I heard this all the time: "Your parents must be so proud."
And they were, in fact, very proud of both my sister and me. However, three years later, I hated my life. I despised being a lawyer and was unhappily drifting from one day to the next. It seemed as though I’d taken this sibling rivalry thing too far, and wound up worse off than if I hadn’t tried to compete with my sister.
That wasn’t exactly true, though. I’d grown a lot during law school. As an introvert, I had to learn to overcome my fear of public speaking. I was pushed farther than I would have pushed on my own.
Through three rigorous years of law school, studying for the California Bar Exam and passing it on the first try, I learned how strong I really am. I learned that when I apply myself, I can achieve anything I want. And I don’t think I would have learned these lessons without the competition inherent in the rivalry with my sister.
Being a lawyer also helped me realize where my passion lies: in writing. I’ve always loved to write, but never thought of transforming it into a career. I excelled in my legal writing classes in college and sought out projects as a lawyer that allowed me to hone that skill.
Now, as a writer, I am skilled at writing about a wide range of topics, in a variety of styles.
Sibling rivalry comes with expectations, and that can be a tough pill to swallow. But it's also great because it builds on our mental toughness, which pushes us to be the best that we can be.
We are always told that balance in life is the secret to happiness. And I think that applies to sibling rivalry.
We need to figure out the balance between channeling the sibling competition into something productive, and not letting unrealistic expectations cloud our visions for our lives.
Not everybody wants to be a doctor or a lawyer. I definitely don’t. But I know my parents are proud of me for pursuing something I’m passionate about.
And that’s the takeaway.
Channel the drive stemming from sibling rivalry into your passions. Use it as a motivator to create the life of your dreams. As siblings, you have things in common with each other, but that doesn’t make you identical. Everyone has unique interests and skill sets.
Experiment. Learn. Read. Develop. Figure out where your talents lie and how to use them to create a fulfilling life.
What excuse do we have to not go after what we truly want?