I’ve spent much of my life reflecting on what it means to me to be the youngest of three sisters. I’ve compared myself to my sisters in every way imaginable. I’ve spent equal time conforming to my role as the youngest– following in my older sisters’ footsteps– as I have rejecting that role– forcing myself to be different from them in any way I can. I’ve literally climbed mountains to escape living in the shadow of my sisters. But I’ve come to find that as far as I try to stray away from their path, I value my accomplishments significantly less when I can’t compare them to those of my sisters.

So which is it? Do I want to be a carbon copy of them, or am I desperate to be my own person? In all honesty, I don’t have an answer for you. There are many things about my sisters that I admire. They are kind to everyone they meet. They are outgoing and can easily make new friends. They are hardworking and incredibly smart. I know, the way I describe them, they almost seem perfect.

For much of my life, I felt like I couldn’t live up to the impossible standard I saw in front of me. Where they excelled in math, I struggled for hours on so-called “simple” algebra. Where they flourished on the lacrosse field, I sat on the sidelines waiting for my chance to play. For years, I was frustrated at myself, wondering what I was doing wrong. Why did it seem to come so easily to them when I could never seem to get it right?

 As I mentioned before, I have spent much time forcing myself out of their shadow. I took singing lessons, hiked mountains, and even decided against applying to the college they both went to in an effort to create my own path. Yet even at the top of the mountain, I knew that my actions were only to spite my sisters. No matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I could be happy being different, deep down, I knew that I wanted to be just like them.

So, what is the magic solution? How can youngest children everywhere escape this terrible paradox of being obsessed with being the same, yet so very different, from our older siblings? I am honestly not sure we can.

Coming to college, I was immediately nervous about not having a clear path to follow. It dawned on me about halfway through my first semester just how much I had previously relied on my sisters to tell me what to do. I had always followed their path, and even when I did something new, it was always in direct defiance of their actions. As I entered this new chapter of my life, I had a newfound freedom that has completely altered my perspective. Without their life as a roadmap for my own, I am pushed to make choices that are actually for my own benefit rather than trying to conform to a standard that doesn’t fit me. I was able to choose my own major, my own clubs, and my own sorority without the fear that I was doing something wrong.

I may always aspire to be just like my sisters; passionate, caring, outgoing, smart, or funny. But for me, what’s important is that in trying to be like my sisters, I realize that I don’t need to BE my sisters. I can still be just as smart as them without ever having to solve another math problem. I can still be loved and have great friends, even if I prefer to have a smaller circle. I can still be talented without stepping foot onto a lacrosse field. I can acknowledge and be proud of the ways we are the same while also loving the ways we are so remarkably different.

I know this may be a hard pill to swallow: acceptance. If I could go back in time and tell myself last year that I accepted the differences between my sisters and me, I would laugh in my own face. Though its taken me eighteen and a half years, I am proud to be on my way toward acceptance. I am proud to be related to my sisters,  and I am proud to be like them in many ways. But now, I can say with certainty: I am equally proud of being my own person. I am no longer making attempts to remove myself from their shadow but instead stepping into my own spotlight.

Featured image via Leila Noja on Pinterest.

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