Most people (respectfully excluding the population of China) have experienced sibling rivalry at one point in their lives. It’s a familiar conflict in homes with more than one child, but I see it as a positive thing. A little friendly competition among siblings can often provide a much-needed driving force in bringing out a child’s full potential. But what if the insecurity sets in during adulthood? This is my dilemma.
I started thinking about this issue this past Friday, on the night before my brother was to receive his MS in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering from the University of Texas. Don’t get me wrong—I adore my younger brother and am extremely proud of his accomplishments. He has worked very hard for his academic accolades and I wish him all the successes in the world. However, seeing him receive seemingly all the praise from our family and friends has started to wear upon my self esteem. And it feels silly. I’m 27 years old. I shouldn’t need a pat on the back from my parents when I do a good job at work.
I realized last night that I’m not exactly attempting to compete with my brother. I like to think that I would suddenly feel this drive even if I were an only child. As it stands, I’m merely competing for the pride of those I love and respect. Beyond this, I’m feeling tremendous regret for the missteps I took in my younger years that led many of those people to have lowered expectations for me. I was always the creative, flighty child whose free spirit couldn’t be burdened by institutionalized academia, policies, or commonly accepted beliefs regarding how a “smart” kid should dress or behave. Now, nearly 15 years later, nobody thinks to ask about my accomplishments because I have not been able to escape my juvenile image.
When people are rallying to congratulate my brother on his triumphs, it is not uncommon for people to ask my mother if I am still in college. Nearly everyone who asks acts surprised when my mother informs them that I graduated from the University of Texas in 2005 and have had a successful career in the Internet marketing industry. But I haven’t completely escaped my “creative rebel” stigma—my job is so strange that my mother has a nearly impossible time telling people what I do. In these cases, perception is reality, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people walked away thinking that I sit at home and fill out Internet surveys for cash all day.
Alas, this is my life. This is the image that I created for myself in my formative years, and it’s only natural that I have to live with the consequences of low expectations in my adult years. My drive to make up for my shortcomings as a youth and make my family proud grows incrementally every year. In eight months I too will receive an MS degree, and I must admit that I look forward to accomplishing something concrete and measurable that may actually resonate with the people who underestimated me.