When I was younger, people often compared me to my older sisters.
For the most part, I liked it. My older sisters were involved in many activities at our small school and they were both really smart. To me, several years younger than them, they were the type of person I wanted to be when I got older. I enjoyed being known as the younger sister.
Following in their footsteps wasn’t something I minded, even to the point of telling people that part of the reason I chose the college I did was because my sisters went there. When I went to college, I always hoped that I would run into someone who had known either one of my sisters. Too much time had passed, but anytime I met an alumni who attended college the same time my sisters did, I would ask if they knew them. In fact, it was strange to be in a place where my last name meant nothing and nobody had any expectations for me based on prior knowledge of my family.
The first feelings I had of not wanting to be compared to my sisters were when they entered the convent. People assumed my following in their footsteps would lead me to the door of a convent. For one of the first times, I wanted my path to be markedly different than my sisters.
“When will you enter the convent?” was a question I heard more times than I can count. The fact that I liked Mass, Jesus, and my faith in general (combined with an introverted temperament) made people assume that I was going to become a sister, too.
My younger sister responded differently to people’s expectations. She oftentimes felt annoyed by the comparison that inevitably happened in a small school. I remember her battle cry in high school being something along the lines of, “I am my own person! I am different from my sisters!” And in many ways, I understand why she felt that way. Her talents were different from mine and the comparisons she faced seemed to say she didn’t measure up. People assumed she chose her college because her sisters had gone there but she was quick to declare that was not true. She picked her college, she said, because she wanted to go there, not because of anyone else who went there. In fact, it almost made her choose to go somewhere else.
I try to remember these differing views on comparison when I am teaching. Sometimes the siblings are so much like each other, I can see the older sibling in the younger sibling’s expressions or phrases. Other times, I have to keep myself from saying, “You are nothing like your sibling”–whether that is for better or worse.
For competitive souls like myself, comparison can become a dangerous road to travel. I didn’t mind being compared to my sisters when I was younger, and in many ways, I still don’t. Yet I can push the “competition” to the limits–how does one compete with a cloistered nun?
Someone even told me that one time. I mentioned that my two older sisters were religious sisters and their comment was something along the lines of, “How can you top that?” My response, filled with some subtle, yet biting sarcasm, was, “I can’t.” And internally, But thanks for reminding me.
I believe they meant the comment in jest, but I couldn’t help but walk away thinking, Why would you even tell someone that? If I’m not planning to be a religious sister, then clearly nothing else I can do could measure up. So many people who enter religious life feel the pressure to not enter. My high school and college years were filled with the opposite pressure to enter. At times I even began to feel badly about wanting to get married and have kids.
This is not how I enjoy being compared. Who wants to have the battle over who is winning most at life, whether in a religious or secular context? Because if I have expectations placed on me because my sisters are religious sisters, I am sure to disappoint. But, as my younger sister recently pointed out, we love to be associated with them. I will bring them up often and talk about their lives, but I don’t want to live life trying to compete with them. They aren’t competing with me.
I want to run a different kind of race. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4: 7) One where we are running together toward the same goal. I can look at the people around me and see their gifts and how God is using those to help the whole Church. People like to be seen on their own merits, not on what others expect of them based on siblings or parents.
However, sometimes the person it is hardest to get to stop with the comparison game is your own self.