When we were young, my sister Nea and I would wear matching purple raincoats with plaid lining. We wore identical Easter dresses too, got the same Barbie convertible and mansion for Christmas, and always had the same hairstyle. Nea is one year older, but people would swear we were twins. Someone should have told my mom we weren’t.
For most of my life, I’ve been living in Nea’s shadow, always trying to outdo her, but failing each time. My mom would laugh as she told me how much better Nea was as a dancer. Others would say, “Nea has a beautiful voice”, “Nea plays the violin so well”, “Nea is a great student”.
I envied everything she could do -- then got frustrated at feeling inferior. When I was six, I got kicked out of our ballet class for making faces behind the instructor’s back. When I was ten, I quit the 5th grade orchestra. When I was fourteen, I stopped singing. Every time I found myself competing with Nea, I got out of the race.
Cooking became my way out. I liked it and found I had a talent for it. I didn’t need a recipe to make the food delicious. I could take just a handful of ingredients and cook something wonderful. Transform leftovers into tasty casseroles. My family wanted me to bring my “specialties” to holiday dinners.
I’d finally found something I could do better than my sister. But it didn’t make me feel fulfilled like I thought it would. Instead I felt relief the competition was over. I realized I didn’t want to be better than Nea, I just wanted to be accepted for myself, rather than the sister, or daughter, who wasn’t Nea.
Now we play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to cooking, I excel and Nea sticks with making breakfast. When it comes to giving advice, she gives me the emotional side and I show her the logic. When she performs, I’m there to cheer her on.
I realized that living in the shadows isn’t comfortable for anyone, especially not for me. Now that we’ve outgrown our matching purple raincoats, we can both shine.