Stories that define me: on comparison and identity

*This is the second in my mini-series on stories of my past that define me. I’ll write these periodically, as the ideas flow. Enjoy.*

It’s no secret that I have always struggled with comparing myself to others, and that includes my sisters.

And honestly, I think the basis for that comparison is pretty closely tied to growing up as a triplet, where comparisons are almost automatic, or par for the course. As much as I would not trade being a triplet (or what it’s like being a triplet!), being compared and searching to find my own identity over and over growing up, and even now, is something I wish I didn’t struggle so much with.

Growing up, we were in the same class (small, private school) from K-4. Fifth grade was the year we split off into two separate classrooms (naturally, Jess and I stuck to one classroom and Jen was brave enough to venture out on her own into the other classroom, where – side note – she met her now-husband for the very first time! Fate?). Middle school through high school, Jess and I were ‘the twins’ by default, lumped together, neither having a true identity to much of anyone, to be honest. As we got older, it was – who is the first to have a boyfriend (for the record, I was last…at 17. Jen was first, and her now-husband WAS her first boyfriend too! Jess was second, at 15 [I think?!] and then me), who got the best grades, who has the cuter outfit, who is more talented. (note: it wasn’t so much as we comparing between each other, just my observations outwardly, looking back at that time).  To college…Jen, again, went her own route, studying Biology at a nearby college. While Jess and I both opted for community college first (Liberal Arts) and then the very same college (shocker, I know) for communications. We both had the same internship, the same high school and college jobs and so on. The first shift in this was our first post-college jobs. Jess got hers right out of the gate, and went into graduation with a job. Me? Notsmuch. It took me four months to land my first job (which, incidentally, was the job I was at until I got the job I have now. 8.5 years at the same place).

That was probably the first time I felt like a failure. Both of my sisters had post-graduation plans. Jen, to grad school in Florida. Jess, to her first job in media planning. That summer was one of the hardest for me, as I stuck it out at the job I had all through college (and high school…and, again, where Jess met her now-husband, who, incidentally, was MY friend first. I take credit for making sure their first date happened…ask me about that story one day!). Wearing the same supermarket uniform I’d worn for the last 7 years, while Jess was off to her fancy job and Jen was thousands of miles away at grad school.

That was also probably the first time I truly compared myself. And certainly not the last. And I don’t write this as a woe-is-me in the slightest, I write this because I am exploring where this comparison mentality comes in, and how I have worked to surpass that and break out into my own identity.  An identity I struggled with for years. And one I don’t truly think came bubbling to the top until one of – if not, the biggest – inflection points in my life.

Divorce.

Yup. There’s that word again.

When I started going through my divorce and being divorced…that is what made me different. At first, I wanted to run from that label. Hide it. Bury it deep. Resist those failure feelings all over again (since, again, both of my sisters were married, and both before me, yet I was the one getting divorced…). But then, I embraced it. I started my first blog to chronicle the ‘me’ then, what I learned, and who I became….who I’ve become.

When I went through my divorce was the first time I really focused heavily on workouts, challenges, and goals, when it came to fitness. It was a time where I began working out 5-6 days a week, not 2-3. When I first started running. And lifting weights. And caring what I looked like. Before, I cared, sure, but I never put myself first, or invested in me. And that change, that shift in priority was one of the best things I ever did. I never wrote about it, or talked about it, even, I just worked out, and worked out hard. Jess and I soon shared this similar interest, running together, training to become Group Kick instructors, and eventually…to the barre n9ne challenge (one of the best things I ever did was submit us for that contest!!).

Why am I writing about all of this? Because, for the first time, I want to see myself for all that I have accomplished, not for all that I am not. Yes, I am divorced, but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. Yes, I struggle with body-image, but I think if I never did, I’d never appreciate what I have learned from this experience, from fighting past it, squelching bad habits, and namely, the comparison game. And yes, I still struggle with comparing. And I still struggle with my body (though it’s much less!), but the one thing I will never struggle with? Being proud of who I am, what I have accomplished, and what I have shaped myself to be, since my divorce. And nothing can rip that away from me. I won’t let it. I won’t let ME be the one doing the ripping, either. Divorce was the catalyst, not the definer…to me, finally creating my own identity. An identity that’s mine and only mine.

Quietly determined. Stoic. Focused. Too serious sometimes, perhaps. But happy, confident, and focused more than ever on ME. Who I am. Not who I am NOT.

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34 thoughts on “Stories that define me: on comparison and identity

  1. Love you, friend!! I hear you on comparisons…it’s hard not to do it…but you’ve come SO far in that – and many other – departments. You should be super proud.

    1. Aww, thank you! love you too! 🙂 I am proud, even though I have work to do in this department, I know I am improving, and that’s all that matters.

  2. It’s hard not to compare.

    I don’t really compare about fitness or health, but definitely I feel like we’re not where we should be financially. So everyone has their inner demons!

    Look how far you’ve come from your divorce, and I loved that you discovered barre–and showed it to me too! I tried Cardio barre last night! the jury’s still out on my feelings about it…

    1. It REALLY is hard not to compare. But when you grow up with two sisters the same age, it’s even harder. And you are right, we all have our own inner demons. Curious what you thought of cardio barre. I’ll email you!

  3. Awesome post my friend. You must figure out how to define “you” completely apart from your sisters. Yes, they have helped define you in some ways, but they are not the definition of you. I have struggled with comparing myself to my sister and being compared to her by others. I have actually been told: Wow your sister is beautiful. She looks just like Julia Roberts. [pause] You guys don’t look anything like. Um, gee thanks.

    But then she tells me how she’s compared herself to me. It’s a double edged sword in a weird way having a sister you are SO close to. I can’t even imagine your situation with one identical.

    But, I must say, I think you have gone through a great deal of self-reflection and growth over the time I’ve known you.

    1. Thank you, friend! I can’t believe people would say that about you and your sister! That is SO awful. And uh, you are both beautiful!!! Seriously and truly. That must have been really hard growing up, people are so insensitive. And you are right, I am working hard on my own identity separate from my sisters, and especially from Jess. As much as I cherish our closeness, we are different, and that’s ok! I didn’t mention that in my post, but definitely agree.

  4. Wow – you are really inspiring me to be more self reflective.

    You just spoke about something that really hits home. I constantly compare myself to others & it’s exhausting. Secret confession – 1 of the biggest reasons I really want to run a marathon is because my sister does it. But then I take a step back and realize that’s her life, not mine. I can only be the “best” at being me.

    All of this is hard work! And you my friend are a sucess!!!! A huge sucess!!!

    1. Aw! I am glad to inspire 🙂 And I seriously cannot believe how alike we think…I struggled with not being a ‘racer’ like Jess and loving that aspect, but once I realized I wasn’t, I was much more able to accept it and be okay with it. Huge weight off my shoulders! I do want to run another half marathon…to prove to myself that I can do it and can ‘get out of my head’ but beyond that, I don’t need to run a marathon, just because she is. XO!

  5. Know what? I learned a few new things about you reading this post (which I find hard to believe, don’t I know EVERYTHING about you by now??). In particular – before your divorce, you didn’t really invest in you. I guess I never thought about it before but you’re right – you didn’t. And maybe that’s partly why you’ve been more prone to falling into the comparison mode you’ve been battling to get out of?

    I also agree with Heather – defining “you” outside of our sisterhood is really important and I truly think you’ve done that in so many ways. The hard part (for me, too) is not wanting to separate ourselves from one another too much by defining ourselves and our lives outside of our relationship – because I’m truly so proud of how close we are and I treasure that bond with both of you. So to think about creating that separation factor as you define yourself (and I define myself), is hard – but necessary. If I’m making any sense (and not just rambling, wow).

    1. I am glad you are learning too…I learned more just WRITING this post, to be honest. I definitely didn’t invest in me. I went through the motions, I invested in others, but not me. I am so glad I do now. And while it is hard to separate ourselves identity-wise, it is also GOOD for us. We can still share as much as we do now, but that doesn’t mean we have to like or do everything together just cuz the other one likes it. That’s ok. That’s great. Nothing wrong with it. That was hard for me to realize, but I feel so much better about it.

  6. I think it’s natural to compare, especially in your case where you are a triplet. But it sounds like you have come a long way. Props to you!

  7. Wow, this is a great post! Growing up, I got off pretty easy in this department. I was the oldest of four kids, and all three of my siblings were boys. So I didn’t really get compared to any of them. I liked being special in that way.

    Even though I’ve accomplished plenty in my life, I still compare myself to others–probably less so now, but in high school and in my 20s for sure. Like you, going through my divorce was good for me in some really meaningful ways. Strangely enough, I think it’s done a lot for my self esteem. Cheers to making the most out of what life deals you!

  8. you know, i am so glad you wrote this for YOU! I can see all that you ARE by all that you are NOT. God has led you down a different path for a reason and he is strengthening you step by step.
    xoxo

    1. Thank you friend. You are so right, God has led me down a different path than my sisters for a reason, and I am stronger than I’ve ever been. Great point. XOXO

  9. You know what’s funny sis, I would always compare myself to you and Jess and I never felt like I stacked up or fit in. I did/do a lot of comparing. Its hard not to but I was naturally different.

    I feel like we go through phases where sometimes we feel ‘ahead’ and sometimes behind. Right now, you have the fancy job and I am still in grad school! And for the record you got married BEFORE me 😉

    I look at you for all you have accomplished and really how far you have come since you have gotten divorced. Divorce doesn’t define you! t feel like I have gotten to know you better in these few years that in the 12 since high school! I love you sis and I am so proud of you for who you are right now. Oh yea and for how much you love Isabel, makes me heart double in size!
    xo

    1. Aww, thank you sis, such a heartfelt comment…tears to my eyes! And wow, how did I forget that I got married a couple months before you?? I guess I was thinking in terms of engagement or something. And you are right, sometimes we are ‘ahead’ and sometimes we are ‘behind’ each other, but that’s ok!! And we each learn at different rates and experience things and react to things differently. But the most important part is that we have each other to rely on and support each other, always. And I love my niece so much and it makes MY heart swell just thinking about her and love that you love that too 🙂 XOXO

  10. When I went through my divorce is the first time I started caring, too. I joined the gym, started running, and started eating right. It was the first time I actually started to care about myself!

    1. Isn’t that weird how that happens? Not that I was out of shape before, but just wasn’t as huge a part of my routine and priority for myself, as it is now. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it??

  11. I read this yesterday and didn’t have an immediate reaction to it. And then last night I was on the cross trainer at the gym (where I haven’t been in a few weeks! Oops…) and it hit me – I haven’t been investing in myself. I haven’t been nurturing myself physically or emotionally or intelectually. And then I went home and watched the Gilmore Girls (yep, still my favourite show at 29!), and it was the episode where Rory decides that she can do more; that she can be whatever she dreams; and goes back to Yale. I have (albeit fairly vague) goals and I know I can do more, whatever I want to, and I need to invest more in myself to make that happen. Today is a new day.

    Comparison isn’t always a terrible thing, though – it can breed healthy competition, as long as you are realistic about it. I was always a bit of an oddball in my group of friends – the slighty-hippie, less studious one, so nobody ever really compared me to anyone else (or I to them). As such, there was no level of expectation so I didn’t try. Simliarly, my grades were perfect until my older brother dropped out of highschool, at which point I stopped competing and just scraped through on intelligence and good luck instead of working for it. I have been “compared” since those days, and whilst it can feel like crap at the time, it can also serve as a huge motivator if you let it.

    PS – I love the snowflakes. They’re so pretty! (or am I having visual disturbances??)

    1. I am so glad this resonated with you after all! That’s so great! You are right, investing in ourselves propels us to make shit happen, ya know? We are in that power, nobody else. And comparison, yes, can be a good thing, sometimes, but for me, it ended up being more bad than good, and more habitual than I’d like. And yes, the snowflakes are pretty, huh? Neat WP add-in!

  12. Yeah, comparisons have been kicking my butt lately. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we are in a good place and don’t need to see how we stack up against others. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

    Hugs!

  13. It is so hard no to compare. Reading this just makes me see you in a whole other light. Divorce was such a far stretch against your norm. Not that it is anyones norm really, so that doesn’t make sense, I know. But to see how far you have grown since that moment with leaps and bounds is amazing.

    1. Can I hug you? Thank you friend, that means so much. It is something I struggle with, the comparing, from so long ago growing up, that the divorce was definitely a departure from the ‘norm’ absolutely, just more than normal, I guess, given I have two sisters the exact same age etc.

  14. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I just said the other day that I think challenges and loss are what REALLY help us to figure out who we are. Beautiful message, jobo!

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