Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sibling non-rivalry, or me as the family underachiever

My younger brother flew in yesterday evening and is staying here for the next few days while he attends and presents a paper at a computer science conference being held at MIT. He currently lives in Germany, is married and has a daughter, and is close to getting his PhD. This sometimes makes me feel a little ashamed of what seems to be my own relative lack of achievement. Of course, it doesn't take much to make me feel ashamed, but still ...

I am the oldest of three brothers. I never had a sister - I think that Mom would have liked at least one daughter, but after having three sons, she resigned herself to being the only woman in the family. Stereotypically, I get the impression that the oldest brother is supposed to be the overachiever, the one that the younger brothers alternately admire and fear a little. Unfortunately, I totally dropped the ball when it came to being a stereotypical older brother. I was never an overachiever, and I often hovered precariously on the edge of being a complete underachiever. I also totally failed in my assigned role of keeping my younger brothers in a state of fearful awe. I mostly kept to myself and struggled with mental and emotional problems that turned out to be Obsessive Compulsive disorder, leaving my younger brothers without either a positive role model or someone who would keep them in line through a combination of respect and sheer terror. Since I was a rather distant figure, lost in my own little world most of the time, my brothers went their own separate ways, and also cultivated a strong rivalry with each other.

So, years passed. If I went into too much detail, this post could turn into a short book, so I'll have to jump to the present day. Suffice it to say that the oldest brother (that would be me) currently works at a non-profit organization, lives at home with his father, and shows no signs of ever getting married or having a family. He also spent almost 7 years working in a job that had nothing to do with anything that he studied, and never became a real academic who actually does research and publishes papers and all of the other things that real academics do. The middle brother is close to getting a PhD in computer science, is married, has a daughter, lives overseas, and is completely bilingual in German and English. The youngest brother is a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, has a master's degree in physics, has been a co-author on several papers, and will soon be starting a PhD program. It's pretty clear that the oldest brother is the underachiever of the group.

I am very creative at thinking up of reasons why I should feel inferior to just about everyone else around me. A lot of those reasons are probably total bs, but some of them are pretty solid.