As of fifteen days ago, I am twenty-six years old. I act like I’m approximately three much of the time. Thus, as I walk hand-in-hand with my little brother across a street, swinging my arms and singing any number of the weird songs we have written together, any thought by passersby that I might be mature enough to be his mother is immediately squelched when they see how I’m actually acting.
Despite our vast age difference, this little ball of energy (and occasionally, terror) and I have a lot in common. We both love video games, we’re both noticeably taller than most people in our respective age groups, and we both have a fastidiously-maintained collection of shoes. Well, okay – he takes way better care of his shoes than I do. And he probably has more than I do at this point, too.
Being the older sister to him along with five additional younger siblings has conditioned me to be a special kind of worry wart. You want your younger siblings to have fun, but not too much fun. You want them to do well in school. You want them to never, ever text and drive. You want to serve as an example to them, but you don’t want them to get any ideas from the stuff that you got away with doing (and believe me, I got away with a LOT). Even if you yourself would totally do it all over again if you knew you wouldn’t get in trouble. Yes, it’s complicated and it’s freaking difficult beyond belief at times. And that’s just the beginning.
Most of my siblings are grown adults now. At this point, I feel confident that my siblings are aware of the world around them. They’re aware of modern socioeconomic phenomena like the financial crisis, technological trends, and how social media has changed the world. They know that this is not the world our parents grew up in. My littlest brother, however, is just breaking into this world and is hardly aware of anything beyond his own bubble at this point. He has a lot to learn, and not all of it’s going to be comforting.
Mankind has made amazing feats in the fields of science and technology, but human beings are less connected than ever. Competition in job markets is fierce and wages have only marginally increased to keep pace with the rising cost of living. As my little brother reaches adulthood, I worry. The ubiquity of the Internet has allowed access to an amazing breadth of knowledge but also bombards us with images of mindless, sensational news chatter, Donald Trump, and the Kardashians. As a result, I feel an obligation to give my brother a heads up on what’s to come – and to be the best sister I can be.
I’m probably not the perfect example for my brother to follow. I was a pretty dramatic child. I was a rebellious teen. I had, like, twelve different majors in college (which was not cheap) and out of pressure, I chose the most ill-suited one for me because – surprise! – that’s where the jobs were. I worked my butt off to get a great job out of college that I ended up loathing. To add insult to injury, I want to be a writer now, for crying out loud. I’m virtually a parent’s worst nightmare.
But after going through many years of school, finding my old job, going through my old job, quitting my old job, finding my new one, and now having the time to pursue what I love, I know a thing or two that I can share. Moreover, I’m finally starting to get a sense of myself back. I finally feel happy. I finally feel like I’m living.
So, in the midst of the often-scary stuff that this world will throw at him, here’s what I want my brother to take away from all of this:
There are going to be a lot of pressures to be someone else, or do something else, especially after middle and high school start. I want you to know that, sadly, that pressure doesn’t end, and if you let it get out of hand, even you start to turn against yourself. But you can’t let that part of you win. You have to keep going. You have to be who you were meant to be.
Now, on that note, it’s not always easy to “find yourself.” It’s not always easy to know right away what you’re interested in, whether that’s for hobby or job purposes. Take your time and remember that understanding these seemingly simple things about yourself takes years. Whatever you do, pick your future job because you want to do it – not because Dad, Mom, your friends, or I want you to do it.
One of the ways that you figure out who you are (or what you want to do) is by putting yourself out of your comfort zone. This means traveling, getting an education, and, yes, talking to scary old successful people. Or even just other people in general. Occasionally this means doing karaoke at a company party and crowdsurfing halfway through it. Just make sure the song isn’t “Freak-a-Leek” by Petey Pablo and we’re all good. (Oh, wait, I shouldn’t have introduced you to that song yet. Forget I said that!)
Friends will come and go and that is okay. The friends that enrich your life and encourage you to be the best you can be will always be there, even if you occasionally lose contact. It’s not always easy to tell who your “true” friends are, but the truth is eventually revealed. I want you to nurture your true friendships, especially since the number of people you can call a “friend” dwindles as you get older. That’s okay, though. You don’t need 100 million friends. Having a lot of friends is like having a second job – it’s exhausting. What you need is an all-star team who loves and supports you and for whom you do the same.
Material things are really not as cool as you think they are right now (yes, shoes included). Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with owning material things and occasionally buying new ones. But they don’t represent you. Material things break, become obsolete, or fall out of fashion. The experiences that you will have in life will stay with you forever and will shape you as a person.
Your health and physical ability are some of your most precious assets and taking care of your body will let you live a more fun and comfortable life as you get older. No matter what, nobody is invincible, including you. Take care of your body and your health.
Mom and Dad are going to be super, duper annoying at times. You’re probably going to want to run away, and you may even make it onto the next bus outta there once. But everything they do for you is out of love and a desire for you to be happy and successful. Ask me or any of your other siblings. I wanted to become a ward of the state when Dad told me I couldn’t wear makeup or have my computer for a week one time. He’s now one of my best friends. As siblings, we will be less annoying, but we still love you more than anything and, as such, will occasionally be pretty annoying, too. Be prepared for that.
I’ll talk to you about “like-liking people” when you’re ready. Thinking of you going through the trials and tribulations of the romantic world is giving me forehead wrinkles – and I DO NOT need to add anymore of those yet, please. Let’s table that for later.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I want to tell my brother. I will be that sister who gives earfuls of unwarranted advice to my brother while his eyes roll so hard they disappear into the back of his head. I will have nightmares when he decides he wants to go on a trek through the Gobi desert (even though I’ll probably end up joining him because holy crap I want to do this). If he finds himself in a serious bind, I will drop everything I’m doing and help as much as I can, just as I would for any of my other siblings.
These days, I often tell him that I want him to “go through life actually living”, to which he shrugs his shoulders a bit and asks me if I want to go play soccer or watch a movie with him. I almost always say yes, because his asking me if I want to play with him is the only answer I need in return. I have no idea what life has in store for my brother, but he’s got a family that will be there for him every step of the way and is already a strong, determined young person in his own rite. Someday he’ll realize that those facts about him are even cooler than the new Nikes he’s rocking today. But I’ll be patient – that might be a while.