My sister is faster than me, & that’s okay

How I put my competitive spirit aside for our friendship 

Sarah believes celebration is better than competition.
Photo: 

I can’t count how many people have told me it’s unfair to consider my sister my best friend.

“Yeah, but that’s doesn’t count; she’s your sister,” they always say.

The thing is, Renée has always been both my sister and my best friend, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I fully understood what that meant.

I’m grateful to have been blessed with an incredibly loving and supportive family. Although my dad wanting to drive a total of seven hours to take me for breakfast before my 8:30 class, or my mom’s willingness to tolerate sports talk—and strictly sports talk—at all hours of the day might be a little unconventional, it makes our family who we are.

My brother, sister, and I would not be us without the continued support and eccentricities we get from our family. Our childhood was marked by an obsessively busy schedule, countless hours on the court or field, and the sayings our parents repeated.

My parents love a good takeaway message and are both proponents of contagious competition. Maybe it’s the sports mindset bleeding into every day, or just one of our weird quirks, but because of that, my family has always been internally competitive.

The day I realized my sister was faster than me, we were in the backyard post-BBQ. My dad decided it was time for a race, so I joined my competition behind the big rock in our backyard. As the oldest, I didn’t sweat it. I’d won this race many times before. Just run to the tree and back—piece of cake.

This time was different. Renée won the race.

Devastated, I remember my dad saying, “How do you feel about Renée being faster than you?”

This loss still haunts me. I’m no stranger to bad sports performances—just look at my high school basketball team or my intramural frisbee record from this year—but losing the race affected me more than it should have.

If you’re the oldest child like me, I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. Maybe it’s not always a race, but I think it’s normal for parents, friends, and society to expect continued perfection from the eldest child simply because they popped out first.

So much of my identity was rooted in being the firstborn. Even if I didn’t outright show it, I internalized being the responsible one; I knew I was supposed to be the example. Apparently, I was also expected to be the fastest.

Until that day, my family’s internal competitive spirit was exhilarating for me. My dad constantly proposing races and competitions was fun because I thought I was predisposed to winning.

My parents would pit us against each other to foster friendly, healthy competition; they wanted us to be resilient and hardworking and they encouraged a never-give-up attitude—all of which are good things.

The motivation behind these moments of family competition was not ill-placed but rooting my identity in their result was. Basing my identity on how I compared to others worsened my relationship with them and hurt my relationship with myself.

I eventually figured this out through my family’s second take-away message: your siblings are your best friends.

My sister and I bought into this competitive ideology from the beginning. In a family that was prone to overcommitment and would often find themselves in rivalling situations or at basketball tryouts way above our playing level, sure, our competitiveness helped us.

But so did having a built-in best friend.

Whenever I felt uncomfortable or anxious in a new situation, it felt amazing to know my sister was there right beside me. Whatever crazy stuff my parents signed me up for, they signed her up for it, too. Having Renée there helped me persevere through so many things I would have quit without her, and she pushed me—through a little bit of family competition—to keep going and become the person I am today.

As much as I hate to admit it, when she started to beat me in those friendly competitions, it started to affect me. It wasn’t just sports; my sister is the fastest person I know, but she’s the most dedicated and thoughtful, too.

When my speed no longer set me apart, my decision-making got rash, and I struggled to balance everything on my plate. I began to see myself losing the imaginary competition I had built within our relationship. I resented her for ‘beating me’ at a game she didn’t even know she was playing.

I had a really hard time fostering a friendship with my competition.

Of course, I still loved Renée, and of course, I still wanted the best for her, but I was confused about my role as the eldest sibling. In every other scenario I could think of, the oldest was the best. I started to question why I was the only one who couldn’t measure up.

Looking back now, I see the delusion in that statement, and I see how my sister beating me didn’t show I wasn’t enough; it just demonstrated how our different strengths were developing individually as we got older.

Obviously, I didn’t always have that hindsight. Initially, I resented myself for losing, and Renée for winning. I ignored the areas where I excelled and focused on where I fell short. I didn’t even focus on improving; the competition didn’t push me to get better in a healthy way. Instead, I felt like the only firstborn in the world whose little sister could beat her.

It wasn’t until one day I sat in the bleachers and watched my sister play basketball that my perspective started to change.

I watched her score the shot to win her high school regional basketball championship and I lit up with pure pride and excitement. As her competitor and her best friend, I’d seen the work she’d put in. I knew the effort and the hours behind that basket, and I started to realize her success didn’t have to mean I wasn’t good enough; it could simply mean she’s an amazing athlete, and I could celebrate that.

When I started to apply this concept—celebration instead of competition—our friendship reached a new level. I embraced our friendship with no resentment, and we got even closer.

These days, my sister, the rest of my family, and I are still very competitive. Family game night means every player for themselves, and we still jump at any chance to face off on the court. But now, my identity doesn’t hinge on my performance. I’m more aware of my individual strengths, and I have immense respect for my siblings’ skills too.

Successes and failures—wins and losses—are a part of life. I’m so thankful that my family taught me resilience through competition, but I’m even more thankful they taught me how to find and foster true friendship despite it all.

Maybe everyone is right and it’s unfair my sister is my best friend—any time we’re on the same team, the competition doesn’t stand a chance.

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