How Following In Someone Else’s Path Helped Me Shape My Own

I’ve written this article five times already. Five times. I’ve got three empty coffee cups, a crumpled up stack of neon post-its, and four Spotify playlists to prove it.

Why is this article so damn hard to write? Because I’m feeling the pressure, man.

I have always been feeling the pressure. Even since the first day of Kindergarten when my teacher called role and said, “Longest? Oh, you must be Lily and Molly’s sister!” Seriously, strap a barometer to my head and you’ll see that I’ve got the bends. And I’ve got it bad.
If you’re a younger sibling, or a daughter, or a distant relative of someone totally flipping awesome, you know how simple it is to disappear in their shadow. And you also know how easy it is to stay there.

For 12 years, I’ve gotten pretty cozy in the shadow being cast by my two older sisters.

I’ve basically bought myself a space heater, got one of those Sherpa blankets, and perfected the saying, “Oh don’t worry, I take it as a compliment!” for every time someone called me by the wrong name.

Don’t get me wrong, I do take it as a compliment. My sisters are some amazing, kickass human beings. But every time someone mentions my sisters, it’s another reminder that my sisters are amazing, kickass human beings.

See my problem? For the longest time, I couldn’t tell if being in the shadow was a good thing or a bad thing. Having a clear, successful path to follow challenges you to raise to the occasion. It forces you to reach higher than you ever thought possible. But having an undefined path is thrilling and scary and really, the point of life, right? Am I hiding? Living life for someone else? Not getting the recognition I deserve?

Luckily I’m a “refill the water glass if it’s half full” kinda gal and I don’t see any point in chilling in the shade any longer.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve stepped out:

I Should’ve Listened To Myself Years Ago.

You’re a smart girl, and you may be offended by a question that seems somewhat obvious. But I am also a smart girl and it took me five years of being bribed with ice cream to get me to dance class to realize that I didn’t like dance class.

So take a look at your metaphorical dance class, and look for your metaphorical ice cream. Do you have to bribe yourself with Starbucks to get your butt out of bed and go to your engineering class even though you’re an engineering major? Are you constantly asking yourself “Why am I doing this?”, even though the answer you never want to admit to is “Because (insert person you admire) did it”.

Newsflash: It’s your life and (insert person you admire) knows that, and they want you to kick butt in your own way.

It’s Okay To Be A “Copy Cat”.

I know what it’s like to see what you want but being too scared to go and get it because it would mean going back into that shadow.

You know what? One of the worst things you can do is cheat yourself out of something you love just because you’re scared people are going to think you did it for someone else.

Sometimes a little shade is a good thing. I almost didn’t participate in show choir in high school because I was terrified of constantly being compared to my sister, the former show choir dance captain. But, I did it anyways, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

And yes, I was occasionally compared to my sister, but (as cliché as it sounds) it didn’t kill me, it made me stronger. I pushed myself to be a better dancer and a better leader. I never became dance captain of my choir…but I did become the president.

There’s No Need For Harsh Feelings.

People have this disillusion that the only way to get out of a shadow is to overtake the person casting it.

But think about a shadow in real life. If you are trying to get out of the shadow of a person is your most reasonable option to play a spontaneous game of leap frog and hurdle over them? NO. If it is, you may need to learn a bit more about proper social interaction.

The best way to get out of a person’s shadow is to walk beside them. Say you don’t necessarily like the direction they are going in. Great. Walk in a different direction. Are you catching my drift here? Is my nice extended metaphor punching you in the face hard enough?

Here’s The Truth:

I wouldn’t be the person I was today if I didn’t have my shadow. I wouldn’t have forged the path I did if I hadn’t had a path to follow. I wouldn’t be at the college of my dreams if I hadn’t seen how much my sisters loved it. I wouldn’t be a writer for the Lala if it wasn’t for my sister. (Especially considering it wouldn’t exist, she’s a cofounder.)

Sometimes it may seem hard to prove yourself. For example: Once Lala acceptances started coming out and I still didn’t see the “Congratulations” email I started biting my nails and burning a hole in my ramen stained dorm room carpet from my pacing.

Nearly all of my friends consoled me with “Of course you’ll get in, I mean your sister runs the thing.” Only one of friends said to me “Of course you’ll get in, you’re an amazing writer.”

And that’s the thing. I am a great writer. But the thing is I wouldn’t be the writer I am, I wouldn’t be the dancer I am, I wouldn’t be who I am, if I didn’t strive to be an awesome kickass woman like my sisters.


Featured image via Dimi Boutselis

Sophie Longest

Sophie Longest, Purdue University Major: English Education Her heart belongs to: Her family (biological or non), Her dog Toby, Andy Dwyer, and Jesus (not in that order). Take her away to: Stars Hollow, Connecticut; Pawnee, Indiana; Chichicastenango, Guatemala

  1. I loved this so much! I feel this so hard, my brother travels the world and I swear if someone asks me what he’s up to one more time, I might gauge my eyes out. But it’s true. I stepped up my game because of him, and I love who I’ve become because of it! I LOVEEE this piece!

    1. Katherine-Thank you so much! I am so glad you liked the article! And it’s always comforting to hear someone has the same struggles you do 🙂

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