Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I have a sister who is fabulous. She went to a very well-known university, followed by an exciting and lucrative career. She's married to a very nice guy and they have two kids. They travel internationally at least twice a year. They have a multimillion-dollar home, so obviously they host all family gatherings now.
My life is far more average. I went to a state school and entered a normal career. I got married, but was struggling with infertility when my husband died suddenly. I spent years in a volunteer organization and was recently offered a great job working for them full time with great benefits.
I was at a family dinner last week when I told my family, and immediately afterward my sister announced she is going to be acting director of her company. I feel like I finally got something exciting to announce and my sister blew it out of the water. Again.
If it was any one thing, I would be able to brush it off. This is a cumulative effect of 20 years of being happy for her. I genuinely love her. I just wanted for once to feel special in my family.
My niece's birthday party is soon and I am thinking about skipping it, but then I feel incredibly petty. My sister will never stop being fabulous and I don't want her to, really. I just need to know how to handle being second fiddle with grace.
Carolyn says: This may sound stupid and off the point, but: You do realize there's a whole population out there that would rather be you than your sister?
I'll speak only for myself, of course. But if you offered me, right now, on the spot, the acting-company-director job and the full-time gig with a volunteer organization, then I'd take the nonprofit. If I had the spare cash to cover two international trips a year, then I'd mostly put it somewhere else.
And I'll take the fabulous house, sure, as long as someone else manages it.
Why say all this? Because the Sister option sounds like taking on more work and stress than I care to take on — in a job, in my leisure and in my home. It's all great, of course — for her. And for people who share an interest and aptitude for life at that speed.
At the heart of your story isn't status, it's a pair of profound, sequential losses. The infertility or the sudden death of your husband alone would be devastating. And given the effects traumas like these can have on people, you might as well see your life and your sister's life as parallel worlds. What you know, what you've felt, what you've witnessed — it is, I'm guessing, as alien to her as multimillion-dollar-homeownership is to you.
And in this case again there is a whole population out there who would rather have your emotional sensibility. Leonard Cohen was so good at this:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
Please see your value as within you, in the light, and not just whatever fixture it's in.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.