Ferne Kotlyar

Walking in my Sister's Shadow - Fridays with Ferne: Episode #27

Have you ever felt like there was someone in your life that always did better than you? No matter how hard you tried, they always seemed to excel with ease, and you were always struggling just behind them?  

Bridget is in that exact boat. The worst part is, her younger sister is the one that is always just ahead of her. Bridget’s younger sister June is the “perfect” one – she has a full ride to med school, she constantly wins awards and scholarships, she is beautiful and graceful, and everyone loves her. Bridget on the other hand feels like she pales in comparison – she never did well at school, she is working an entry-level job, and she feels clumsy and inelegant. Sometimes, she just wishes that her sister would fail so that she could feel what it’s like to be like everyone else in the world. Bridget doesn’t know how to step out of her sister’s shadow.

I would tell Bridget to stop comparing herself. Bridget and her sister are different people, they are incomparable. Even though they are sisters, Bridget doesn’t know what is happening in June’s inner world. June may seem like she is excelling, but Bridget doesn’t really know how she feels, she doesn’t know how much of a toll everything is taking on her. Instead of wishing ill on her, Bridget should celebrate with her sister. Someone else’s success should never take away from yours.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I am the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back™. You have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching™ Podcast and it's Fridays with Ferne! And it is my absolute pleasure to welcome back Ferne, my daughter, for this conversation. Ferne, welcome! 

[00:00:26] Ferne Kotlyar:
Hello! It's so nice to be here. Thank you for having me, as always. 

[00:00:30] Kim Ades:
How have you been?  

[00:00:31] Ferne Kotlyar:
Amazing! I mean, there've been restrictions with COVID, but what can you do? I think we've been braving through the worst of it.  

[00:00:39] Kim Ades:
Absolutely. But it's good to have you back, I'm happy to get back on the podcast track with you. So, what do you have for me today? 

[00:00:47] Ferne Kotlyar:
Okay. So, today we have a case about two sisters, Bridget and June. So, Bridget is the older sister. She's always been kind of middle of the lane, she got average grades in school, she's working now as a secretary.  

Her sister though, June, her younger sister has always kind of been a superstar. You know, she's gotten perfect grades, awards at school, she's studying to be a doctor right now. And Bridget always felt like she was overshadowed by her younger sister.  

She always felt like, you know, she would come home with some news, like, she got a pay raise or something like that, and her sister would come home with even bigger news, and her news would just kind of fall to the background because it just wasn't as good as her sister. And she always felt like she wasn't as good as her younger sister, and that was really hard for her, and still is.  

And, you know, something she's been noticing is that as her sister announces new projects and things she's been going to do, Margaret starts to feel like– 

[00:01:54] Kim Ades:
Do you mean Bridget?  

[00:01:56] Ferne Kotlyar:
Yeah, sorry. [Laughs] She starts to feel like she hopes that her sister fails because she wants her to feel like a normal person, just like everybody else. And at some point she's kind of jealous of her sister. And she knows that her sister's not doing this to annoy her specifically, or, you know, do this to anger her, but she can't help but feeling upset and angry all the time about it.  

[00:02:26] Kim Ades:
This is a very interesting case because just yesterday I had a conversation with a whole bunch of coaches about the concept of comparison, comparing yourself to others. And what I said is that comparing yourself to others is akin to insanity. It's the same thing. Why? Because literally you're comparing two things that are completely and utterly different. And you're putting them in the same category when we compare one human to another.  

And we use arbitrary similarities, like age, stage in life, even family to say "here's a good reason why they are two comparable objects", but they are incomparable. You are incomparable. I am incomparable. And we have this tendency to want to compare. And why is it insane? It's because there are no two people who have an identical experience or an identical genetic makeup... Okay, sometimes twins do, but still... Generally speaking. And there are no two people who think the same or who process the same or who experience things in the same way. 

And so, while June might look like she's having a grand old time achieving a whole bunch of things, we don't actually know what her inner world looks like. We don't know what it takes for her to achieve those things. We don't know if it's actually coming easily to her, or if she's stressed out of her mind. We don't know if she's anxious. We don't know what her relationships are like. We don't know how rich her life is. Right?  

So, sure, she's achieving things in school, she's getting promotions. What's her life like at home? How does she feel? And really at the end of the day, that's what's most important. It's not to compare yourself to another to see where we are in life, how far have we gotten.  

You know, the other day we were talking about a young lady who lives with her parents and her husband. And she has a whole bunch of university debt, and she's looking at people in her age group and they're married, living in a home with children. And she feels like she's been left behind. But the question is, are those people actually happy? Are those people actually living an amazing life? We don't even know.  

[00:04:58] Ferne Kotlyar:
But when you say "are those people living an amazing life?" is that not making a comparison?

[00:05:04] Kim Ades:
It is making a comparison, but it's saying we never have all the data. So comparing is futile.

[00:05:13] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, there's no case where making a comparison is beneficial?  

[00:05:18] Kim Ades:
Making comparisons leads to unhappiness and misery. And making comparisons are often done with a limited scope, so they're inaccurate when it comes to human beings. We cannot possibly have all the information. We cannot possibly know what's going on for someone else. Even if they're our sister. We cannot possibly be in their shoes.  

You know, there's this concept of empathy. What is empathy? It's putting yourself in the shoes of another person and feeling their feelings. And I have a lot of thoughts about empathy, but the real issue is that it's impossible for me to put myself in your shoes completely and feel what you feel, because we are two different human beings with different makeups. 

So you're my daughter and I get how you feel, right? I've seen you grow up. But I'm still not you. So, I still don't feel what you feel. I still don't see the world the way you see the world.

[00:06:26] Ferne Kotlyar:
That's fair. And so– 

[00:06:28] Kim Ades:
And so–  

[00:06:29] Ferne Kotlyar:
Continue. Sorry.  

[00:06:30] Kim Ades:
So, this whole idea of comparison leads people down a very, very wrong road. And what it does is it transfers or it gives– when I compare myself to someone else, I'm giving up my wellbeing for some arbitrary picture of what I think is going on. It's like so many people look on Instagram or Facebook or whatever, and see the lives of others and think that those lives are so much better.  

They're not. They're not that much better. We're missing a whole bunch of information. We're missing a whole bunch of data. We don't know what's going on behind the scenes. And so, with that limited information, we're making assessments about our own lives that are completely inaccurate.  

And so, that's why for me, in the case of Bridget and June... Bridget, live your life! And here's the secret: when you wish ill upon somebody... Right? "Yeah, I hope she fails"... What you're doing is you're bringing failure into your purview. You're bringing failure into your life. And what we want to do is help Bridget celebrate the success of her sister, because when you're celebrating success, you're bringing success to you. 

[00:07:45] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, what does she do... when she comes home and talks about her raise, but you know, her sister's news is so much more impressive, like, I don't know, she got a full ride to medical school, something like that. What does she do?  

[00:07:59] Kim Ades:
What she does is she brings out two glasses of champagne and they celebrate together. And this whole idea of celebration is very important because what she's seeing around her is "Hey, we are both succeeding. We are both moving up. Amazing. Let's bring more of that to our world". Rather than saying "oh, I just got overshadowed, therefore my success doesn't count". That's not accurate. It's completely inaccurate. 

So, it's really about shifting her view of what's going on and understanding that what she's paying attention to out there in the world, beyond her sister, is what she's focused on, and what she's focused on expands in her experience, right? Somebody wrote a book called "What You Focus On Grows".  

[00:08:44] Ferne Kotlyar:
Hmm I wonder who that was. 

[00:08:45] Kim Ades:
I think it was me. 

[00:08:46] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:08:47] Kim Ades:
But here's the thing is, is that's actually true? And so, what we want to do is we really want to teach Bridget to go and look for as many examples of success as she can possibly find and hang out with those successes, beyond just her sister, and put herself in that pool as well.

[00:09:06] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, what would be the first step for her to moving forward? 

[00:09:11] Kim Ades:
The first step is for her to understand that she is not her sister and what her sister does is not a reflection of her. And so, we need to address this issue of comparison. The second thing she needs to do is go and find as many examples of success and kind of put them in her, we call it–  

Imagine going through a shopping, right? You're going grocery shopping and you're putting the things that you like, the things you want in your shopping cart. So go find as many examples of success and put them in your shopping cart. Amass those examples of success. Focus on examples of success.  

[00:09:47] Ferne Kotlyar:
And what do you mean by "examples of success"? Like, people who are successful? 

[00:09:50] Kim Ades:
Absolutely! People. It could be, you know, your mother who won a baking contest or your mother who lost a bunch of weight or your mother who also got a promotion, whatever it is. Or it could be your neighbor who, you know, won an award for having the most amazing garden, whatever it is. Amass the success. Look around you and notice how people are successful, because that's what you want to surround yourself by. 

And right now you're only paying attention to one person, go pay attention to all the people out there who are successful and know that you are among them. So, it's a very different view, it's a very different feeling. It's the feeling of "wow, everywhere I look there's success, including me". 

[00:10:39] Ferne Kotlyar:
Okay. That's interesting.  

[00:10:41] Kim Ades:

[00:10:42] Ferne Kotlyar:
Different, for sure. 

[00:10:44] Kim Ades:

[00:10:45] Ferne Kotlyar:
I think the biggest step is that first one of stopping to compare yourself, because I think it happens all the time. Like, it's not just these sisters. I think it's a really common theme. Like, I see myself doing it and I know that it's bad, but being in the moment and like, knowing that it's bad and actually acting on it, is tough. I think. 

[00:11:05] Kim Ades:
Well, there's no action, right? It's not about acting on it. It's about catching yourself in the state of comparison and almost laughing at yourself. "Oh, I'm doing that thing again. That thing is my road to insanity". And it's just a ridiculous thing. It's like comparing, I said yesterday, I cat to the sky. They're incomparable. There's no one thing that's better than the other. They're just two different things.  

[00:11:31] Ferne Kotlyar:
You don't think people are more similar than a cat and the sky.  

[00:11:35] Kim Ades:
No, I don't.  

[00:11:37] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:11:37] Kim Ades:
Yeah. And it's because we don't have the information we need to make accurate comparisons.  

[00:11:45] Ferne Kotlyar:
Can we never get that information? 

[00:11:48] Kim Ades:
I think it's tough for us to do that. We are not scientists by and large. We're not here to analyze every single aspect of a human. There are things that are beyond our grasp, our understanding. Emotions are so complex as they are. And so, we don't know what somebody's living. We don't know what somebody's going through. 

You know, take Albert Einstein, super brilliant man, made a huge contribution to the world, but he lived a tormented life. So, was his life better? Not necessarily. Look at Robin Williams, incredible, genius. He was also a tormented man. Does that mean he was more successful than the rest of us? How are we evaluating this?  

And so, we don't know, we don't have the right information. We're missing information. So trying to, attempting to make comparisons is a futile experiment that leads to absolute misery. Stop doing that.  

[00:12:48] Ferne Kotlyar:
And in terms of stopping to do that, I know you mentioned catching yourself, but is there another way to stop? Like, if you compare yourself all the time, you can't just flip a switch, you know?  

[00:13:00] Kim Ades:
Yeah, so what you want to do is you want to say "okay, so I'm noticing myself comparing myself and that's making me feel bad. The question I want to ask myself is, what do I want? What do I want to put into my basket? Oh! My sister finds success easily. I'd like some of that" put it in your cart.  

What else do you want to put in your cart? "Oh, my friend at school or wherever, he's always smiling, he's always cheerful. I want some of that too. I'm going to put it in my cart".  

[00:13:31] Ferne Kotlyar:
And then once you put it in your car?  

[00:13:33] Kim Ades:
You start to get clear on what you want and who you want to be and make a concerted effort to add those into your life. 

[00:13:43] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, if you were to give Bridget one last summed up piece of advice, what would that be?  

[00:13:51] Kim Ades:
It would be: let go of the comparison, celebrate the success of your sister, and start to amass the qualities, the characteristics, the experiences that you want, and celebrate your own success.  

[00:14:07] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:14:09] Kim Ades:
For those of you who are listening, I hope you walked away with some piece of wisdom, some idea, some thought about maybe, perhaps you have been comparing yourself to another, let me tell you, it's not a good idea. It's a waste of time. It's the road to misery. Stop doing that.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for tuning in. For those of you who don't know, we have just launched a new service. It's a service for young professionals called The Journal That Talks Back™. It's incredible. You get assigned to a coach and you can journal with your coach as much as you want. If you want to journal once a week, you can. Once a day, six times a day, it doesn't really matter. Every time you journal, your coach will be reading and responding to your journal. It's incredible. Check it out. thejournalthattalksback.com.  

And Ferne, thank you so much. We will see you next week.

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