I share how being the little sister equipped me for business, and helped me succeed as an independent woman and single parent. I call it the little sister effect.
My brother is seven years older than me. When I was little, I always wanted to go with him and his friends and do what they were doing. He would always say sternly ‘if you can’t keep up and get tired, I’m not picking you up’, ‘don’t come along and then start crying’. Because I really wanted to go and do the fun things they were doing, I promised I would keep up and wouldn’t need to be carried or cause them to turn back because of me. I wanted to me more than the little sister tagging along. I wanted to be one of them. So from an early age, I learned that if I wanted to play in the bigger league, I would have to meet the standard of the bigger players. It made me tougher in more ways than one. They would often walk long distances to get somewhere, and I was determined to not show that I was tired and hot, so I learned endurance. I learned to look after myself, and not be an inconvenience or ‘pest’ as he often called me. It made me proud to be independent and to fit in without allowing my size or age difference to put me into a box or label me as someone to be excluded. I made sure I qualified, I met the criteria, and I didn’t have to stay home. It also made me grow emotionally and be self-reliant and confident. It taught me that size and gender were not reasons to miss out on interesting adventures. I learned to look after myself and be confident to speak up when needed, but most importantly, I learned to take responsibility for myself and not rely on others to meet my needs or cater to my weaknesses. I learned to pull my own weight, even if it meant taking twice as many steps. It even helped me later in life as a beginner runner, when I ran with the faster, better runners. I didn’t expect anyone to hold back or wait for me. I took my own water and found my own way when I couldn’t keep up with their pace. I didn’t ask anyone to run with me, I ran with them.
I am very grateful to my brother for having been the mentor and role model that he was. I always looked up to him and still do and am grateful that he taught me to not have a sense of entitlement but rather to do things for myself. This he did quite naturally, I don’t think he was thinking of teaching me a lesson specifically, it was his nature and I was fortunate. Especially as a younger sister, it would be easy to be treated as a little princess – but what would that have taught me? How much of a different person would I have grown up to be? I’m pleased I had him to help mould me into the woman I am today. There are many examples of times when I tried to leverage the advantage of an older brother. When I was doing homework, and struggling with maths, I tried to get him to do my homework for me, but he didn’t – and I’m grateful. I learned that there is no shortcut or faking it, you have to learn to do it yourself. I even made up a story about being bullied at school so he would go and fetch me and walk me home. I just wanted to show off that I had an older brother in high school. He went once, and when we got home, he reported to our mom that I had made it up, because everyone was nice to me. Yes, I admit that my intentions were not always noble or honourable at that age, and given a chance, I would have manipulated my small stature and young age to my advantage. But that would have not resulted in me having the ethic, honour and character I pride myself on today. Later when I was an adult, and asked him to change my car’s light bulb or tyre, he would say ‘I’ll show you how it’s done, but you do it yourself’. I learned to be someone who does not expect free rides. I don’t expect any spoon-feeding or special treatment, and have little respect or tolerance for those who do.
I was lucky to grow up in a home environment where roles were not gender-based. My grandfather would help my granny with the housework and cooking. My dad washes the dishes. When my dad and brother were doing DIY handiwork or building bird cages or woodwork projects, I would be allowed to hang around and see what they were doing and learn. I was never told to go and help my mother in the kitchen or play with my dolls instead. The only condition was that I couldn’t be topless like my dad and brother. Even when I argued that it was hot, and they had their shirts off, I was reminded that I was a girl and had to wear a top. That was a helpful lesson too for the future. I know that in business, I can do anything I want to, without having to look like someone else. I can still be included and participate and contribute, without losing my identity.
I’m sharing my ‘little sister effect’ in the hope that anyone who feels smaller or less capable or too young, or too told, will know that you don’t have to let those things define you. It’s up to you. If you want it enough, commit to it and follow through.
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