My Path

May 9, 2011
I was born the youngest of three boys and have remained so ever since. The oldest was six and a half at the time, the younger three. One might not realize the importance of this, but I think in my life, it has had a significant impact. As I perceive things, the oldest child is free to make his own path. Certainly his parents tend to guide that path, but in many ways, he is carving into unknown territory. He alone decides the direction and the manner in which he carves. The middle child is similar. Initially, he tends to follow, but as the age gap shrinks, the bond between the two grows in such a way that their paths merge and they are mutual in their decisions. Then arrives the youngest. In many ways, he is the outsider, and this is exemplified in the path on which he travels. There are times when he attempts to follow, and times in which he feels that he must claw to catch up. Then, suddenly, the oldest leaves and the remaining two are promoted. It is now their path to carve, albeit together. Finally, the middle child leaves, and the youngest is forced to assume a vastly different role that requires him alone to define who he is and where he is going.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my family’s characteristically adventurous spirit. By the ripe age of eighteen months, my parents were wheeling me around in a stroller on backpacking trips or fastening me into an attached seat for family bike rides. By the time I was able to do these things for myself, I was years behind my brothers, who had already made their mark on the world of the outdoors. I was the newcomer, prone to making mistakes, and thus prone to being the subject of mockery. This was perhaps never more evident than when I managed to slip and fall into a frigid mountain river after approaching it too closely (I still have not lived that one down, among others). Still, I trudged on, eager to make my own mark on the mountains that loomed before me. The mark I sought, though, was only a replica of those that my brothers had already made. When my parents allowed me the privilege of owning a knife, I practiced whittling primarily because it was something I watched my brothers enjoy. The mark was thus without originality, failing to distinguish me as an individual.
The competitiveness that drove me to succeed characterized the vast majority of my childhood, even after my brothers were gone. I was a proud individual from a young age, probably the result of my mathematical ability (by 3rd grade, I literally had a math class consisting of just me and a teacher). They were quick to put me in my place, though. After all, advanced math to an eight year old is beyond remedial for a twelve or fifteen year old. Mathematically, as in all other areas, they had already carved the path for me to follow, and there could be no deviation. There is no place or reason for pride as the youngest brother, as they were quite content in making me aware. The experience was both humbling and excruciating, but once I understood the system, I realized that the only way to escape the tracks I was stuck in was to reach the ones in front of me. This requires “constant vigilance,” as Mr. Moody of Harry Potter would say, along with an unfailing desire to succeed. Thus, I fought with them constantly, sometimes with words, sometimes with fists (teeth and fingernails particularly early on— I believe the younger of them still has a scar from one rather infuriating incident). Let me be clear, though: my competitive drive was never malicious in nature. For the most part, it was a vain attempt at equality. They were older, and I wanted to be like them, even to participate in the carving of our path. As I jealously watched them became practiced in the art of juggling, I vowed to make myself similarly talented. Juggling was far from natural for me, but because of my competitive nature, I forced myself to practice for hours at a time. Every fallen ball was a symbol of defeat, every extra second they remained airborne a step closer to that equality. It was not until later, perhaps even after they were gone, that my desire became greatness, to make a name for myself among my peers.
It was unsurprisingly in academics that I was first able to make some unique mark of my own. Both my brothers were quite bright, although perhaps in different forms. I was correspondingly bright, but my abilities in mathematics were perhaps exceptional. In that area, I was always well ahead of my peers. My competitive drive was unwavering and perhaps most evident here, even if they did have a vast head start over me. It did not matter that the task was impossible; as far as I was concerned, the obstacle would be crushed if I hit it hard enough. Fortunately for me, I don’t think my brothers’ intelligence entirely correlated with their academic success in high school. Neither took particularly challenging courses, both were fairly noncommittal in their work, and neither were good test-takers. Thus, I saw an opening and blasted my way through it. By eighth grade, I had eclipsed both their ACT scores and am now tied for first in my class. Interestingly, at the beginning of this year, I was essentially three to four years ahead of my average peer in terms of mathematical knowledge, a statistic I don’t find coincidental. Thus, it is academically that I made the first strides in defining myself separately from my brothers.

After fifth grade when my oldest brother left for college, the dynamics between us changed drastically. No longer was I outnumbered, and no longer was I the newcomer. As such, it was my time to carve. Even more so than when the oldest had been with us did we argue and fight. Our arguments were more sophisticated and our fights were more physical. Almost daily, we wrestled until one of us cried for mercy (almost invariably me, though that changed as we continued to grow). However, we had never been closer, so much so that our plans often intersected and conspiring was mutual. We discussed and together enjoyed our common interests in the Beatles, the Chargers, and all things outdoors. In many ways, I was no longer the youngest child, and the conditions were no longer so adverse. I was not alone in my fight and while my competitiveness never waned, it shifted to correspond with my new position. We carved our path together, and I fought to shift the reins rather than to catch up.

Finally, my last older sibling left for the Marines, leaving me as an only child. My high school years have been entirely mine-- to take myself on the paths I desire and to discover the paths I fear. It has been during these years that my God has become real and tangible to me. A Christian all my life, it was not until I was able to make decisions that were fully independent that I allowed my faith to inhabit my being. My creativity has begun to flourish, albeit in very different ways from my oldest brother, who is typically the creative one among us. He used his to build, and to develop new adventures for his imagination to take him on. Mine is more ordered to his abstract, and I use it to weave words and solve math and physics problems. The competitive drive has never left me, is perhaps more intense than ever, but now seeks out the best among my peers rather than my brothers. It is that drive that earned me a perfect score on the ACT and has propelled me from fifth to at least tied for first in the class when it should not have been possible (that’s a long story). I think that this drive, more than anything, will be what carries me. It has become in me a constant pursuit of perfection, in itself a perfect driving force that will propel me towards the realizations of my dreams. These dreams of mine are just now being written, are just now making themselves known. I want to save and improve lives in my career—to cure disease or give movement to a paralytic. Someday I want to start my own company, with the aforementioned goal remaining at the forefront. These goals are the destination, and it is the path I am now carving that will one day find me there.
Among the many characteristics that define me today, many can be traced to the path my older brothers took me on, many to the time when our path was mutual, and many to the path I carve now. Each of these is integral to my being, and each stands distinct. I see now that while I initially followed, following made me unique because of how it prepared me for the next step in the journey. It showed me that while I love my brothers, I do not desire to be them. My path may have begun intertwined with theirs, but they have since separated, and I am now the only one who dictates it. I have discovered much of who I am and much of who I want to be, but the pages have yet to be written, and can be written by me alone.

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