I was 6.5 years old when my sister Olivia was born, and I'm ashamed to say that it took me about a decade to accept that she was going to be a permanent fixture in our family. By the time I finally warmed up to her, she had become an adorable 6th grader who loved drawing and wanted to be an architect when she grew up.
As I write this, Olivia is in a University of Oregon Eugene studio, working towards her Master of Architecture degree.
While I went off to college, struggled to choose a major, and then struggled to find purpose in post-grad life, a 9th grade Olivia designed her high school curriculum to meet stringent college admission requirements. The summer after 11th grade, she attended an intensive 6-week architecture program. And last spring, received her B.S. in Architecture and Sustainability Studies.
Needless to say, I have long been in awe of the ambition, drive and tenacity shown by my baby sister. But here’s the thing: being awed by someone is very different from admiring someone. Awe is a feeling of distant wonder, whereas admiration is an indication that you have identified qualities you'd like to emulate.
For the longest time, I thought that the disparity between my achievements and Olivia’s was due to a fundamental difference in capability. I chose to believe that my sister had inherited some kind of super chromosome that allowed her to leap over scholastic obstacles in a single bound. Even when she would mention her heavy workload, or a stressful advanced course, I wistfully wondered what it would be like to be capable of working that hard, or how it would feel to be ambitious enough to take an intimidating course.
By placing Olivia on a pedestal, I could safely gaze in awe at her accomplishments, and keep believing that the ambition and drive I saw in her were simply out of my reach.
Today, I’m lucky enough to count Olivia as one of my best friends. As we grew closer and she shared more about the struggles she’s had and the setbacks she’s faced in pursuit of her dream, the awe fell away and now I am left with deep admiration.
Because the fact is, Olivia dreamt up, designed, and then climbed up on that sustainable LEED-certified pedestal her damn self.
Yes, Olivia was lucky to have felt such strong ambition at such a young age.
...but there’s no age limit on setting ambitious goals.
Yes, Olivia is remarkably stubborn when fighting to reach a goal.
...but I’ve finally learned that I’d rather fight for something meaningful than be comfortably discontent.
Yes, Olivia has a seriously admirable work ethic.
...but if I set myself an ambitious, meaningful goal, and fight every day to achieve it, I can proudly look back at my progress and realize that perhaps the work ethic gene didn’t skip a sister, after all.