Let’s get something straight: I’ve never identified with Jan Brady.
Yes, we’re both the middle of three sisters, have blond hair, and questionable eyesight.
But that’s where the similarities end.
I say this because growing up in the ’70s there was little in the way of relatable and aspiration-worthy icons for a middle sister. Especially if you thought Jan Brady was kinda whiny. (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” anyone?) Even Jan didn’t want to be Jan.
Today isn’t much better. The middle sister is often stereotypically depicted on TV as the odd one of the bunch — brainiacs Alex Dunphy and Lisa Simpson of Modern Family and The Simpsons, long-suffering Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, and The Middle’s eternal optimist and perpetual “trier,” Sue Heck — struggling to find their way.
So, if you’re a middle-born are you doomed to a life of always being second-best? Quite the contrary.
I’d argue that you can use your “middleness” to your advantage.
Middle kids often possess incredible people skills. Natural diplomats, we're able to navigate tricky relationships dynamics to "lead from the middle."
From a very young age, I had to learn to be an excellent communicator. Observer. Listener. Facilitator and sometimes mediator. In my family, I’m “the glue.” When things begin to go off the rails in a heated discussion, I calmly talk people down and bring everyone back together. I also tend to be the one called upon to be the buffer when the crazy relatives visit.
Not surprisingly, these skills also come in handy when dealing with a variety of stakeholders and clients.
We middles also tend to be fiercely independent, fueled in part by having to find our niche within the family structure.
For me, this meant I’d have to forge my own path, going after things that seemed interesting and exploring new opportunities when they presented themselves, even (and sometimes, especially) if they were a bit scary and challenged me.
Often accompanying the independence of middle children is a desire to break with conformity to finally be seen and heard, which often leads to a profession fueled by creative expression and freedom.
It may surprise you to learn that I was an extremely shy child. Like hiding-behind-my-Mom’s-leg-when-our-parents-had-adults-over-the-house shy. This was in stark contrast to my older sister, who, as a first-born and all-around superstar, preferred to use the opportunity of having a new audience in the house to demonstrate her latest gymnastic moves.
Instead, I spent my time out of the spotlight on creative endeavors, weaving stories, drawing, and painting. It was in this arena that I found my figurative and literal voice — and something that I could call my own.
Growing up, my Dad would always tell my sisters and me (with PC apologies, as this was the ‘70s): “Be the pilot, not the stewardess. Be the lawyer, not the secretary.” His point was never to limit ourselves or let others dictate what our destiny would be. And you know what? He was right.
I‘m someone who is and always has been in the middle. And that’s a good thing. It’s where I do my best work.
And maybe you can, too.
© Amy Blaschka, 2017