In the third grade I figured out I was a twin. My class was learning about fingerprints, and the question was asked, “Do identical twins have the same fingerprints?” Suddenly all eyes were on me and my sister. I hid my confusion and the following day looked up the word “twin” in the dictionary. Until then, I thought nothing out of the ordinary about having a sister who shared my birthday, oftentimes wore a matching outfit and had a very similar name (first names: Kadia and Kadiatou; middle names: Aretha and Aletha). I’d overhear my mother on many occasions confirm to strangers that we were “just sisters,” and didn’t understand why she had to clarify. Later that week, when I finally asked her about our birth, I remember her closing the conversation by saying, “You two are not the same person. You are two separate people. Do you hear me?"
It’s natural for strangers to want to point out the difference between me and my sister. Discerning a set of twins is like solving a living, breathing, life-size puzzle. Growing up, however, I mistook those highlighted differences for inconcealable flaws. Had I not known we were two separate people despite sharing so many commonalities, I doubt I would have eventually outgrown my fears of not being just as good, as smart, as straight or as cool as my look-alike.
Recently, on my trip to Cannes, I revealed to a new acquaintance that I have an identical twin sister. After getting past the spectacle that is our similar names—"Her name is Kadia, too? You have the same name?"—I shared that my sister and I went to different high schools in separate NYC boroughs, attended different colleges in separate cities, received degrees in different majors and worked in totally different fields that ironically reunited us in the same building on Wall Street. This stranger was very interested in my sister's job, and pressed me for more information. Enthusiastically, I gave it to them, not worried that my networking time was not being well-used. I relished the chance to share her story and success, just as I do when talking about anyone I know and admire. Why? I learned to stop trying to be like or be better than someone else.
When it comes to comparing yourself to anyone else, there is no space for genuine appreciation, support and shared joy. The act of comparing requires you to be insecure; to dismiss your own greatness; and to place yourself in a competition with the intent to be better than someone else. You can’t fully love yourself and also respect others if you're comparing yourself to them. You can't love someone you want to be better than. So why not just be your best instead of the best?
Overcoming comparison is a daily routine, and what I suspect will be a lifelong practice for me. Not because I’m a twin, but because I’m human. Drawing comparisons is how we define and understand what is and what is not. The issue with comparing ourselves to others is that it oversimplifies who we actually are and it lowers our individual worth, which is what we uniquely offer the world. We might share many similarities with someone else, but that doesn’t make us identical. It just makes us similar. Just as how our differences don’t make us better than someone else. They just make us different.