How to be a Jan amongst Marshas

Dear Daughter,

Yesterday a reader of this blog asked me for advice on how not to feel inferior when one of your friends seems to have it all. This is something that a lot of young women struggle with, so I decided to dedicate a full post to it.

It’s what I like to call The Marsha Effect. There’s an old TV show called The Brady Bunch, which was about a family of six kids (three boys, three girls). The middle girl was named Jan and her older sister was Marsha. Jan was the smart, clumsy, kind of nerdy one who wore glasses and had a plain appearance. Marsha, on the other hand, was beautiful, popular, charismatic, and seemed to do no wrong in the eyes of her parents or anyone. Jan was almost always jealous of Marsha, and one of the popular sayings from the show is when Jan would stomp her foot and say, “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”

These moments in the show were comical but are a hard-hitting reality for many women. We all have a “Marsha” in our life, the one for whom everything works out, the one that everyone loves and focuses their attention on. And we want to be happy for the Marshas. After all, it’s not like they don’t deserve the throne of greatness. It’s just that, in their greatness, we feel inferior, like there’s nothing we can do to rise up to her level. Next to her, we feel overlooked, ignored, not special enough to be noticed.

Such feelings of inferiority can cause a downward spiral of insecurity, which can lead to other dangerous things like depression, bitterness and maybe even the desire to sabotage the Marsha in your life.

I don’t have a secret potion on how to handle such a situation. But here are some ways to stand out as a “Jan” amongst Marshas:

1) Don’t ever, ever try to be someone you’re not. This is very important. You may find yourself wishing you were like Marsha but you’re not. You’re you, and you’re awesome. Don’t try to change your appearance or personality simply for the sake of getting Marsha-like attention. People will catch on to the fact that you’re a phony, and you’ll be alienated even more because of it.

2) Focus on your strengths. There was one thing Jan had that Marsha didn’t: intelligence. And in Jan’s strongest moments, she used her smarts to stand out, to get the credit that she deserved. Similarly, you have a gift that no one else does. Whether it’s your singing voice or artistic ability or your humor… figure out what it is, work on perfecting it, and when you feel inferior, remember you have this amazing gift that makes you unique.

3) Smile more and practice good posture. It seems silly but these simple physical gestures, which actually are not very simple at times, exude oodles of self-confidence. It’s hard not to notice someone with a warm smile and a tall posture.

4) Give, give, give. Instead of dwelling on your own inferiority all the time, turn your eyes outward and see where you can help others. Use your aforementioned strengths to serve those who truly are inferior in our society, or simply to help a friend who is hurting. Taking the focus off of yourself (and off Marsha) and shifting it to others will serve as a reminder that this world is bigger than you, than Marsha, than all the people who worship the ground Marsha walks on. You can make a contribution to that big world, and doing so is far more rewarding than being the most popular girl in the room.

We all have a little Marsha in us. We just have to find it.

But being a Jan is pretty cool, too.

Love,
Mom

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