To my son, the future troublemaker,
Research on birth order and how it correlates with childhood development has second-born children all over the world feeling quite vindicated. The study claims that second-born sons, like you, are more likely to become lifelong troublemakers.
Now, as a majority of this data was collected from Florida, you may want to take this study with a grain of salt. Florida, as you may not know (because you are still an infant), is a haven for troublemakers. It is both their breeding ground and their Mecca. Troublemakers around the world make pilgrimages to Florida each year for several events sacred to them, the most beloved of which are Spring Break and NASCAR races.
Coincidentally, Florida is also where you were born…so, I suppose you can take that grain of salt and toss it into someone’s wound, my little troublemaker. It is your nature, after all.
The rest of the data was collected in Denmark. I’m not sure the Dutch have a word for “trouble” (and, if they do, I surely can’t pronounce it). It is my assumption that researchers looked at the Florida findings and validated them by comparing data on Dutch second-born children. If second-born children are proven troublemakers in Denmark, the science must be pretty sound. It’s all pickled herring and accent pillows over there — Florida’s inverse, basically.
I should clear the air on something before I go further, my sweet second son. Admittedly, I’ve never know the ills of second-child-hood, as I was a firstborn. That said, I hope my letter is not negated by this fact and is not perceived as “firstborn-splaining.”
My letter is to clearly illustrate my support for you as a future troublemaker. I think you’re going to be amazing at it, and I will do whatever I can to help you make the best trouble you can make. I see it as my supreme duty in life — something our Snowflake (a.k.a. our firstborn son, your big brother) will never get the opportunity to do — because he should know better, anyway. I hope you will reference this letter any time you feel frustrated with me or your mother, or while you observe your brother working his way through a BFA program.
A Day in the Life of You
In order for any of this to make sense, we must first understand what caused you to become such a troublemaker in the first place.
Many second-borns lament that they were never paid enough attention as children — the pillar of second-born woe. Troublemaking, they argue, is a way to overcompensate for that. While your future therapist will likely echo validation of this sentiment, I see this general lack of oversight as a benefit: You have free range to be who you want to be. It is likely that you will be far less codependent than your attention-craving, firstborn older brother, whose only mission is to seek external praise and words of affirmation: the firstborn’s curse.
So, maybe we are prone to set you down in various rooms within the house — leaving you to your own devices for longer than your brother was forced to endure. This is only because we know you can handle it. There was no way your older brother could handle it. He needed to be held all the time! Still does to this day. I have another theory, though, as to why so many second-born children turn to a lifetime of trouble: it is a by-product of influence.
Observing the Current Troublemaker
While you’re sitting or crawling around in whatever room of the house your mother, or I, forgot we left you in, there is another creature making mischief in the house — your older brother.
Most of the time we set you down as a result of mitigating the trouble your brother is attempting to get into. From the floor, or crib, or bouncer, or laundry basket (it was once, we forgot, we are sorry…but to be fair, you did seem pretty content), you are exposed to his constant influence — teaching you the art of troublemaking — while you learn from his mistakes.
As of writing this, you have keenly observed your older brother decorating our walls with ketchup, antiquing his laundry hamper with baby powder, sneaking ice cream out of the freezer, and attempting to use your mother’s breast pump, among (many) other things. Trouble is literally all you see! Not only that, you see the attention your older brother receives for getting in trouble.
The life of trouble calls to you, and thanks to your older brother, you already have a great strategy for it.
The Enforcers of Consequence
It would be easy to rest the majority of this blame on your firstborn older brother, but there is another influence playing a role in your future troublemaking: your parents.
When your older brother was a baby, we encouraged him to do everything — crawl, talk, run, play with all his toys, make messes, be noisy. We were first-time parents — we didn’t know any better. Everything he did was so cute…until it wasn’t. Now, we discipline him for just about all of those things. Why? Because we crave control — an unfortunate side effect of parenthood.
Discipline is something that your brother was never exposed to — again — until he was. So, in addition to all the trouble you see your brother making, you are also exposed to a cavalcade of “Don’t touch that!” “Stop whining!” “No, you can’t ride your baby brother!”
We have been outed as the enforcers, a machine to rage against. With all that exposure and influence, it’s crazy to think you wouldn’t try to fight the system.
The Kind of Troublemaker I Think You’ll Be
While your mother and I love you very much, with all of our hearts, the science is out: There is no amount of love we can give to correct the trouble-making Floridian you are destined to become. We might as well just embrace it, right?
Since love is useless, we offer you this instead – here are some suggestions for the kind of troublemaker we think you could (and encourage you to) grow up to be:
Want to know one of the best reasons to make trouble? Solving a problem. As a disruptor, we welcome you to make trouble for multiple industries by shaking them up and making them rethink their processes and models. If you think this sounds counter to what a troublemaker’s life would look like, just check out any headline involving our current roster of disruptors (Elon, Zucks, lookin’ at you) — they must have all been second-born children with their track records.
Become a disruptor as soon as you can so your parents can retire early. We’ll discuss future stock options…when you learn to talk.
The Mad Scientist
Where the disruptor hatches an idea, an engineer is right behind them telling them their idea is ridiculous…then taking that idea and making it a reality. Solutions are not unicorn farts and fairy dust, my son. Solutions are engineered, crafted by artists of function and form and user experience. Engineers are the reason we dream of magical futures and utopias. They literally make trouble for many people, while solving problems for so many more.
Consider Hedy Lamar, the Wright Brothers, Mary Jackson, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, or the guy who invented the pet rock as inspiration.
The life of an activist is another great way to make trouble. Find a noble cause to rally behind and make trouble by holding people accountable for their actions. Demand answers from hardline politicians and work with stakeholders to improve conditions for marginalized communities.
As an activist, you get to yell through megaphones, organize large groups of people, make signs, and, maybe, even break some eggs.
Looking for a way to make up for all that attention we never gave you? Why not become a lawyer?! Lawyers are known to make lots of trouble — and they always have an audience. Offense or defense, you really can’t go wrong here. Either way you go is bound to make trouble for someone.
You could even pull double-troublemaking duty as a lawyer who moonlights as an activist, working with policy-makers to balance an unbalanced system. Sounds like some good trouble to me.
The Radical Healer
Much like the disruptor, the radical healer is known for shaking up large institutions. Disrupt big pharma by becoming an advocate for natural medicine. Demonstrate the power of your patients by educating them on proper diet and nutrition – get them moving more! Fill your prescription pad with remedies for behavior change instead of chemical dependency.
Be truly radical and consider your practice a community center — not an insurance-billing machine. You could even team up with your local activists, equalizers, mad scientists, and disruptors to make some serious trouble for the status quo.
The World Is Your Troublemaking Oyster
My plucky second-born son, there is no limit to the kinds of trouble you will likely make throughout your time on this planet, but we know it isn’t your fault. Clearly, it is your brother’s (and to a lesser degree, your parents’). All this is to say, I hope you will consider my proposed forms of troublemaking as a show of support, an understanding that whatever kind of trouble you choose, your mother and I will always be so proud of you and love you with every ounce of our being. This probably won’t change your troublemaking destiny (thanks, science), but could at least point you in the right direction.
Your Father (and future investor in your nonprofit startup, focused on hygge-centric holistic accent pillows for paralegals)
Zach Short is a marketer in Clearwater, FL. When he isn’t outside accidentally killing plants (gardening) with his wife and two sons, he enjoys frequenting restaurants with poor Yelp reviews.