A few years ago, I used to spend a lot of my free time with a small group of friends. We did a lot of things together – road trips, games, and so on – and I had a lot of fun with them. What I later realized after the group broke up, though, is that we were all keeping each other from being successful in life because we constantly imposed a pressure on each other to do things that weren’t leading to success.
Here’s an example: I’ve always been an avid reader of almost anything I could get my hands on. I feel, for a lot of reasons, that reading makes me a better person, yet for a long while I largely gave up reading because of the peer pressure within the group that reading was a bad thing.
Similarly, the group developed a belief that anyone well-dressed was not to be trusted, and dressing well was very much eschewed by the whole group. You wore blue jeans and an ironic tee shirt, or maybe khakis and a golf shirt if golfing was the activity, but anything more than that was a sign of mistrust.
The years I spent hanging out with this group were fun, but they set me back greatly. I spent several years with these guys disdaining things that I saw value in, and eventually it was that conflict (and the start of my own family) that more or less caused me to move on.
This is an obvious case, but I’ve come to observe that in many cases friendships and social interaction prevent us from making good choices.
Here’s another example. Not long ago, I was talking about an automobile purchase with an old chum of mine. During the conversation, he basically made the statement that his primary interest was getting an automobile that would impress “them,” with them referring to people he only vaguely knew in a social context. Reliability? Who cares! Gas mileage? Doesn’t really matter. What matters most is the vague possibility of impressing someone you barely even know.
I notice this trend in younger people as well. One teenage boy that I know is a fantastic and weirdly creative artist – he can draw these little quick sketches that remind me a lot of Edvard Munch. In fact, a few years ago I got him a big book of Impressionist art that he absolutely loved – he spent days poring over it and sketching things.
I asked him not too long ago how his drawing was going and he gave me a rather odd look with just a bit of pain in it. He told me that he loved to draw, but that everyone else – meaning both his family and all of his friends – thought it was kind of pointless. Instead, he took up playing basketball, something he is fairly skilled at but doesn’t have a burning passion for.
Peer pressure can be a dangerous thing, even in a subtle way. You might watch the “big game” on Sunday just so you can talk about it around the water cooler on Monday morning, but deep down football seems boring to you. You might spend way too much on a gadget to impress your friends, but you barely use it other than to show off. You spend hours with your friends shopping for clothes and buying piles of them, but you just yawn and grab whatever’s handy in the morning.
Why do we do this? The easy answer is acceptance. Almost all of us strive to be accepted by others and to have things in common with the people around us – it’s completely healthy and normal and we should strive for this to a certain degree.
The big step, though, is to realize that the only person that you fall asleep with and wake up with every night is you. If you’re making choices that are drowning a passion of yours because of others, stop. If you’re buying things because others are convincing you to buy them, stop. If your image is your most valuable attribute, stop.
Instead, try these things for a while to see how they fit you:
Don’t spend a dime unless you see the purpose in it for you. If you’re out buying a car, pick the car that’s right for you – you’re going to be the one driving it, making the payments, and looking at it far more than anyone else. If you’re going clothes shopping, ask yourself whether you actually need anything new in your closet.
If you’re passionate about something and really want to try it or explore it, go for it! Don’t listen to the people surrounding you who try to poo poo what you’re most passionate about. Explore it, learn about it, and grow in it – don’t bottle it up because of what others say or think. This may lead you to making new friends and going new places, but that’s a good thing – it’s a sign you’re growing and understanding yourself.
Don’t make choices you know don’t fit you because you’re worried about the impression that it gives others. As soon as you do this, you’re starting to pretend to be something you’re not, and the inevitable day when you have to remove that mask will be a painful one. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.