Peer Pressure Is A Choice


I don’t know what a participation trophy feels like. From a young age, I’ve been awarded prizes based on my performance in relation to others. Competition has been encouraged. I’m given a class ranking. My percentile is listed on my exam report.

Has this been your experience too? You won the top revenue prize for the quarter. Perhaps you won the office prize for most memorable Movember moustache. Which surprised you, as a woman.

Or you’re placed in the “out group” and you know it.

Peer rivalry eventually shifts from school into the work place. Soon you care about titles, your place in the company, and the quarterly numbers. Who has the highest earnings? Your co-worker gets awarded the 10 lb box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (this is an actual prize at leading university – I’ve seen it awarded) by the head of the division at the front of the crowded auditorium. You want to be recognized for your work, and your feelings get hurt if you’re not invited to the after-work happy hour.

All of this social worry zaps your creative power. While some competition can be healthy and encourage forward progress, too much attention to what other people think freezes the momentum you need to accelerate and reach your goals.

Of course peer relationships are important. Your ability to interact positively with colleagues and friends in your age category is integral to your adjustment in society. A lack of meaningful peer relationships can lead to depression and anxiety. But caring too much about what other people think is restrictive. When you worry about how other people regard you and what they think about your goals, you limit your potential to develop and grow.

Where your work begins.

At a certain age, adults recognize that peer pressure is a choice. Maturity brings the ability to identify and separate constructive relationships from harmful ones. For various reasons – perhaps you didn’t get the support you needed as a child or you struggle to find validation – you can’t seem to silence the nagging opinions of other people around you. This is where your work begins.

You have some choices to make.

1. Surround yourself with key players

A mentor

Everyone benefits from having a guide to consult during times of uncertainty, and you need at least one person whose lifestyle and habits you admire. Maybe it is their attention to detail, the way in which they treat others, their commitment to their family. Whether a formal mentorship or casual interactions, look for ways to invite these people into your life.

An advocate

An advocate may be a peer or someone older with more experience. An ally who will hold you accountable. Someone who believes in you, who backs your ideas, who will support your efforts. It is essential to have someone like this ready to campaign alongside you when you start making big moves.

A trusted peer

Your peer group can provide a comfortable sounding board when you need to express yourself fully. No, you don’t need to tell everyone in your office about your problems, but having at least one reliable confidant can offer encouragement and boost your confidence.

Ignore the rest

Everyone will have an opinion. This is why you must create healthy boundaries around your personal and professional relationships. Consult with your mentor, advocate, and trusted peer when making difficult decisions and recognize that it is immature to attempt to make everyone happy all of the time.

2. Write a new to-do list

Take note of your daily habits and identify which thought processes are on autopilot. What routines can you tweak so that your decisions move you closer to your goals? When you begin to concentrate on what you want to accomplish and the areas in your life that you are most excited about, you will care less about what other people think.

3. Redirect your vision

Get off Facebook and listen to a podcast. Remember that goal you’ve always dreamed about. Pick up a new book. Start a journal. Remove yourself from situations that encourage comparison. Draw your focus inward, instead. Ask yourself: What is it that you really want? Who do you envy and why? See how you can invite some of those qualities into your own life.

Do you wish you traveled as much as your friend? Start planning a weekend getaway.

Covet your colleague’s knowledge of art history? Commit to reading a new book every week.

By channeling your attention towards concrete action items, you will begin to build more autonomy and confidence.

4. Measure your success

It is easy to see what you don’t have and to focus on what is lacking in your life. So often we look forward that we forget to pause and see where we have come from, and start the war from right there. Return to your achievements and take time to acknowledge what challenges you have overcome. Someone will always be above you, better than you, a step or two in front, but know that someone else is viewing you with envy. What do you have that someone else might crave?

Be grateful for what you have completed. And if you struggle to think of positive traits or personal triumphs, ask a trusted peer to help you.

You don’t want to be in the “out group,” do you?

If your answer to that question is “Who cares about the out group?” then you’re on the right track.

The rest of you have work to do. The best measurements of success are not in relation to others, but in relation to you.

When you’re ready to talk, send me an email. You’re a grown up now. It’s time to leave peer pressure behind and focus on what really matters

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Photo Credit: Rachel Beisel

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Boyd Falconer

Boyd Falconer

People have described Boyd Falconer as a secret weapon for navigating success. He specializes in coaching executives, entrepreneurs, athletes and celebrities.

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