Peer pressure. We’ve all had to deal with it. As children peer pressure is limited to the playground. As we grow up, our behaviour is increasingly influenced by our peers. We don’t want to be picked last in dodgeball, we want to be able to dress like the cool kids do, we want to go to all the cool places our peers have labelled as the latest it-thing.
When you go through it as a teen, those social pressures are real and feel very real. However, as you get older you tend to laugh at teens for their radical and emotional behaviour influenced by others. You want to reassure them that once they graduate high school a whole other world opens up. A world that is accepting to everyone, in which you can be your own quirky self. I used to believe that. However, lately I’ve started wondering: do we ever escape the peer pressure or does it gradually get worse as we grow up?
Recently I had to interview an older gentleman for a piece I am writing. As I arrived at his place, the phone rang. His wife showed me in and kept me company, while the gentleman was handling the phone call and sending an urgent email. Polite conversation often starts with questions about someone’s job. She asked if I had been writing for a long time and I said “No, I used to be a lawyer, but now I am a writer”. The pity was dripping from her face and she suggested some contacts her husband might have to land me a proper job if I was interested. For a brief moment I felt like a failure. There I was, sitting in a stranger’s living room pretending to be someone I’m not. What do I know about interviewing people and writing pieces? I was actually considering asking the husband about his contacts, even though I had contacts of my own. This feeling stayed with me all through the interview. Needless to say I didn’t manage to get a lot of inspiring quotes and great anecdotes.
At home I thought about what happened and felt silly, really. It wasn’t like I was no good at being a lawyer and got fired for it. I was awesome at it! I made a choice- a conscious decision. I wanted this. And hell, I am good at this. I’ve been writing way longer than I had worked at being a good lawyer. I’ve been writing ever since I could write. I just started and never stopped. Over 20 years of experience. In a regular job that would mean that you’re the expert, people come to you with the difficult questions. So why do I let these random strangers bring me down?
Peer pressure. As adults we don’t have to necessarily deal with peer pressure from people from our own age group. That’s why we live our lives as if it is something of the past. However, our behaviour is influenced by people from our own social class all the time. A well defined job gives you social status, contacts and a great answer when people ask you at social gatherings what it actually is that you do. But the thing is, if you’re not happy with that job, is that brief 5 minute conversation at boring social gatherings really worth the pain?
Every time I tell someone I’m a writer and they shrug and say “Ah well, if you don’t make it you can always go back to being a lawyer”, I have to force myself to remember why I do this and why I’m not a lawyer (or in any other socially acceptable profession). Perhaps we should stop and realise how much impact our seemingly innocent comments can have on other people. Perhaps we should collectively stop making those comments and just ask why someone is doing what they are doing and respect them for having the balls to do it.
Keep chase your dreams. They will become reality.