Monday, March 25, 2013

Under (Peer) Pressure

I have always viewed the concept of "peer pressure" with passionate derision. I always believed that peer pressure is the reason why many adolescents struggle with being accepted and fear ostracization, ridicule, and exclusion if they don't conform to the groupthink mentality of their brethren. You're labeled as a misfit, an outcast, a freak, or even a Satan worshipper if you act or look different from others (this was before wearing an all-black wardrobe became acceptable as the contemporary "New York City look").

The rules of socialization, which have been ingrained for several decades, continued to manifest themselves throughout my adulthood in many arenas. Some of them are like bad cliches, like the horde of drinking buddies exhorting me to "Chug! Chug! Chug!" a plastic cup full of vile, cheap beer at a house party. But other kinds of peer pressure take place at work. Quite often, deviation from conformity is met with accusations of me "not being a team player" or "refusing to fit in." In many places, the motto invariably seems to be "the nail that sticks out gets struck down."

Having experienced and embraced these lifelong biases against peer pressure, I have systematically rejected them until recently. I actually found peer pressure to be a strong strategy for pursuing my life goals--when these sources are in alignment with my core directional values.

I am extremely fortunate that I have friends who value the pursuit of wellness and improved fitness. It is encouraging to read about and become stoked by my friends' cycling, running, workout, and culinary exploits. Discovering that we share similar goals inspire me to put in a workout session when I'm feeling indecisive. Imagining their voices telling me to "kick resistance's ass" often gets me through finishing workouts. That is also why I enjoy fitness events and activities--the presence of other people who are in pursuit of similar shared goals is an incentive to keep on keeping on.

I am also lucky to be involved with several professional and social circles where I am remarked and valued for having bold ambitions, a willingness to be edgy and daring, and held accountable for getting stuff done. Peer pressure is what makes these relationships successful. The inspiring mentors and expert friends not only impart their valuable knowledge, but they expect me to contribute to the two-way exchange of ideas. They're not afraid to ask me tough questions either. My mastermind group meetings are lively and rewarding, but only because we foster a culture of self-accountability--if we have an upcoming meeting with unfamiliar agenda topic, I take it upon myself to deep dive into the subject beforehand so I can contribute to the conversation. I use peer pressure as a motivation to fully prepare myself before walking into meetings with important colleagues and customers whom I have great working relationships with. Leaning into pressure has encouraged me to complete my writing projects on time.

My friends at CDK Creative constantly and urge me to think less and do more, through their in-your-face writing and thoughtful podcasts. Adopting the mindset of having a bias towards action and pressuring myself to learn the stuff that I lack knowledge in--through learning missions and "Dude, Let's Try This!" approaches--will prepare me for the next few months when I encounter new learning and sharing opportunities at conferences and summits which I have never attended before. Using peer pressure to ensure that I know my shit is a useful strategy.

I use feedback from my social media connections--the friends and colleagues--to act as a gentle source of peer pressure to keep my activities rolling in the right direction. In his book "Making Ideas Happen," Scott Belsky describes the act of publicly committing to an action as a positive thing--he refers to this as "committal benefits."

The biggest challenge for me right now is learning how to identify good peer pressure from the bad. Again, it depends on whether or not the source of pressure is in alignment with my values. When I'm surrounded by colleagues who highly value treating all peer and customer interactions with dignity, respect, and a can-do attitude, I am motivated to follow their cultural norms and contribute. However, if I'm mired in a group where there is a pressure not to be the nail that sticks out or to venture outside of their collective silo, I am inclined to resist their oppressive tactics.

I am aware that not everyone out there has opportunities to find positive pressures to lean into. Finding these core directional values may take many years, but when such shared alignments are found, peer pressure is a great strategy for making things happen.

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