Written By Sarah Hodges
Peer Pressure DNA
Peer pressure didn’t end in high school. We like to think of ourselves as evolved individuals who have grown up. The truth is that when it comes to peer pressure, we’ve barely evolved since we were cavemen.
It’s in our DNA. We are a social species subject to social evaluative threat. This is the threat we feel when we’re losing our social status among our peer group. In early hunter and gatherer days, this made a lot of sense. If you were a liability to your clan, they might kick you out. And if they kicked you out, you were probably going to die. So you needed to do whatever you could to appear important to your group. You had to value what the clan valued.
In the 21st century, we’re not that different. In fact, social media offers more room for comparison than ever! We proudly depict photos of our latest vacations on Instagram, share our major life events on Facebook, and boast our promotions on LinkedIn. We only see the best of our friends and colleagues, so we begin feel inadequate when we compare their social media lives to our real lives.
The workplace is another area where social evaluative threat and peer pressure can feel a lot like high school. Gossip, competition, and perceived expectations all shape an environment that looks eerily similar to the hunter-gatherer tribe. If you’re perceived as a liability in your job, they might fire you. And if get fired, how will you pay your bills and survive? No wonder we compete so hard to climb the corporate ladder. The more valuable you are, the safer your position.
The trouble is that all this social threat causes a tremendous amount of stress. Perhaps more importantly, it prohibits us from separating what truly makes us happy vs. what makes our clan happy. And do we really know what makes our clan happy anyway? So much of social evaluation and peer pressure is imagination. We think we know what our clan values, so we work day and night trying to exceed these pretend standards.
What makes you happy?
But what makes you happy? If you were able to step outside of the expectations and pressure you perceive, what actually gives you joy in life?
This is such an important question to ask ourselves on a regular basis. Just because the popular crowd in high school highly valued sports, didn’t mean you had to do the same. Maybe you loved science, band, art, or Spanish club, and once you embraced what truly made you happy, you probably discovered a sense of empowerment.
The same thing will happen with friends and colleagues. Take some time to evaluate what makes you uniquely happy and embrace it. You will discover a sense of empowerment and ownership over your skills. It will give you a focus, an edge, and remind you that you don’t have to succumb to the values of the clan.
By being yourself, they will come to value you for who you are. Besides, they’re all struggling with the same thing, and they’ll probably admire you for prioritizing what makes you happy.
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