Laura Kadner
May 23, 2014 7:13 am

When you’re a kid, peer pressure is not cool. It’s basically just bullying with a fancier name. It’s reduced to the idea that “if everyone else is doing it, you should, too.” It’s about trying to fit in and conform no matter what that means for your mental and physical health at times. The fear of social rejection is strong and it can lead people to do some pretty crazy things, especially impressionable kids. But then, one day, there’s a change. You’re an adult. And suddenly a light shines on the power of positive peer pressure.

As an adult, you’re hopefully more self-aware and more self-confident than you were as a kid. You have a sense of right and wrong and can distinguish between things that are good for yourself and things you’re doing just to please others. And suddenly peer pressure becomes a way to get you out of your comfort zone and into new adventures and experiences. At least it was for me.

I never would’ve trained for and run a 10k had I not been pressured into it by a group of friends. I hated crowds, running, and practicing for things. But after constant teasing about how left out I would feel if I didn’t and promises that we would all train for it together, and how we would all get in great shape, and what a fun community event it was, I signed up.

Previous to signing up, and after signing up, I hated running. But after starting to train and seeing that I was actually able to run more than ten minutes without wanting to die, I started to feel good. Both mentally and physically. There were days it went horribly, but whiny texts to friends were met with encouragement and kind words. And my even whinier texts were met with tough love and expletives. I kept going.

But shortly thereafter I found out my bracket started later than my friends so I would essentially be running alone. I wanted to quit the run since I’d only really signed up to do it with my chums and didn’t want to be stuck in a crowd of thousands all by myself. But after more carefully applied pressure from them, I agreed to go ahead with it. They said we’d all meet up after the race and I was being silly not to just run alone. It wasn’t that big a deal and, frankly, I was being babyish. They said maybe I’d even catch up to their bracket, so what difference did it really make? They were right. I figured we wouldn’t really be chatting anyway and I’d rather have Beyonce singing me power songs than listen to all our sweaty heavy breathing. I stuck with it.

I miraculously finished the 10k about 20 minutes faster than I thought it would take me. I was super proud of myself and realized I could push myself farther than I realized. And I got to impress my friends and family with my accomplishment. But most of all, I impressed myself with what I could do if I just tried. Thanks, peer pressure!

If feeling awesome about physical and mental feats you accomplish doesn’t entice you, peer pressure was also key in my experiencing new delicious foods. I used to hate super spicy and spiced foods. To me, they tasted like pain and pain is not a flavor. I didn’t eat anything remotely spicy or overly spiced for years. And certain fruits – figs, dates – were just gross. But then my friend pressured me into just having a bite – just a little nibble! And if I hated it, I hated it. And if I hated it, I was stupid. And, you know, it really is stupid not to try something you hated when you’re a kid. Kids are dumb. And you know what? I tried a fig and I didn’t hate it! I tried the spicier salsa, and I didn’t love it but the world didn’t end. A whole new world of wonderful flavors opened up to me. Just try a bite of something you thought you hated. Something terrible might happen – you might love it. Thanks again, peer pressure!

And if even that’s too much for you, try just saying yes to an invitation. Get off your butt, off your couch, off your Netflix queue. There are some nights where I just wanted to sit around my house, stuffing my gob and watching TV. Then there’s that friend who texts you. He or she wants to go out into the night and socialize. It sounds horrible. But they goad you, tease you, make you feel guilty for not hanging out with them. So you drag yourself out of sweatpants, throw yourself together, and head out into the darkness. And sometimes, it’s not terrible. Sometimes it’s actually fun. And if it’s a miserable time, you and your friend get to laugh about the ridiculousness of it later. And sometimes terrible times make for great stories. Like that time I didn’t want to go out on Halloween in New York and ended up on a subway stuck with a barfing girl and a guy I later found out stabbed his boyfriend. Fun times. Thanks one more time, peer pressure!

Sure, sometimes peer pressure sucks. But when you’re an adult you know when people are bullying you in a negative way and when you’re just being too stubborn to get out of your own way. Friends, through fond bullying and supportive pushing, can get you to be a healthier, smarter, more interesting person. Let people help you! Even if they have to pressure you.  It might be to join the group by going on that roller coaster that scares you. It might be agreeing with your friend that you are good enough to be applying for that job you think you won’t get. Or it could just be listening to that pal who wants you to get healthier by taking a walk everyday. Really listen to the peer pressure and decide if it’s there because your friends and family believe in you and want you to be the best you there is. If it’s there to make you a better person.

Seriously. Take a chance and do the thing everyone wants you to do. It just might be the best decision you’ve made all day.

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