Monday, June 28, 2010
Peer pressure 2.0
Katie and I were sitting on the terrace of her Upper West Side Summer sublet eating peppercorn jack and talking about someone. I can't put my finger on who exactly, which is likely due to the sheer number of times Katie and I have been doing that exact same thing in different locations with different cheeses (none of which will ever compare to the "dipping cheese" of Fall semester senior year).
The gist of it all was that this someone was doing some things that seemed strange or misguided or oddly timed for their life. Like living home when they could completely afford to live on their own or blowing money on a Summer share when they were in debt or going to business school even though they had no idea what they wanted out of it. They seemed to be going through motions that were counter intuitive to what would have actually been progress - or, progress to us.
Then Katie said something like, "right, but look at his friend group," (so it must have been a guy...), "that's just what they do."
And I said, "There's a blog post in that."
When I was a senior in college there was this huge push of kids applying to post-grad volunteer programs like Americorp, JVC, Peace Corp and the like. It was pretty typical of Boston College, so we all saw it coming, but what surprised me were the number of kids who pursued four years of Finance and then had a huge change of heart 6 months prior to graduation. There was a culture of this alternative graduation plan, and that culture - those kids who always planned to pursue this path - became a point of reference for the rest of the crowd.
But when I tell my NYU friends that I had 12 friends who volunteered for a year after college they're like whoa.
It's one example of a large issue that's an interesting part of 20-something (and probably all adult) life. Point of reference pressure.
It's peer pressure - in the simplest sense - but of a totally different vein than the come-ooon!- everyone-is-going-out-on-mischief-night variety.
If all of your friends from high school move home after college and commute into Manhattan to save money, that's your point of reference. It's culturally acceptable if not flat-out expected. Break the mold, and you're the one they talk about. If 75% of your graduating class from Ole Miss stays in Mississippi or nearby it after graduation that becomes what you assume you should to too. It's what's been tried and tested. You know just what it will look and feel like. And so not only does your brain go "this is the path I should follow because this is the path that I'm on" but it goes, "I know that...that's comfortable...that makes sense."
There is nothing wrong with moving home after college or staying in Mississippi. But when gossiping on terraces about how one entire friend group all got married within five years of graduation we have to remember the operative word there (...it's group).
It's for this reason that I feel incredibly uncomfortable that I'll never have a graduate degree but totally fine having not dated someone for more than 6 months in my recent adult life. Throw my story to the terrace of two other girls and they may have a very different opinion.
It's natural to want to do what's modeled for us - to follow the trend or wave or mob, and in many ways it pays off. Walking through life stages in lock-step with your closest peer group provides comfort, shared resources, and convenient conversation topics for future terrace talks. But what I've always wondered is how much the point of reference pressure guides a person versus how much the person points themselves inside their right reference. How many people in a different group at a different time would actually reach a better, fuller potential? We make decisions - where to go to college, what to study, where to life after - at an age where we can't be trusted to rent a car and then let those guide us for much of the rest of our lives.
If college started at 30, if no one told each other where they were going our what they were doing after graduation, if you were forced to live in a different town than the one you grew up in - what would we all do differently? And how would we all turn out?