Leann Zurmuhlen is a student at California Lutheran University who is currently studying for a degree in Communication.
I didn’t really face peer pressure in school very much, fortunately. None of my friends smoke, drank, or took illegal drugs, and even if they had, they knew me well enough to realize I was pretty uninterested in that scene. While some of my friends did have to account for drug dealers making offers on the sidewalk by their houses, I lived in homes nestled between elementary and high schools, surrounded by parents and grandparents. The worst thing I ever had to turn down were Girl Scout cookies. (Sorry, Girl Scouts!)
I thought I’d gotten through my youth and young adult years surprisingly pressure-free. However, what I didn’t realize at the time is that peer pressure never really ends. When I turned 21, it was only the beginning for me.
In the months leading to my 21st birthday, I was happy to be closer to what I perceived as the last stepping stone to adulthood: I would soon be able to legally purchase and consume alcohol. It was mostly the principle of the thing, since I figured it would join the list of things I wasn’t planning on doing, like smoking cigarettes or buying lotto tickets, but could still do without fuss if I chose to.
As I later found out, I was not the only one looking forward to this event.
Suddenly everybody in my life suddenly wanted to push alcohol at me. My coworkers talked about taking me barhopping, my underage friends encouraged me to buy Mojitos at restaurants, of-age friends bought me large bottles Tequila and Triple Sec for my birthday, and even my dad wanted me to partake in an after-work beer with him a few nights a week. More than ever, I felt like I was being pressured to drink.
Finally, I understood how hard it was to be the one who was always saying “no”. I felt like a bit of a wet blanket, like I was inhibiting everybody else’s ability to have a good time, despite my perfectly valid reasons to not drink: I wasn’t in the mood, ordering alcohol at restaurants is expensive, I was already dehydrated and didn’t want to push my luck, I was sore and wanted to be able to take a painkiller if necessary, it was late and I had a morning class the following day, I was driving (although I am grateful that my underage friends always offered to drive me home)… the list goes on and on, and I can only imagine how hard it must be for those who may be even younger and even less sure of themselves than I am.
The sudden wave of peer pressure taught me a lot, though. Through it, I was able to determine a couple of things:
- People who love you won’t get mad at you for not wanting to drink or get drunk. Really. If they do, that’s a reflection on them, not you.
- The people who matter most, who are going to be the most valuable throughout your life, will think you’re fun and wonderful just the way you are, regardless of whether or not all of your choices line up with each other’s all the time. They will accept that being friends and/or family doesn’t mean you all share one, big, terrifying hive mind.
- It’s okay to say no.
- It’s okay to say no. If there is even a hint of doubt in your mind, that’s significant, and don’t let anyone bully you out of it. Saying no doesn’t make you a moment killer or somehow less worthy of being hung out with.In the end, you are responsible for your own decisions and your own actions. You have to look at yourself and think of who you want to be and what it takes to get there. Or, as is sometimes easier–you have to look at yourself and determine what you don’t want to be. I decided that I don’t want to be somebody whose actions bend depending on the crowd despite my own wants and needs.In the end, I decided that I don’t owe anyone any yes that I don’t want to commit to, and I’m glad I learned that when I did, because think that’s going to save me from a lot of poor decision-making later on.
Which begs the question: in a world where peer pressure ends (and feel free to read that in a deep, manly, movie narrator voice), how are you going to define yourself? And what does that mean to you?