Today I want to talk about peer pressure. Peer pressure – yes, it can be positive, but most of the time it is not. Most of the time it stands in the way of success and wealth.
First I want to discuss a little bit about kids, because it’s really kids as an analogous discussion will lead into parents. First of all, what happens with kids? You’ll see peer pressure causing them to take on risky behavior, but it also affects everything from the fashion that they wear, to alcohol and drug abuse. Friends are constantly recommending, or pushing, or pursuing them to do certain things. It affects who they hang out with. Do they hang out with the right or the wrong people?
You’ll see the recommendations. I went and searched around for recommendations. I don’t think I saw a decent recommendation anywhere on the web. They would say things like: “Just say ‘No,’” and some of the dumb ads on TV that sit there, and the father says: “You’ll tell me, won’t you, if people want you to drink?” Oh, come on. Come on, folks. What you have to do is you have to have them address the underlying pressures that exist. They’ve got a whole bunch of people, saying: “Are you afraid? What are you going to do? Come on. Let’s do it.” How do they resist that?
I’ll tell you a little bit of a story of how I got one person to do this. I don’t want to mention too much detail, because they might be a listener, but it was somebody that was just finishing up grammar school, headed into middle school, and at that time there was concern, both by the parents and family members around because this particular child always followed everybody else; whatever they wanted to do, she would just go along.
One of the discussions I had was: What do you do and say when everybody’s telling you to do that? Do you ever have that situation, where somebody says: “Come on, come on. What are you, afraid? What are you, afraid?” Of course, the person starts to shake their head, and of course they do, and they hear that all the time. We all did.
What I did was say: “What you do is you just turn around, look that person straight in the face, because there’s a whole bunch of other people with them. If they weren’t with them, they wouldn’t be saying that to you. Turn around and say: ‘I’m not the one that’s afraid. Those others, they’re afraid. They’re afraid to say ‘No’ to you.’” This person did that, this child did that, and completely changed directions. Why? Because other people, then, started to feel that confidence. The person became popular, very popular. The child was pretty popular before, but then became very popular, was very independent, and had some of the tools.
There are other things you can do and say, but the idea is you have to give them something to say in response, not just: “Say ‘No.’” That doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for a hundred years. People have been pushing it. You think the kids are much stronger or can be stronger. When they have that pressure, they’re usually facing a group of people, and some that they look up to. Most assume the characteristics that they must have – they don’t. They’re vulnerable, and they don’t have the strength. They need something to make them feel strong.
The interesting thing, though, is it would be best if the adults were able to display those characteristics themselves; that they weren’t, in a sense, pushed into situations where they were influenced heavily by peer pressure, too. How do you expect kids to fight peer pressure if the adults don’t? Take a look at all the debt that exist, in many cases, because of peer pressure. Purchases that don’t even make sense to people, but they have to keep up with the Joneses, they have to keep up with other people.
I saw that amongst executives at different companies that I was at. There’d be a release of the new Apple iPhone or the new Xbox, and key executives would be talking about the fact that they got it on the first day. “Look at this one,” or “Look at that one,” and: “Look at these neat things it can do.” They were so proud in showing off the fact that they bought this thing at some ridiculously high price the first day so that they could show: “See what I have.” Then I bet they go home and expect their kids to not buckle under, and follow that same trend. Peer pressure for kids, as well as adults, go into everything, including weight, what they eat, who they like. So, you expect kids to fight and resist peer pressure, but do you as an adult?
Now, getting back to adults, this is really crucial and important because the adults, take a look at what happens. Why do you think those ads are on TV, those ads that show you the latest bauble or some other piece of jewelry, or something else that you just must have? Why are they there? Because they’re successful, because they make you think you should have them. Take a look at how everybody puts on a wedding better than the last person. Can you imagine if instead you handed the kid the $30,000 as an investment account for their future? That would take care of them for their entire retirement if they were given that kind of money or that money was put aside for that, and they had a small wedding. I know, that’s a terrible thing to say. Then the diamonds that are bought. It’s kind of crazy to see what’s bought and how it’s bought, and what it’s paid for. People trying to compete and outdo each other with things that – no, they don’t increase in value, you’re not going to get any money back from them. They’re just sunk costs. Try to sell it sometime, and see what you get.
Then take a look at the jobs people have. People get into a job, they move into a new house, and they have to get a house that shows that they’re really better than even the job that they have. In a sense, they’re moving into something that makes them appear that they’re on the move to the next place. So they really can’t afford it yet, it’s out of the neighborhood they should be in. Within six months, they go and buy a car that they can’t afford to fit with the house that they couldn’t afford, and then they talk about their debt. They go on vacations they can’t afford; mainly, in a lot of cases, just to be able to talk about them.
You hear people say, and this is an example of it (and it goes back to a chapter I did on jealousy), if somebody turns around and says: “Gee, I just got a new Ford Taurus,” almost immediately you’ll hear somebody else say: “I got a new BMW.” Why do they do that? Why? Let the person have their moment. It’s not just jealousy, but it’s, again, that game of peer pressure and forcing and pushing each other, and one-upping each other.
The next time somebody tells you they just got a new car: “Oh, I just got a new 500e,” or something else – ask them: “Did you lease it?” The real purpose of that question is not whether they really leased it or not, but they’ll say: -“No, I bought it.” -“Oh, wow, you had that much cash?” The real status symbol is for you to be able to turn around and say: “I buy all my cars strict cash, no debt, no bills.” That’s a status symbol.
Let’s make debt-free the true status symbol. That is: Stay there without debt, have your car, and don’t compound interest for the banks. You can look at the episode on reverse compound interest to see what you’re doing, and why you can be proud, if you’re carrying debt, every time you drive by a big bank building because you help build it.
I do acknowledge that sometimes peer pressure can be good, because if you’re moving up and your five closest friends are going to have a positive influence… For example, when I went up from Hofstra University to the PhD program at Berkeley, the peer pressure you have there to perform well and hard, and do really well and work was a positive reinforcement. It was getting people to do better, but at the same time, it can also be bad and can be damaging.
When I went to GM Research Labs, when I got there, there was very independent groups of PhDs, and most of them, they had a whole clique there that were anti-corporate, anti-GM, and they looked down and thought this was terrible that I was working and cooperating and working hard to make things better and to create things that were good for the company. I don’t know what the heck they were there for, but they were very unhappy. That was their peer pressure, and they pushed on each other; and they pushed on me, but I resisted.
When I moved into the last two places I moved into, brand new homes, very good neighborhoods – I didn’t have the greatest car, but I owned them, and I didn’t care. Someone mentioned to me, my next-door neighbor, when he mentioned: “When are you getting a new car?” I’d say: “Why? It’s fully paid for.” Meanwhile, I told him the story about how everybody moving in, within six months, would buy a new car. About 6-7 months later, he came to me and said: “You were right!” I said: “What about?” He said: “Every one of them bought a new car!” I said: “Yes, they came into a house that they couldn’t afford, and then made a commitment to a car that they couldn’t afford.” Why? Because they’re influenced by ads that say: “Oh, you can get this for only $299 a month.” Of course it’s a lease that has something like 12,000 miles on it, and when you get to the end of your third year or whatever your lease term is, you’ve put on so many extra miles that you either have to give them several thousand dollars, or: “Don’t worry, we’ll roll you into the next one.” Sucker!
Anyway, thank you very much for listening. Find ways to set examples for your kids, but also set things for yourself. Be proud of what you do.
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