“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee
Thanks, Bruce Lee. It only took me about four years to finally understand what you meant. All my middle school years and freshman year of high school were not my time. I was a completely different person, hanging out with completely different people who I shouldn’t have spent time with, steering myself into a world full of disaster. But luckily for me, as 10th grade rolled around the corner, I grew a brain with common sense and finally got out of the cycle, the cycle called peer pressure.
If you haven’t gone through the dreadful process, consider yourselves the lucky ones, like winning a million-dollar-lottery lucky, because peer pressure is a lot more than you think it is. If the term is not ringing a bell, in simple terms, peer pressure is when you do something to feel liked and respected by your peers.
Now, this could be a positive or a negative thing, depending on the context. For example, a positive aspect to peer pressure is someone pushing a friend to get better grades, trying new things or advising you to put a stop to gossiping. On the other hand, negative aspects of peer pressure are either someone convincing you to skip school, trying illegal drugs, cheating, stealing, etc.
In middle school, I was all about the negative, negative Nancy might have to watch out. I was doing risky things that I know my parents wouldn’t approve of. To illustrate, my first time going to a sleepover was when I was in 7th grade. (Strict parents, anyone?) The first thing my friends wanted to do was secretly sneak out and go meet up with a bunch of boys who were a grade above us and stay in their garage until midnight. (So much for movie night.) Me and one other girl were not up for it; it was too risky, and we knew how much trouble we would get into. Yet, I let the fear of not feeling accepted and possible rejection get the best of me, and I went with them anyway. Sorry mom.
I would also purposely change the way I talk and behave. My so-called “friends” used to tell me that I had a very deep voice, and guys are just not all into that. Freshman me just couldn’t take that, so I tried everything possible to soften my voice and make it high-pitched. (By the way, I’m sure plenty of guys do not like hearing squeaking noises, right?) I would also purposely try to get myself in trouble with my parents. I believed it felt cool as everyone who was “cool”or “popular” in school always had something to say about provoking their parents and getting in trouble with them. If that’s not crazy, I don’t know what is.
Another aspect is that I have been a Christian all my life. I have never once doubted my beliefs or tried to shake them off. In middle school, I started noticing that I was trying to hide my religion from everyone else. In 7th grade, one of the boys I was working with on a school project made a comment about the lifestyle of Christians: “They are don’t like to have fun. They are all about Bible, Bible, Bible.” I should have been more confident in my religion at the time, but I wasn’t. After that, I would change the subject anytime someone asked about my religion. I didn’t want to be teased or ridiculed by any of my peers, because they all seem to collectively think the same. But as of now, I proudly wear my faith on my sleeve.
I mean, they were doing all this risky stuff, smoking in the back of the school building, going to the mall just for the intent of stealing. They seemed to enjoy it, and they were all doing it together, as friends, and I wanted that. I believed I needed that, so I joined, letting peer pressure overtake me and becoming someone I wasn’t. You don’t have to; you don’t have to feed into the frenzy and transform into someone you’re not.
Now, this is a lot easier said than done. Peer pressure can cause low-self-esteem, an increase in depression and anxiety levels, and even cause you to distance yourself from your true family members and friends.
“It was hard for me to make friends during middle school. Any chance I got to show that I was ‘friend-worthy’ I would do it, no question,” said Mapalo Chelishe, a North Springs High School junior. “I went as far as to bully a peer of mine in exchange for validation, no joke, those were my lowest moments honestly.”
“I started to feel a little out of place with my own ‘clique’ when I noticed I was not dressed the same as them,” said Riley Moss, a sophomore at North Springs. “Pretty skirts, crop tops, many piercings, drowned in necklaces and bracelets. I felt like I had to change my appearance, too, ‘cause they started noticing, too.”
Losing your self-esteem is like losing a part of yourself; you will feel the need to change everything about yourself for the sake of others. If not careful, it can increase the probability of depression and loneliness. Ironic isn’t it? You will do anything for the benefit of other people’s approval but end up feeling alone and unhappy.
To ensure happiness and contentment in your life, it’s exceptionally important to know and understand your worth. You should never need to worry about fitting in with the right group because there is no “right” group. You will find people who will understand you and love you for you. They do not live in this world for you, and you do not live in this world for them.
Winfred Odhiambo is a 10th grader currently attending North Springs High School. She is a fan of writing, reading and watching loads of anime. She loves all genres of books except for romance and can’t stand anything science-related but wants to be a neurosurgeon … Makes total sense!