“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here’s another lens to use when you think about the role your peers played in shaping your personality. When we think of “peer pressure,” it’s easy to think of the negative. Obviously, this depends on who you hang with and their habits and practices whether the peer pressure is negative or not.
There’s another side though. When you were growing up, your peers actually helped shape your personality towards your strengths. Think about it like this. Your peers got to spend more time with you on a regular basis and you got to test your intrinsic abilities and personality on a regular basis. Were you really funny? Did you have interesting ideas? Did you succeed through hard-work and discipline? This was your testing ground for shaping who you are.
To put it another way, it’s nature’s way of helping you win and find your niche in a Darwin world.
In the book Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance , Marcus Buckingham writes about the research and conclusions in the roles of nature and nurture in shaping your personality.
The Instructions Written into Your Biological Design Specs
Nature has a formula for how your peers shape your personality towards your strengths. Buckingham writes:
”These, then, were the instructions written into your biological design specs when you were born, which we can state as follows:
- Pay very close attention to what your childhood peers think of you.
- Identify where you have some preexisting strengths in relation to these peers.
- Build on these strengths, and then …
- Permanently skew your personality toward these strengths while you are still a young teenager”
You’re Wired to Seek Out Your Peer Group for Feedback
You’re wired to use your peers to find your strengths. Buckingham writes:
This is tremendously valuable information for you as a child, since it helps you learn where you have the best chance to compete successfully as an adult. So from birth through early adolescence, you are wired, as are all humans in all cultures, to seek out feedback from your peer group as to where your relative strengths lie.
Your Peers are the Most Reliable Source of Information
It’s not about peer pressure. That’s only temporary. Instead, your peers are the most reliable information about you. Buckingham writes:
Not peers in the clichéd sense of peer pressure. You may well have felt some peer pressure going up, but if you did, this will have affected only your behavior and your values, and probably only temporary. Peer pressure of this kind will not affect your underlying personality. I mean peers in the sense that your peers are the most reliable source of information about you, and in particular, about what your true strengths are in the world outside your home. Your peers will tell you accurately (far more accurately than your family will) if and who you can dominate, if you’re funny, if and when you’re a good ally, if your ideas are interesting, if your ideas are practical, if you are trustworthy, and so on.
This System Continues to Do Its Work Throughout Your Childhood and Early Adolescence
While you are picking up on these clues about your strengths, a second system kicks in. This system pushes you to seek out situations where you can play to these strengths, and these repeated behaviors cause material changes in your brain development, which in turn cause you to play to your strengths still more. This system continues to do its work throughout your childhood and early adolescence. Then, once you reach your mid teens, it locks these changes in.
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Photo by Michael Caven.