25 January 2009

Be peer pressured or be peerless

I was sifting through some old emails of mine and came across this one that was forwarded to me long time back. The post makes some decent points. Hopefully someone will find this useful. I did :)

Be peer-pressured or be peerless (By Mahesh Murthy, Business world India)

All our lives, we're made to feel insecure when compared with peers. It is important not to give in Second in class! So X came first again? What's wrong with you - aren't you good enough?" Perhaps you've grown up hearing lines like this through childhood. I did.

Comparisons like this can be the most noxious things to happen. It took me a long while to dig myself out from the mess of others' expectations. But emerge I did - with a clear belief that not just will I steer clear of such benchmarking in my adult life, I will never submit my kid to such psychological warfare.

The horrible habit doesn't end at school. I've seen college students wrenching their guts over some classmate who got the best-paying job at placement time, someone else who got the university gold, some other applicant who got the full overseas tuition waiver. And in all my talks at colleges, I spend more time on this than on any other fundamental of business.

It's hard to tell people that comparisons are a waste of time – so deeply-ingrained in our psyche is this peer-pressure nonsense. But two things clear up the clouds. One is a statement (and I have no hard statistics, only overwhelming anecdotal evidence that most of these toppers, gold medal winners, - the envied ones - typically end up nowhere, compared to where you are or where you can be. And even if they've, it's not where you want to be. Sure, your roommate at Powai ended up earning $150K at Goldman Sachs writing research reports on stocks he knows nothing about, living on a lifestyle conveyor belt he can't get off. But is that why you went to IIT to do your B. Tech? Careful what you envy. You might actually get it, and regret it for the rest of your life.

The second is a more basic belief: that all human beings are unique - Nothing too earth-shattering, except when you apply it to your career. Think about it. You're different from every one of your batch mates, aren't you? Your combination of talent, personality, likes and dislikes is what sets you apart from everybody else. You haven't met anybody like you – and you're as individual as your fingerprint, to sound like bad advertising copy. You'll agree that your perfect career is one that will 'fit' your talent and personality to a T. And by the same logic, your perfect career won't suit anyone else - just as anyone else's perfect career won't suit you.

But if all this were true, as you're nodding in agreement, why the heck did you apply and fight for the same jobs and write the same exams? Why are you benchmarking yourself against that colleague from MBA class who is a VP while you're still an assist ant vice-president? Why should you bother that X has a better car, that Y was given a bigger company flat, and that Z married into a richer family than you did? Would being in X, Y or Z's place really make your life suddenly more meaningful? It's a hard one to get your head around. But that doesn't make it any less true: envy is a pointless emotion when it comes to your career. Or even life. At the root of envy is your insecurity about yourself - and your true worth. And insecurity is a great mirage that the system (including us marketing types) has a vested interest in seeing continue.

If you really believed (like many of us do) that people should judge you for your brains and not your looks, you'd put Lakme and L'Oreal out of business. Advertisers, parents, the establishment - all know their job is to make you feel insecure - so you’re conned into thinking that only if you use the right shampoo will you find the right guy, or use the right cologne to find the right girl, or top your class to find the right career. Balderdash. What sets successes apart from also-rans is not the right fairness cream or education or mark sheet - but the strength to reject the notion that there's anything wrong with you, or that you need to be like anyone else. Read up about biographies of people you admire. You won't find wardrobes or accents or family pressure in common, but a common belief that they didn't give a damn about wanting to be like their peers.


shrooty said...

that's quite true. the moment we stop worrying about what other people think, there is a sense of freedom that comes with it. easier said than done of course.

Anonymous said...

OK. You've heard this 100 times. But can you actually mold urself to think this way? Stand away from the rat race and let's talk.

Shrish said...

@Anonymous: I liked the above article since it never ventured in the general BS "Do what you really want to do". Such statements assume that you have the time and resources to sample every thing available under the sun. The article also didn't focus on the rat race aspect of the competition. Rather it primarily focussed on a simple premise that comparing/benchmarking oneself to others is probably not the right thing to do.

Is it possible to follow this principle? Probably yes but for most of us its difficult. Have I been able to do it? Sometimes for sure. Will I be able to do it all the time? Well that's the goal.