Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

24 comments on “Peer Pressure

  1. As a new retiree, I appreciate the advice. It’s so nice to finally be able to do the things I want to do on my own time and in my own terms. Life is what you make it, so use your time wisely! Thank you!

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  2. I do what I want to do….the hard part is keeping it all in balance…always has been…but my balancing act gets better…and re-wired living continues to stretch boundaries, inspire thinking, & nurture activity in every way: spiritually, physically, mentally, socially….unlike a “work world” I take breaks when I want….I do what I want!

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  3. watch my kid while you are off taking care of something? you got to be kidding me. great topic—people no longer ask me……I am selective about where I spend my time. keep writing!!!!

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    • I know really? I was a personal pushover at one time in my life. My work persona and home persona were two different things. That was probably the day I melded the two together and am happier for it. K

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  4. First off, I’m a tad bit jealous of the line “In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group” . Oh, to have that abundance of people wanting to be part of your tribe, or vice-versa. I was having a conversation with a woman about her new book club, hoping she would ask me to join it – I didn’t feel comfortable asking to join (not sure why!). Even with my active interest, no invite. Sigh. Same has been true of a woman’s writing group – an acquaintance will talk about it when I express interest, but offer no invite, even casually.

    But I do appreciate your advice and do agree with it…. choosing activities that fit your life vision/purpose/interests/what’s important to you – whatever you want to call it – is critical. Busyness for the sake of busyness is not going to make me happier. And doing things with people I like… that is also critical. Not just saying yes for the activity, but for the relationships it helps build is also important for me. I am continually trying to say “yes” to activities I truly want to do, with people I want to do them with. So if my tribe is slow to grow, that is how it’s meant to be right now. Right?

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    • I hope I didn’t sound like a whiner complaining about all the choices I have. I’m a little pushy myself when I want to be, so I would invite myself to the book club and writing group. All they can say is “no”. I also find that taking classes in writing and art often gets me invited to other groups and clubs. I take several classes a year. I arrive early and I always introduce myself to other students as they come in to the classroom. Just put yourself out there even if you feel uncomfortable…it’s called courage. A word of caution…you may also find yourself faced with people who want to be friends that you would rather avoid. But, no pain, no gain. Good luck. K

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      • Gosh no – NOT a whiner. And, yesterday I got invited to take a cooking class with someone I had invited to a cooking class with me. A reciprocal invite. With someone I think could become a friend. OMG – so excited. OK, maybe that’s a bit much, but I know things will happen given the time. And next time one of those moments happen (writing group, book club), I will take a big breath and tell myself – Kathy said I could do this. 🙂 And say, I’d love to join up with you….

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  5. If I have more than one or two things scheduled in one week, I start to feel overwhelmed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a hard time saying “no” but, now that I’m retired, I want to say “yes” more… until I do. A “yes” said last week turns into an “oh my god, why did I agree to do that?” when the day of the event arrives.

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    • It’s funny Jan how we juggled a hundred balls a week when we worked and now we don’t want too many balls in the air at one time. I feel the same way. I have a full plate, but I don’t want to be running around like a chicken with its head off. I also sometimes agree to go to an event that sounds like a good idea at the time. Then, on the appointed day, I ask myself the same question you do. We all have moments like that, but I try to keep them to a minimum. K

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  6. Really enjoying your writing Kathy! You feel like a kindred spirit. I’m recently into this new chapter of my life and your reflections on your experiences are guiding me along the way. Although I’m half a world away (near Melbourne, Australia) the distance is insignificant. Keep sharing your wisdom. It’s so helpful..

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    • Thanks Renee. It is short! But, definitely on point. I think it’s fun to go out on my property and cut down infested dying pines with a chain saw…I doubt there are many women who would agree with me…Ha! Or men for that matter. K

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  7. Such good advice Kathy. There seems to be an expectation that if you are retired you have nothing to do and also that it is a given that you will volunteer. I find that irritating because volunteering isn’t for everyone and as you say it is a time when we should be able to do exactly what we want to do.

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    • Jan, You bring up a really good point. It’s reminds me of the woman I met a few years ago who felt she was being held captive by a volunteer organization. She intended to volunteer one day a week, but they treated her as if she had nothing else to do and kept adding hours for her to “volunteer”. When I met her she was free labor for most of her week! She told me how miserable she was and desperately wanted out. Later, I read an article that said retirees who volunteered because they thought they should give back were more likely to have heart attacks or strokes…I suspect it was not just the volunteering…they probably did a lot of things in their lives because they thought they “should”. I have been a volunteer all my life. For me the key is volunteering for something I feel about strongly and for an organization that values my time and talents. K

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  8. Kathy,
    Your post made it very clear why we must take care of ourselves first. I was amazed at the rudeness of the person who asked you – right out of the hospital – to babysit for her daughter! The nerve!
    When I am being pressured to do something more than I am already doing in a volunteer situation, I try to remember what the flight attendants always tell you at the beginning of an airplane trip: put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to help anyone else. That helps me to say no when I need to.
    Thanks for your post!

    Rin

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    • You hit the nail on the head Rin! I use the oxygen mask example myself. Yes that woman was rude…our friendship ended shortly thereafter…mainly because I started saying ‘yes’ to me and no to her. We must care for ourselves first otherwise we can’t help the other passengers at all. K

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  9. Thank you for this post. I retired a bit early and for some reason with my new status everyone around me thinks I “need” my time filled. It is difficult and I have got to stand up for myself. I appreciate the way you framed this. I am going to have some pre-prepared phrases for those folks thinking I need more to do!! I just want to destress for at least 6 months or so!! Really enjoy your blog! Julie

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    • Yes, Julie, for some reason some people think retired means you have nothing to do, but sit around waiting for them to give you something to do. Prior to retiring, I remember a retired acquaintance telling me I would have to guard my time jealously in retirement. He was 100% correct! I’m glad this post helped. K

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  10. Kathy I’ve been reading for awhile and enjoy your writing. Peer pressure is a challenge I’m dealing with now and so often find myself doing things I don’t want to do with people I’d rather not spend time with. Thanks for this timely post.

    I, too, am a woman who would rather be out in the woods with my chain saw then at lunch making conversation. In retirement I was finally able to afford a quality saw that really came in handy with the straight line winds of last summer. The most fun was spending the day cleaning up a friends yard of all the downed trees. Together we got everything cut up and hauled to the street for the city to pickup. The next day I finished up my downed trees. What a wonderful feeling to know I could be out in the sunshine being active with ‘real’ work. Thank you again for the timely post.
    Mary

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    • Mary, You sound like a kindred spirit. What’s fun for us may not be fun for someone else and vice versa. Our last third of life belongs to us in a way no other time did. I’m glad the post helped. K

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