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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 4: You Can Ignore Your Peers

Building off the previous two facts of life you can generate a third: You can ignore your peers. If Teenagers Are Naive and Adults Rule the World then we can safely conclude that your teenage peers are pretty much irrelevant. I know this is impossible to believe. I can remember as a teenager being incredibly concerned about "being accepted" and about "being cool." You might feel the same way.

So let me tell you an important secret. All of those feelings are a part of your Teenage Illusion Module (see Chapter 2). As soon as your TIM collapses you will realize that what your peers think is largely irrelevant. They know little or nothing about the real world. Instead of pleasing your peers, you should please yourself or please people who matter. The sooner you understand this fact, the better.

Let me say it another way. Look at these two people:

Figure 1 - A comparison between the "look" of a typical teenager and a typical adult.

On the left you have a typical teenager. When you look at him you might think, "Wow. Cool. A really together guy." On the right is an adult businessman. You are thinking, "Dweeb. Business geek. Suit. Boring." You need to do a complete 180 on that. Hereís why. When he is lucky the teenager on the left is able to make minimum wage sweeping floors. He owns nothing. He can make absolutely nothing happen. He knows little about the adult world. When he wants to go somewhere he has to borrow his motherís car. His major claim to fame is a high score on a video game. In the grand scheme of things the teenager is largely insignificant.

The adult on the right, on the other hand, has a good job. He owns a nice house. He gives money each year to help needy children in the community. By speaking eloquently at a business luncheon, he can generate thousands of dollars in charitable contributions for the foundation of his choice. He can get you a job if you ask him. In other words, he can make things happen. He can teach you incredible things if you are willing to learn. He knows how the world works.

Compare the teenager to the adult. Who is more successful? Who can accomplish more? Who can do more good for the community and the world? Who will people listen to? The more time you spend talking to your peers, the more you are like them. The more time you spend talking to adults, the more you are like an adult. Adults can accomplish a whole lot more. Adults can actually make things happen. Therefore, logic would indicate that you should be talking to adults if success is your goal.

Think about the question, "Who would you rather be like: a teenager or an adult?" You might answer it, "Iíd rather be like the teenager." Why? One reason is because you are a teenager. Birds of a feather flock together, and all that. Another reason is because you understand teenagers and are comfortable with them. The reason you are comfortable with teenagers is because you talk to them all day. You may not do that with adults. Maybe thatís because you think adults are boring and stupid. If you feel that way, perhaps you should reconsider. How can an adult who is making $50,000 or $150,000 a year be stupid? Especially when it is totally impossible for a normal teenager to do the same? You are, potentially, flocking with the wrong group. By spending time with adults and learning to understand their world, you can become a successful adult much more quickly.

The reason you might think adults are stupid is because you do not understand them. The adult world is a intricate, complex and interesting place. Because it is intricate and complex, however, it takes time and experience to understand this environment. You need to talk to adults to start learning about their environment. The sooner you start learning the intricacies, the better off you are in the long run. The sooner you become an adult, the sooner you can start reaping the rewards of being an adult.

The Opinions of Your Peers

I was pretty nerdy when I was in high school. Therefore, my peers spent a lot of time putting me down. The mistake I made was that I actually listened to them and took their opinions to heart. Adults I knew told me I was doing great, but that didnít count for some reason. If I had to do it over again I would do just the opposite; I would spend all my time with adults and ignore my peers because my peers were wrong.
Think about it another way. You have heard about "peer pressure." Notice that the words "peer pressure" are always used in a negative sense. Your "peers" are encouraging you to smoke. Your "peers" are encouraging you to do drugs. Your "peers" are encouraging you to have sex at age 15. Your "peers" are encouraging you to go smash your neighborís mailbox with a baseball bat. Your "peers" are encouraging you to spray graffiti on cars. Whatever. Why in the world would you want to do any of that? What does it accomplish? Have you ever had a successful adult businessman pull up to you in his Lexus and say, "Come on, letís go bash mailboxes together! I have a bat in the back seat!" Of course not.

Why is it that adults donít go sneaking around smashing mailboxes? Because it is pointless. There are much better things to do once you know they are possible. You, as a teenager in America, are standing inside a $7 trillion economy (1997). That means that every year people willingly hand each other $7 trillion in return for goods and services. If you can figure out a legitimate way to get even the tiniest slice of that money to flow your way, then you will be set. You will be able to accomplish almost any goal you can imagine. "Goals?" you might be asking. This might be a good time to get some. It is probably the case that you have some already and donít realize it (see Chapter 23). Many of your peers donít have any goals, and that is why their lives are often so random and pointless. Instead of trying to figure out a better way to kill your neighborís cat, you could instead be learning about our society and economy and figuring out a way to build a business or career that will make you a millionaire.

You can ignore your "peers" completely if you like. Simply walk away from them and never look back. You will be much better off if you spend your time with adults and become an adult yourself.

Replacing Your Peers

Now, having told you that your peers are irrelevant, you probably have at least four problems:

  • You are so used to thinking about your peers as the center of the universe that it is impossible for you to think of them in any other way right now. Every single thing you do at the moment is dictated by your peers and their view of you, including your haircut, your clothes, the way you talk and so on. You are a slave to the whims of your peers. That is fine. Let the idea of ignoring them sink in for a week or two and it will feel more comfortable. Then come back and read this chapter again.
  • Whether or not your peers are relevant, they are in your face all day, every day. You have to deal with them whether you like it or not.
  • You donít know of any smart adults who will sit down and talk to you on a daily basis. And even if you did, most of what they would talk about would make no sense to you.
  • You can see no way for you to ever become like the businessman. What in the world can you do to make $150,000 a year? Or $2,000,000 a year? What is the path? Since you can see no path, it may seem pointless to try.
You need to find ways around these problems. Here are some suggestions:

  • Your peers are your friends. Everyone has friends, and that is a good thing. But choose your friends wisely. Completely ignore "negative peers." If you want to, go form a clique. The difference should be that your clique is doing the right thing, knows what it is doing and should be willing to let in other people who are wanting to learn. Form a good clique, in other words.
  • Find other people your age who are reading this book. Talk to them. Compare notes and ideas.
  • Get ready for a paradox: You will be looked down on by people who are below you. You are seeking an adult level of behavior, yet many of the children around you in high school will treat you like you are an idiot. Ignore them. They are worrying about video games and rock bands and cigarettes and drugs and expensive tennis shoes. All of that stuff is irrelevant. Do you see a single successful adult around you worrying about video games and rock bands and cigarettes and drugs? Of course not. The opinions of your peers are irrelevant. They have no idea about what you are trying to accomplish, or why. Try this: If a five-year-old kid were to walk up to you and say, "Youíre really dumb," what would you do? You would ignore him. What does he know? You can treat many of the people around you in high school the same way.
  • Find adults who will talk to you in ways that you understand; who will take the time to put things in terms that make sense to you. Form friendships or relationships with these adults. Ask them intelligent questions. When things happen, ask them why. Form relationships like this with a number of adults.
  • If you have a group of like-minded friends, form a club. Take tours of nearby factories, TV stations, businesses, colleges, hotels and so on. Find adults who are sympathetic to your cause and ask them to come speak to your club. Ask them if they will give you tours of their businesses. Ask them to tell you about their jobs. Some will say "No." Thatís OK; keep asking and you will find people who say "Yes." Show them this book and explain what you are trying to accomplish. There are adults who will understand and who will listen.
  • Find situations where adults get together and join the group. Go work for a political campaign. Volunteer at a community organization. Get involved at the adult level at church. Go to meetings like the rotary club or the Jaycees and simply sit quietly in back and listen. Do not hang out with college students; many are clueless. Find groups of successful, mature adults. Start listening.
  • Whenever you meet new adults, ask them to describe their jobs. Ask if they enjoy their jobs. Ask how they got to their current job. You will find that just about everyone went through a really crazy set of steps to get where they are. You will also find that a number of people have jobs you have never heard of before (see Chapter 5 and Chapter 6). Ask them what they would do differently if they were to do it again. You will learn a lot of conflicting lessons (see Chapter 24).
  • Form friendships with teachers. Ask them questions. Ask for explanations of adult behavior. If one teacher does not seem to understand what you are saying, try another until you find one who speaks your language.
  • See if you can find a successful adult who will be your mentor. A mentor is a person who takes the time to "show you the ropes." A mentor will share experiences from his or her business and personal life, act as a sounding board, offer suggestions and so on. If you can find a professional adult who will take you under his or her wing, you can accelerate your development tremendously.
  • Find your own way. Instead of searching for the opinions and approval of your peers, work instead to find what makes you happy. Simply be yourself and be with yourself and see what you find. You might be amazed.

Finding Someone Who Speaks Your Language

Here is an example of how helpful it can be to find someone who speaks your language. When I was a teenager, I was terrible at art, yet I really wanted to do "artistic" things. One thing I wanted to do was learn to draw. I took art classes, I read drawing and sketching books, but everything I drew myself looked really bad and very childish.

Then I found a book by Betty Edwards called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This is the only book on drawing that ever spoke to me. Thousands and thousands of people have been able to learn to draw from this book because it breaks down the "problem" of drawing, shows why it is hard and explains how to overcome the difficulties with exercises. Prior to reading this book, despite talking to lots of people and reading many other books, drawing was a mystery to me. After reading it I understand completely.

If you talk to someone and you cannot understand them, do not give up. Simply talk to someone else. And keep trying until you find someone who speaks your language and is able to help you understand the answer to your question.

Now about the last problem of the four mentioned previously; You can see no path to becoming a $100,000-a-year businessman or lawyer or engineer or truck driver (yes, truck drivers can make $100,000 per year). See Part 2 for more information.

Gaining Perspective

Another thing you can do to gain a perspective on your peers is to eliminate a common problem of all teenagers: tunnel vision. As a child, and to some extent as a teenager, you have the ability to think about only what you see in your environment. Therefore, you tend to see your peers as the only people who matter. What you are missing is that there are five billion people on this planet (1997) and at school you are dealing with a microscopic percentage of the total population. To base any action off of the opinions of your tiny group of peers is meaningless.

Let me give you an example of the first event in my life that showed me my problem with tunnel vision. During my junior year, my high school sent me to a week-long program in Washington, DC. In this program I spent an incredibly intense week learning about the system of American government with several hundred other teenagers from all over the country. The program consisted of tours, seminars, meetings with people in government, briefings, classes, lectures, banquets and discussions. We were on the run 14 to 16 hours a day. I can remember getting home from Washington after this trip, falling asleep at noon or so, and waking up the next morning almost 24 hours later. It was an amazing trip for me.

Besides learning a huge amount about the political system, I learned two other important things:

  • I learned that there was this huge group of people just like me. The neat thing about this program, and the main difference between it and the group of people in my high school, was that all the people who didnít give a damn had been filtered out. All the football players, the smokers, the jerks who disrupted class, the bullies and the cool people were gone. I was in a group of people I could actually talk to and who actually talked to me. I met girls there and they would say, "hi" and actually sit with me at meals to discuss things. It was amazing how good it felt to be accepted.
  • I discovered that my opinions were not the only ones. I can remember the very first day. It was a Sunday, and it was unstructured because everyone was arriving from all over the country. One of the things they had us do is get in a group with about 20 other people and discuss a topic like gun control. A funny thing about a high school is that the people in any given high school are pretty homogeneous. They all come from the same place and they tend to have fairly similar belief structures. For example, if your high school is in a large wheat farming community in Iowa and you look at the people at the local high school, there is going to be a lot of homogeneity there. In the discussion group there was nothing homogeneous. These were smart people from all over the country. They had well-thought-out opinions and they knew where they stood. But they were all different. We would discuss different topics, and people would take positions that I had never even considered as options. It was incredibly interesting but a little scary. Half the world felt one way and the other half felt another, and in many cases both sides were right!

Adults in Groups

Teenagers, especially in groups, can be outrageously cruel. If you donít happen to "fit in" with "the group" teenagers tend to harass you to death. It is almost as bad as chickens. I donít know if you have ever spent any time watching a flock of chickens that is able to run free in a pen, but teenagers are remarkably similar. One thing you will notice in a group of chickens is that there is a definite hierarchy. This is where the phrase "pecking order" comes from, by the way. Another thing you will notice is that if one of the chickens gets sick or is out of line, the other chickens will literally peck her to death. Being in a group of teenagers where you donít fit in can be a lot like that. Other people in the group will peck you.

You will find that a good group of adults has a lot more kindness, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness than a similar group of teenagers. I think the reason for this is because adults understand that they are fallible. All adults have made mistakes, they have all tried to do things and had them not work out, and they all know how that feels. Therefore, they cut each other a lot more slack. It is a much happier environment.

When I got back to my high school I saw it in a whole new light. I could say to myself for the first time, "These people might not matter!" The same thing will happen when you get to college. Suddenly, you will be in a place where most of the people who donít give a damn are missing, and you will feel much more comfortable.

Keep these things in mind as you are thinking about your peers in school. Once you get out of high school their opinions will not matter any more, so it may be pointless to consider their opinions now. If you feel like you donít fit in at school, you might want to get involved in groups outside of school that let you be with people that are more like yourself. Or investigate the option of going to college early. Or hang out with adults and enjoy it. You may fit in much better with adults than you do with your peers because you may already be an adult. If that is the case, take advantage of it.

The point is, do something that helps you feel good about yourself. Join a group full of good people who are on the right track and enjoy it.

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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.


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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent