“This above all: to thine own self be true, 

And it must follow, as the night the day, 

Thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

–Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3 


“Being true to yourself” is difficult for most people. Have you ever: 

  • pretended to like a television show because your coworkers raved about it? 
  • “stretched the truth” about your accomplishments because others were bragging about theirs? 
  • accepted a work project you knew would take time from things you valued more, because you feared what your supervisor would think if you said no? 

If so, you’ve caved in to peer pressure as surely as the kid who took a sip of beer because “everyone else was doing it.” When counseling your own children on the evils of peer pressure, make sure you’re setting a good example yourself. 


“Politeness” vs. Being True to Yourself  


That’s not to say, of course, that you should bluntly tell people they must be crazy to like golf, or respond to a promotion offer by lecturing on the evils of workaholism. “Being true to yourself” doesn’t mean assuming your own preferences are inherently superior. What it does mean is that you consistently act on those preferences for yourself—without burdening others with criticism, guilt trips, or major inconvenience.  


It’s not rude to simply say, “No, thank you” or “I’ll pass; that’s not really my thing”—even if you do run into the occasional self-confidence-challenged party who takes it as a personal attack on their intelligence. If your friends snub you because you aren’t “exactly like them,” let them go and find friends who like you for who you are. If you spend your life putting on a false front, your self-respect will die of neglect, and you’ll become just as lonely as the person with no close peers at all. 


Peer Pressure Close to Home 


Of course, not everyone will snub you over minor differences in taste. Much peer pressure is literally “all in our heads”—we go along with others because we assume they’ll be angry otherwise, and never risk finding out for sure. 


If there’s anything worse than that, it’s pushing our assumptions about what someone else should do and be—an offense frequently committed by parents. Visit a social media chat on unconventional life paths and see how many comments like the following appear: 

  • “I stopped speaking to my mother after the fiftieth time she prophesied I’d die a starving artist.” 
  • “My family was all for my going to law school until they learned I wanted to be a public defender—now they won’t get off my back about there being more ‘respectability’ in private practice.” 
  • “My dad even said he was praying that more young people would become social workers—but when he learned I was going to be one of those young people, you could hear him screaming ‘not my little girl’ for fifty miles.” 

Sadly, we may be the “peers” who put the most pressure on our children not to be true to themselves. If your “baby” leaves the “safe” route, try to be proud rather than visualizing disaster.  


Remember, Shakespeare put “to thine own self be true” in the mouth of a father sending his son to another country!