I can still remember way back in high school how strong (but not fatal in my account) peer pressure and merit expectation were. People, most of the time, expect and presume that I will always stand on stages with a plaque clasped on my hands or a medal hanging gracefully around my neck. I never been the grand top of our class or being the valedictorian most people wish for (honestly, I’m not one of those overly-competitive achievers that will climb the highest mountain and dive into the deepest trench to get an A+, a good grade and a genuine learning are fair enough for me). Whenever there are inter-school competitions that involve Science and English, I am one of those people that they are confidently claiming to be the winner. Our school population is rather small compared to other more known high schools (by the way, West Field Science School is where I spent my 1st to 2nd year), the good part of my story is that people will look at you as a smart person and the not-so-good part is the rest will think that all I ever do is to study, study, and study. I was surprised one time when I overheard in our canteen that some people got an impression that all my family members are valedictorian, I don’t play, and I’m very snob! Well, to clear things out, we are not a family of overly-competitive achievers, during weekends I play my Playstation minimum of 4 hours, and last I’m not a snob I guess my people skills aren’t develop yet.
Because of those fleeting clouds of impressions, merit expectations and our pre-conceived roles in our school, people tend to generalize us and they have created our own image and concepts of our individuality based from what they know and from their perspective in surface level. There was this instance when I secretly brought my gameboy in the classroom to play during break and lunch, one of my classmates told me that I should study and read books instead of playing a gameboy, “As an honor student, you should prioritize studying instead of killing your time.” And it was followed by, “Wow, I didn’t know that you are playing *name of game*, I thought all you ever do is read books and study haha.”
Well, this “Looking-glass-self theory” (conceptualized by Charles H. Cooley in 1902) created layers of positive and somehow negative effects to me. In the positive side, I was by some means obliged to stick on to their ideal version of me which in turn compelled me to study hard and minimize my play time. However, this isn’t making me happy in the long run and this isn’t me basically. Its apparent downside is the confusion that hazes ones identity and self-concept – these clouds directly affect our preferences and choices, decisions, and individuality. Yes it feels great when people look at you with respect and some sort of admiration but during a moment of solitude, a question starts lingering in my head, “Am I fulfilling their expectations for the good interest of my wellbeing or for the majority to accept ‘me’?”
As I grow old and up in my academic journey, I gradually realize that developing and embracing your traits, skills, and other elements of your identity is one of those crucial phases where people around you affect and influence them directly and indirectly. It is up to us whether we let their perspectives about our identity sink into our core and use that to build or destroy our inner self – we can actually use that as a leverage to improve ourselves, check for inconsistencies or live in an artificial world created by people around us wherein we are the marionette – which moves accordingly and submissively to the dextrous and skilful pull of strings attached to us.