Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Peer groups and alternate paths

A friend and I were recently discussing the book "The Nurture Assumption" by Judith Harris. I haven't read it yet; she has. The book argues that it's peer groups and community that influence a child's development far more than his or her parents. My friend and I both agree, and it made me think of the paths my life could've taken due to influence from my friends. And influence doesn't always mean they were trying to get me to do something -- it was the fact that they did do something that made me want to do it, too.

For instance, I always liked to write and was good at it. Mostly I wrote poetry from a very young age and on into my teens, tapering off as I got older. But I never knew what I wanted to do for a living or how my love of writing would ever pay the bills -- I know I wasn't a good enough poet to make it as a poet, and I also knew that not many people really "make it" as a poet anyway (unless they can make it as a songwriter). So anyway, that's where peers came in. My friend Theresa joined the Army after high school and went to the journalism school for the Army. A year later when I found out (by chance) how the fees worked at the local junior college and that I actually could afford to go, I looked through the course catalog. The only thing that seemed interesting was communication. That would've been the most interesting course to me no matter what Theresa was doing with her life, but her being a journalist probably made me feel a little more confident that it was a possible, real career choice for me. I ended up getting my bachelor's in journalism and working in newspaper all of my professional life so far. As for Theresa, she got out of the Army and decided to go into nursing. Just like her older sister (and her sister's choice of profession surely must have influenced Theresa in that direction).

Another friend from high school, Janell, also wanted to join the Army. I never had any interest in this path but didn't know what else to do, so I went in to see the recruiter with her. I needed to lose about 20 pounds to join. I didn't lose the weight so I didn't join the Army (Janell did).

These friends are no longer in my life -- things really do change after high school and you find new friends that fit your life as it changes. Even so, these people who are zero part of my life now influenced it then and had the potential to make a huge impact on the course I took in life.
Had Janell or Theresa wanted me to move to New York with them after graduation and be writers or actors or waitresses or secretaries, that's what I probably would've done, too.

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