I had a lot of trouble coming up with a topic for today’s post. I’ve got some things I’d like to talk about that aren’t quite ready to share (I should wear my bike helmet at least once before I mention it). Maggie’s been doing a lot of cool stuff recently too, but I’ve mostly just been working and arranging my work space. Not much fodder for posts there.
And then Student Doctor Green came to my rescue with a post title I know why the caged musician does a line of cocaine. In it, SDG talks about a particularly difficult form of social pressure. It’s like peer pressure except that the people pressuring you are often superiors or can affect your relationship with your superiors, which makes it even more difficult to ignore.
Just yesterday, I was reading about a similar situation in, of all things, an expose on car dealerships. The author, a writer for Edmunds.com, went “undercover” at two dealerships and worked as a salesman for several weeks at each place. In one entry, he talks about how he started to fit in:
I spent all my time with other salesmen. They were my friends. Believe it or not, I tried to fit in, to belong. So I began to develop an interest in gold ties, white shirts and dress shoes. I even grew a goatee because a lot of the guys had beards. And I put gel on my hair and combed it straight back.
Wearing gold ties and growing a goatee aren’t bad habits (they might be bad choices still), but it’s easy to see how the same type of thing can make it difficult for you to stay true to yourself. If everyone around you is talking about their latest trip to Europe, it’s going to be hard to stick to your goal of not flying. It’s easier to rationalize a new car when everyone you know is getting them too.
This topic also reminds me of The Millionaire Next Door. The authors found that the richest profession wasn’t the one with the highest income (like professional sports players, lawyers, and doctors) because those also had high social pressure to seem wealthy (fancy houses, cars, etc.). The profession that had the most millionaires per capita was actually auctioneers. Nobody thinks twice when an auctioneer wears blue jeans and drives a ratty old pickup, so they often do. That allows them to save more money, which makes them wealthier than those earning more money.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to become rich as a doctor or lawyer. In the same way, I think it’s possible to stay green even if you’re not a gardener or self-employed.
If you’re lucky, you might find a subset of your profession that has similar goals. For example, as a doctor, you might look into doctors without borders. These are doctors who aren’t primarily motivated by wealth, so they should be more tolerant of other motivations (like making the world a better place, which jibes quite nicely with the green movement).
The most common active response is probably to try and green your group. Although that might work, I think it’s a long-term process, so it would be easy to burn out early on and turn your co-workers–or yourself–off of sustainability.
Another possibility, if the drawbacks aren’t too bad, is to carve a niche for yourself. Stake a claim in the areas in which you’d like to be defined and let the others go. If it’s important to you that you’re vegetarian, don’t hesitate to let people know (just don’t preach to them). On the other hand, if it’s not important that, as SDG says, you leave your thermostat at 78, you don’t have to tell them that. Hopefully, this’ll give you a reputation (“oh, he knows the good vegetarian places in town”) without annoying your coworkers.
The most drastic possibility is to switch careers. Work for yourself and pick new peers. Start a green landscaping business. Find a group of people who’ll help you achieve your goals and figure out how you can join them in what they do.
Of course, I’m lucky in that I don’t have to deal with other people’s expectations. I work with friends who are willing to listen as a ramble on about whatever crazy idea I’ve had most recently. And the fact that nobody can fire me helps too.
How do the rest of you deal with expectations at work?