What is Social Mirror and How it Determines Individual Success in Career and Life

What is the Social Mirror and why does it Matter?

In HRM (Human Resource Management) theory, there is a term called Social Mirror which is used in the context of how an individual’s upbringing, immediate environmental forces, peer influences, and societal perceptions play a major role in determining his or her career progression and success in life.

To explain, we are what others think of us and what others want to be to a large extent, though individual autonomy and agency do play an important role. For instance, if a person is conditioned from childhood that he or she would be successful in later life and hence, his or her environmental factors shape such a self concept in him or her, then that person is more likely to do well than say, a comparable peer who has had an underprivileged upbringing.

While HR Experts and Psychologists do affirm that one’s own abilities and the means of personality do influence career and life success, they acknowledge that the Social Mirror influences much of an individual throughout his or her life.

In other words, how society, your friends, peers, coworkers, and immediate family members see you or your reflection in the Social Mirror is largely responsible for success in life and career.

Looking Beyond the Social Mirror

Having said that, there are countless examples of highly successful individuals who have gone on to scale greater heights during their professional and personal lives and who have been through an especially rough childhood or adverse economic and societal circumstances.

Therefore, some contemporary HR theorists seek to downplay the importance of the Social Mirror especially in the context of more modern theories that seek to place and situate one’s abilities at the center of one’s progress through life.

In other words, given the fact that until very recently, countries in the Western world especially the United States were seen as places where one could succeed without a privileged upbringing or a favorable early life circumstances.

Indeed, successive Presidents of the United States from the Democratic Party such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had singularly unfavorable and underprivileged early life circumstances as well as major odds that thwarted them throughout their life.

However, the fact that they made it to the top is seen as evidence that despite the Social Mirror that sets one back with the diminishing expectations from the environment leading to a vicious cycle of failures and more failures, this theory might have had its moment in the Sun and is no longer relevant.

Why the Social Mirror Theory is Back

On the other hand, the reason why the Social Mirror theory is staging a comeback into mainstream HRM theory and practice is that suddenly, a whole bunch of studies have been done in recent years pointing to how societal expectations and peer images of oneself do influence one’s career and life success.

Indeed, this is more the case with Asian countries such as China and India where society and culturally conditioned experiences play a major role in shaping how well or how badly one does in life.

For instance, during our working experience, we attended a management workshop in a retreat where the Social Mirror was extensively discussed.

During the course of the discussion, there were several people who seemed to agree wholeheartedly with the assertion that societal and culturally conditioned familial reflections of oneself indeed determine one’s success in life and career more than anything else.

In addition, it was also observed that more of our female coworkers seemed to agree with the Social Mirror theory more than the men.

Thus, one can go as far as to say that in countries like India where culture and society play a major role in Social Mirroring, it is important for any HR person to take these aspects into account when assessing an individual’s chances of success.

Social Mirror at the Workplace and How HR can help

Apart from this, there are some experts who point to the fact that the Familial Social Mirror impacts an individual until the age of 25 or so and after that, it is the company he or she keeps along with the perceptions of coworkers and bosses and peers at the workplace as well as outside that take their place in the Social Mirror.

Indeed, during the discussions we have had with HR Managers and senior managers, all of them seemed to agree that workplace perceptions do matter and hence, it is better for professionals to actualize a positive reflection of oneself as far as the Social Mirror at the workplace is concerned.

Moreover, another point that came up was how 360 degree feedback and peer appraisal feedback should be taken to understand the reasons for nonperformance so that organizations can take a call on whether the individual needs to be moved to a different team without adverse mirroring.


Lastly, it is our view that while the Social Mirror does play a part in shaping career and life success, at some point, it is the individual who has to be responsible for their lives and hence, human agency and autonomy or willpower all take the person to greater heights rather than what others around him or her think should be the levels of achievement.

We hope that you have gained an insight into socially determined personalities and the role of willpower and individual personality in career and life success. To conclude, while we are the sum of what others think of us, we are also a synergistic whole that adds more than the former due to the innate personality and agency we have within us.

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Human Resource Management