Be Uncool

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” ~from the movie Almost Famous (2000)

Think about all of the time you’ve spent in your life trying to be cool.

Being cool might mean something different to each one of you.

It could mean being popular, wealthy, clever, beautiful, stylish, intelligent, successful, funny, unique, or aloof. Or any combination of these. Or something else entirely.

Our definition of cool morphs over time. What was cool in high school might not be the same kind of cool you want to be right now. But whatever our definition of cool might be, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to achieve or maintain it. And it comes with a price.

At the recent World Domination Summit, Dr. Brene Brown spoke a lot about our efforts to be cool. She equated it with the effort to pull on Spanx and keep wearing them day in and day out, no matter how uncomfortable. It’s a lot of work to keep unsightly things stuffed in, bound up, and looking good.

Being cool requires us to be hyper-vigilant, keeping a constant eye out for where we might slip, where we might fail or look bad. It is bound up in fear of judgments and feelings of unworthiness if, for a moment, we look vulnerable, weak, lesser-than, or ridiculous.

Oh what a lot of work it takes to be cool.

I am reminded of seeing teenage boys around Atlanta who have decided it’s cool to wear their jeans way down around their hips. The crotch is around their knees, making it impossible to walk normally. And often they aren’t wearing a belt, so one hand is constantly occupied in keeping their pants from falling to the ground — the ultimate in uncool.

Seen from the perspective of other teenagers, perhaps this is a totally cool look. Maybe it is making an important statement, one that old farts like me don’t understand. (God, I’m sounding like my parents!)

But seen from my perspective, it appears sadly funny and impossibly difficult — like a one-armed penguin wearing funny pants. These guys can’t walk fast, much less run. They have normal use of just one arm, and then there’s the constant concern that their pants might fall off. Is coolness worth this?

Being cool is a rite of passage for teenagers. I certainly had my own version of low-riding pants when I was in high school and college. I think my prep time for a night out with friends was 2-3 hours. As teenagers, being cool is a matter of survival. Ask the uncool back then. Many of them (us) still bear the scars.

As a young adult, I viewed my quirky, often troubled family as decidedly uncool.

I looked around and set my sights on what I thought was a cool lifestyle that would remove me from my very uncool upbringing. I glommed on to that like white on rice.

For me at the time, it was morphing into a “young, upwardly mobile professional” — fondly referred to as a “Yuppie.” When I married and had children, the focus was on living in a nice house, driving a nice car, wearing nice clothes, sending our kids to good schools, and enrolling them in the “right” activities.

There’s nothing wrong with these goals per se. In fact, they can be positive and productive in many ways — unless they become your Spanx or low-hanging jeans. Unless not living up to your own standards with these goals leaves you feeling worthless or bad. Then it becomes the hyper-vigilant work of keeping up and then covering up when you falter. Because you always falter at some point.

So much of our desire to be cool comes from three sources:

  • Our own self-imposed judgements about how we should behave and who we should be, even if that’s not who we really are.
  • Hanging around other people who hold those same judgments.
  • Buying in to what contemporary culture tells us is cool.

This life of cool becomes a gerbil wheel whereby we work to impress those who share the same fears and doubts around impressing us. We are all just faking it for each other.

So what happens when we are deeply entrenched in a life of cooldom?

At first we feel like Masters of the Universe because we’ve succeeded in reaching this desired state of perfection (we think). But then our arms start to get tired. We wobble. We falter.

It isn’t as fun as we thought it would be. It doesn’t feel real or natural, let alone peaceful and happy. We’ve shoved ourselves into a tight, stretchy garment that is stifling and uncomfortable. It stifles joy, creativity, authenticity, and spontaneity.

To my mind, there are only two ways to get off this gerbil wheel and ultimately embrace uncoolness.

You jump.

You are shoved.

Jumping takes courage and fortitude. Jumping off takes a huge “ah ha” moment when you realize that cool is not cool at all. Cool is suffocating you, reducing you to someone you are not.

When you jump, it might mean you decide to . . .

  • simplify your life
  • move
  • find a new circle of friends
  • alter your lifestyle
  • spend less
  • work less
  • be ok with looking foolish
  • be ok with failing
  • be ok with who you really are

But it is the rare person who jumps off voluntarily. Most of the time we are pushed off by a life event or circumstance that rocks our world and forces that “ah ha” moment to the surface.

We can be pushed off by . . .

  • a job loss
  • the end of a relationship or marriage
  • a business failure
  • a death
  • a major disappointment
  • an unexpected opportunity

When this happens, it might be totally scary and disconcerting — especially if you are still striving for cool. At first you might struggle even harder to remain cool and in control.

But at some point after you’ve been pushed off the wheel, it will dawn on you.

You are vulnerable.

You are flawed.

You don’t have control.

You are uncool.

And it hasn’t killed you.

In fact, when you finally embrace your uncoolness, you finally come alive. When you accept your uncool self, you no longer have to posture, stuff it in, stay in control, maintain a facade.

You are free.

The floodgates open, releasing years of pent up creativity, silliness, gratitude, and joy. You no longer have to worry about how you appear in life — you can just go live it.

Yes, being uncool does make you vulnerable. It opens you to criticisms, judgements, and exposure of your flaws. But as most of the uncool will confirm, these things don’t matter so much any more. For the most part, you stop caring what other people think of you, except perhaps those who truly care about you.

Being vulnerable allows you to experience life more deeply and fully, unfiltered by your Spanx or low-slung pants. Yes, you will experience pain more deeply too but without the resistance and struggle that comes with maintaining control.

For me, becoming uncool has meant . . .

  • re-framing my ideas of success
  • detaching more from material things
  • releasing some people in my life and inviting others in
  • pursuing an unconventional job
  • allowing my children to succeed or fail on their own
  • letting go of the need to be right and admitting when I’m wrong
  • working to see situations from the other persons perspective
  • facing and embracing the truth
  • adopting a learner’s mindset
  • seeking adventure and new experiences
  • not always wearing make-up in public
  • accepting aging gracefully

I’m not saying that I’ve succeeded 100% in all of these. Being uncool is a work in progress. But with each effort toward uncool, you realize that you won’t die and that the judgements of the world can’t harm you. Then you experience a rush of freedom like no other.

Being uncool doesn’t mean letting go of your values, living without goals or aspirations. It means living without shame, living according to your own personal operating system, living according to the person you are  finding yourself to be.

If you are still striving for cool, I invite you to step over to the wild side. Test the waters of uncool. Taste the freedom of being vulnerable. It will be the coolest thing you’ve ever done!

How have you been uncool? Please share in the comments.

Comments

  1. Great read, Barrie!

    Being dedicated to cool is such a trap of self-limitations. When we’re “cool” we don;t get involved in “stupid” games or try things that will make us look incompetent, thinking we’ll look foolish. And so we remain trapped in our coolness and lack-luster life of eternal sameness and little growth. That’s because such things require uncoolness while we stumble through the learning curve.

    Thanks for the reminder, Barrie. Good stuff!

  2. This post couldnot have been delivered at a better time. It is scary to be cool and then decide it is not working for you. I am about to make the jump to uncool, so it is nice to see that I cannot die from being uncool. Thanks so much for all the great reinforcement you bring to my life.

  3. Awesome post!! The neat thing about it too is the realization I made a while ago that for every person who thinks you are uncool, there will ALWAYS be AT LEAST someone who thinks you are awesome 🙂

    There are so many different kinds of people in this world, and sometimes it is easy to get caught up in clinging to a few people that we want to like us, when we really aren’t much like them at all anymore. One really freeing thing I realized was that in order to be truly happy, I needed to realize that if I drift apart from some of the friends I used to have, it just means we are both becoming more of who we really are, and those people we truly are might not have much to offer each other. I see it as a wonderful thing though, celebrating the fact that we indeed are moving toward who we really are, becoming more happy as we go along. Of course all of those people might not see it the same way, but I also realize that it is ok too, since they are free to choose their own feelings.

    One thing that helps me and I want to do even more of is this: If I know my ultimate goals in life, and I know what those things will mean to me, how I will feel with them in my life, then so much of the other stuff seems so small and insignificant. It makes doing whatever you want and whatever gets you closer to those things and those feelings that much easier 🙂

    Thanks!
    Paul

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Paul,
      Thank you for your great comments. It is a good reminder that there are people out there who will appreciate us just as we are. It is hard to let go of people when we come to the realization that they aren’t right for us anymore. But looking at it from the perspective that you mentioned — we are all just moving toward being more of ourselves — is a very positive and healthy way to view this situation.

  4. One of your best posts!

  5. You pushed a bunch of emotional hot buttons here, Barrie. Your list of ways in which you worked to become “uncool” resonated, although from a more masculine point of view…hardly ever wearing makeup in public to begin with. (wink)

    It all stems from from a need to belong to something bigger than ourselves. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but as you said, you’re on the hamster wheel…never completely free.

    Very good read! Thanks for publishing! 🙂

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Larry,
      I’m so glad you liked the post — and even happier that you don’t deal with the make-up issue! 🙂 Yes, it does all stem from a need for meaning in life, but it takes time to learn that meaning doesn’t come with our efforts to be cool. Most meaningful experiences have little to do with how we appear to others.

  6. Love the post Barrie. I am so impressed that you went to the summit and obviously benefited a great deal from it!

    I have been uncool a lot and it certainly is more fun than trying to be cool. Perhaps my most ‘uncool’ moment was years ago. I had been practicing screaming and making loud noises because I was always so quiet. As I drove on the freeways of California I would sing loudly, growl, yell and whoop.

    When I moved to Hawaii I bought a motorcycle. One day I was at a red light in downtown Honolulu. I forgot I was on a motorcycle instead of in my car. I let out a really loud growl and startled quiet a few people waiting to cross the street. At the time I was mortified but afterwards I had a really good laugh. I can still see the looks on their faces.

    The freedom to be yourself is priceless, cool or uncool.

    Thanks, Susan

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      That is a fabulous story Susan! I wish I had seen it. Hey, I think it is really cool that you had a motorcycle and lived in Hawaii. That’s about as cool as it gets. 🙂

  7. I must have been led astray by the Fonz from Happy Days times. I blame my 50 years for as my daughter would say for being an uncool dad. Fortunately she means i embarrass her in a way in that i’m not conventional, i’m not like the other parents, that i’ve not given up and refused to be an old man. Hey in fact i am a goal driven passionate living ‘cool’ to be grand dad, and remind everyone, as you so brilliantly recount, freedom to live as you wish is paramount to happiness and fulfilment

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Larry, I think we stop being cool to our kids when they get in the 4th or 5th grade. Then if we stray one iota from the “parent script,” they are mortified. I actually find it a lot of fun to think of new and nerdy ways to to make my kids cringe. 🙂 Sooner or later they will appreciate our uncoolness and see how much fun we are having in our freedom!!

  8. Hi Barrie!

    This is my first time to your blog and I have to say, I absolutely loved this post. It really resonated with me. Like you said, a lot of times we have a false perception of being in control of our lives. Sometimes a major life event can show us that it’s okay to be “uncool”. When we embrace our vulnerability, and be true to ourselves, we can unleash our potential within. On the other hand, when we follow the crowd and do what is “cool” we often put limitations on ourselves.

    Great post!