By Dayna Mason
Many of us spend a great deal of time trying to be something we’re not. We have our reasons—to fit in, to build business relationships, to win friends and influence people, to avoid scrutiny … to appear “cool.” But the quickest path to true coolness is to quit focusing on being cool.
What is cool?
The usage of the word cool to express general cultural approval became popular in the 1940s. Some associate its usage with what came to be known as the Cool Jazz era, highlighted by an understated and subdued feeling in the music of that time.
An investigative study conducted in 2012 suggests that “Whether a person described cool as self-assured, confident, or comfortable in their own skin, the underlying gist revolved around confidence and attractiveness (pro-social values, friendliness, personal competence, and unconventionality).” To the surprise of the researchers, they didn’t receive many descriptions of traditional cool characteristics such as rebelliousness, irony, and detachment. Sorry, James Dean.
The real cool kids are self-actualized. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the highest level of psychological development, where personal potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled. Maslow describes the self-actualized as autonomous, standing apart from their culture and environment in important ways. They “are not dependent for their main satisfactions on other people, culture, or in general, extrinsic satisfactions.” Rather they are dependent for their growth and development upon their own potentialities and inherent resources.
The real cool kids aren’t trying to be cool. They know who they are, and they aren’t seeking other people’s approval.
“If you’ve gotta think about being cool, you ain’t cool.” – Keith Richards
Be cool, it’s worth the risk
By society’s standards, I’m supremely uncool. I love math, science, opera, The Bachelor TV franchise and I have no fashion sense (nor do I care about fashion). As a teenager I spent much of my time attempting to be “cool.” I mimicked the dress and lingo of those I wanted to fit in with. All my attempts at “coolness” were rooted in insecurity and made me anything but cool (tried to dye my hair blond in middle school when everyone was using “Sun-in” to give their hair that sun-kissed blond look and my hair turned orange). As I’ve moved into the second half-century of life, I’ve let go of my need to fit in and be cool, partly due to wisdom, and mostly due to reality. (It gets progressively difficult to pull off that mini skirt from Forever 21 with legs that well, don’t look “21”).
When we find ourselves editing any part of our story, we are giving away our power. We are essentially saying to the world, “Your validation is more important than who I truly am.” Besides, no matter how hard we try to hide our perceived imperfections, our insecurity is transparent. In our attempt to be cool, we are supremely uncool, and everyone knows it.
When we share our story honestly, when we share our genuine selves, we not only let our coolness shine, we empower others to do likewise. Authenticity is transformative. Putting ourselves out there, no matter how uncool it feels is the only real way to truly be cool.
So, let’s set aside the hierarchy of consensus and conformity and appreciate things for being awesome because they are awesome to us. Try new things at the risk of looking stupid. Be vulnerable. True self-acceptance means we present to the world all our glorious uncool qualities. Because that is who we authentically are.
“Listen, I’m not cool. Being cool is about keeping your blood pressure steady. So no. Don’t be cool. Be passionate. Be dedicated. Be tenacious. Be uncompromising. Be pissed. Be happy. Be sad.” -Justin Timberlake (who in my opinion embodies cool)
“A cool person is someone whose attitude and behaviors are composed but seen as uniquely their own,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Gurner, “I think people are genuinely drawn to cool people because they see them as a representation of who they wish to be — confident in who they are.”
It’s exhausting trying to be something we aren’t anyway. Let’s risk looking stupid, embrace our magnificent imperfection, be uniquely who we are and realize actual coolness.
In the words of Cavin & Hobbes, “What fun is it being cool if you can’t wear a sombrero?”
Right? Let’s rock that sombrero!
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