I have a confession to make.
I only started drinking coffee because I thought it would make the seniors in our high school play think I was cool.
Yes, when I was 15, I wore trendy glasses I didn’t actually need. I bought AC/DC t-shirts even though I only knew about AC/DC from watching “School of Rock” with my dad. I wanted to wear the right brands, listen to the right music, and do the right things.
life is too short to play pretend for the sake of an aesthetic
While it’s not something I’m proud of, I do believe it’s often a necessary evil within the process of maturation. You must first be foolish and impressionable to later understand exactly what you want and why you want it. That said, as I reach my mid-20s, I have come to recognize that there are still moments when I fall back into that habitual reaching towards “coolness.” It happens when I’m unsure of myself or, more specifically, unsure about what comes next.
As I get older, I have become more consciously aware of the liberation achieved by rejecting the notion of “cool.”
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, there are a plethora of definitions for the word “cool,” ranging from “very good” and “excellent” to “fashionable” or “alright.” It’s a word that, by definition, doesn’t mean much at all.
Trends have become increasingly bold, like platform sneakers or building a tiny indoor house for your French bulldog. From fashion to hobbies, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to take a good, hard look in the mirror. Isolation and tragedy forced us to tunnel into the deepest parts of ourselves and figure out what we liked, simply because we liked it, not because it was expected of us. The truth is, life is too short to play pretend for the sake of an aesthetic.
Growing out of trying to cultivate a perfectly crafted image means we have room to innovate and think creatively about the things we are genuinely passionate about, two habits that lead not only to personal fulfillment but often to success.
It seems cliché to point out the correlation between success and unapologetic passion — a trait that is inherently “uncool.” In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell invented the “10,000 Rule” – his belief that it takes 10,000 hours of intense practice to achieve mastery in any endeavor. If you look at examples of extreme success – say, published authors and famous musicians – it seems most highly skilled and successful individuals had no room for “coolness” when perfecting their crafts.
Another common trait among successful people is the commitment to lifelong learning, which requires investigation of new topics from a place of humility and persistence. Often that means repeated failure for the sake of growth.
A play I read in college, “Chill” by Eleanor Burgess, speaks to the notion of this obsession with “coolness” in youth. In one scene, a 17-year-old girl desperately trying to get into her dream college says to a friend, “I don’t think Woody Guthrie was chill, I don’t think Quentin Tarantino is chill, I don’t think anyone who’s ever actually accomplished anything that matters is chill, because they are people who want things, and try to get things, and that is the opposite of being chill.”
I am not cool and I would venture to say, it’s the best thing about me
Too often, we are afraid of how it will look if we do or don’t take a certain job. We’re afraid of how it will look if we are single. We are afraid of how it will look if we live with our parents. Toxic “coolness” follows us into adulthood, rooting in the crevices of our minds and taking up valuable real estate that should belong to choosing what is best for each of us as individuals. And as much as I would like to say I shed this immature insecurity when I graduated high school or even college, I still find myself worried about what other people will think about the decisions I make.
I offer this confession as a white flag to my fellow 20-somethings. Your 20s are a time to try and to fail and to learn, and I have a sneaking suspicion the rest of life isn’t much different. The truth is, none of us knows what we’re doing. None of us is certain 100 percent of the time. No one is cool.
I had a teacher in high school who would lovingly call her students “my sweet nerds.” It’s a term I’ve picked up and now use for some of my dearest friends.
In her book of poetry, I Love Science, that same teacher wrote, “And the thing about it that gets me now, is that no one was really watching. All of these major tragedies, the fauxiest of pas, no one cared. It all seemed so public. So noticeable. So odd and unacceptable. An unwatched tragedy isn’t a tragedy. It isn’t anything.”
Personally, I’ve lived with my parents for much longer than I would have liked. I hang light-up pumpkins in my room every fall. I rewatch the “Twilight Saga” every time I’m feeling even a tinge of sadness. I am not cool and I would venture to say, it’s the best thing about me.