Growing up I was a pretty special kid. By special I mean awkward, annoying, and desperately uncool. At the time I felt like my uniqueness held me back from everything great. I didn’t make friends easily and the friends I did have were the other members of the weird people brigade.
Being cool was the ultimate self-actualization of the 11 year old and I so badly wanted to be part of the club. Slowly but surely, I traded my outgoing and loud ways for a quiet, cool sensibility. I did activities I didn’t even like because the cool kids did them. I had my mom buy me the stylish clothes and the newest technology. Unfortunately I spent the better part of my teenage years trying to cover up who I really was with a nice shiny veneer of cool.
The Self-Acceptance Search
To me being cool felt like a status I was always on the cusp of achieving but never could. I don’t know if I ever succeeded in being cool but I do know that a lot of money got spent needlessly. I see now that if I wouldn’t have been so worried about what others thought, I could’ve spent all that energy finding self-acceptance.
The funny thing is, the more I searched for acceptance in others the less I accepted myself. I guess the idea was that only if others liked and accepted me would I be worthy of self-acceptance. If I could just get the approval of my peers I would give myself permission to be worthy of love and belonging.
I think we spend a lot of our lives hustling for social acceptance. We do it at the expense of many wonderful things like our natural personality, our self-confidence, and worst of all our bank accounts. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was embarking on a lifelong journey of me not being enough within myself, and always needing outside sources to make me feel better.
I realize now that the uniqueness I spent years running from was what made me great. As a kid I felt like it made me stick out when all I wanted to do was fit in and be the same. Other kids bullied me because I was different but I see now that they were probably intimidated.
In adulthood the search for social acceptability happens in such imperceptible ways. We don’t care so much about being cool anymore but we tend to mold our lives around acceptability. You might not decide to buy a used car or shop at the thrift store because those things are embarrassing. It’s easy to take on these attitudes without realizing it, one after another. One day you find yourself sort of backed into a corner of other people’s opinions.
In adulthood I’ve spend plenty of time thinking about how I can be the same; I want the nice car or the beautiful house. I’m seeing more and more that that thinking is not so different as wanting to be cool. It’s still a grab for status through outside things and that will never lead to anything fulfilling.
The Cost of Cool
The other day I was walking down main street in Santa Monica and I couldn’t help but notice the amount of coolness around me. All the 20 and 30-something girls were wearing high heels and jeans shuffling into the coffee shop I was posted up in. Seeing style and fashion used to be a huge draw for me. Somehow people who look all dolled up just seem happy. Then I thought about myself, in my $1 thrift store jeans with my 7 year old “so outdated” laptop, drinking a $2 coffee instead of a $5 latte. I was so very uncool and yet, I felt perfectly ok.
Wanting to be somewhere else in our lives is the main source of fear and unhappiness. When we want to be cool or fashionable or just plain rich, we are giving away the most powerful aspect of ourselves and that is our innate okness.
Think about yourself as a five-year-old. Did you care what you wore or what hair cut you had? No. You were pretty happy with any old thing. At five years old what gave you happiness? For me it was playing tag on the playground and getting to go to Disneyland. Sure, I’d get excited about toys but I don’t have any specific memories about my toys. I can tell you who we went with to Hurricane Harbor when I was 9 but I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas in any given year. As kids we know innately to seek experiences and becoming a grown up somehow undoes that.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
The aspect of “being cool” we are most familiar with as adults is wanting what the neighbors have. Maybe we don’t consciously think about it but our brain is very good at making sure we’re taken care of and one of the ways it does that is to compare. Comparison helps us make sure that we have enough and that we’re not being treated unfairly by others but it has another side. When we compare ourselves to our peers it robs us of feeling ok. In fact, it creates a new obstacle between us and achieving our goals.
I find that the times I do the best work are when my mind is quiet. A mind that is busy with the compare/contrast game is not at peace and cannot do good work. When you run a comparison and you are found to be less than, as you invariably always are, you will create a resentment that’ll keep you from that thing you want.
I think we’re all guilty of the feeling that other people have nice things and we deserve to have nice things too. When I get into that toxic way of thinking I remind myself that I’d much rather live a life full of lasting friendships and love where money was never something to worry about, rather than a life of scarcity where nice things were a substitute for the things that really matter and money is always in short supply.
This is the defining characteristic of the mythical Joneses: they have lots of stuff but little money. They drive nice cars and put a huge addition on their house, but they’d have trouble paying for an unexpected car expense or a sudden medical bill. They live like most of society does, looking for new things to buy while they service $15,000-$20,000 worth of consumer debt.
Trust me, you do not want to be like them. You should pity them.
Be As Uncool As Possible
After 10 or so years of chasing cool I have thrown in the towel. Today I embrace my inner uncoolness and flaunt my hand-me-downs. When I roll my bike out of the garage or take out my old duct taped backpack I’m proud of it because I know in a way these things represent my freedom. I have freedom from needing to be socially acceptable through status items and I’m no longer embarrassed when I don’t have the latest and greatest thing.
What I do care about is function; how do my clothes, my technology, and my vehicles function. In the same vein I ask, how does my life function? So far, it functions better and better when I embrace myself. I’m a very quirky, smart, and sometimes eccentric money saver and today I love that.
So here’s the deal: I want to be as uncool as possible. I want to embrace whatever it is inside that makes me me. I want to have fun with the people in my life who build me up and make me feel good about who I am. Along the way I’m saving a boatload of money and redefining for myself what it means to live richly on less.
I don’t have time to hustle for belonging anymore, I’m too busy being awesome.
Readers: tell me about your own unique awesomeness.