When I was 22, someone told me something that I had never heard before: "You are so cool."
I wish I could say that I accepted the compliment in a nonchalant manner; instead I started laughing uncontrollably.
I went to an academic high school. I liked Latin so much I competed in areas such as language and Roman history. I played oboe in the symphony orchestra. I was, by definition, very uncool.
Yet, nearly a decade later, I heard the same thing from someone I've known since childhood: "I thought you were so cool."
That conversation got me thinking, Is it possible that I'm cooler than I think I am?
3 Reasons You Think You're Not Cool
There are three primary reasons that you may think you're uncool:
- You bought into an external idea of what cool is
- You've created an "I'm not cool" script and are acting in accordance with it
- You've become blind to your own awesomeness because it's part of everyday life for you
These three reasons are not mutually exclusive; they tend to feed into each other to create an overall self-perception of being a huge nerd. Let's explore what's going on behind each piece of the puzzle.
1. You bought into an external idea of what cool is
Maybe this perception of what cool is sprung up in middle school, when the cool thing was to wear closed-toed Birkenstocks with socks and play soccer. (Not at the same time.)
Perhaps you developed a sense of what's cool from late-90s teen comedies, in which the Alpha Male was nearly always a jock of sorts and the leading lady was a studious, glasses-wearing babe who turned into a studious, contacts-wearing babe. (I'm looking at you, She's All That.)
Or maybe your understanding of cool was in direct conflict with your religious or cultural upbringing. American cheese on white bread for lunch was cool; spicy noodles with a side of carrot salad was not.
Regardless of the source, those concepts of cool are all rooted in conformity, the tendency to act or think like other members of a group. To violate or disavow the patterns of liking within the group is to be patently uncool.
2. You've created an "I'm not cool" script and are acting in accordance with it
If you bought into a conformist idea of what cool is, and if you noticed where your behavior, thoughts, or activities did not match, then you likely created a loop that sounds something like, "I'm not cool, I'm such a dork." Etc., etc., etc.
Given that state of mind, your nerdiness becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. By the very nature of claiming that you're a big ol' geek, you follow a (conformist) pattern of being a big ol' geek, thus reinforcing your big ol' geekiness.
3. You've become blind to your own awesomeness (because it's part of everyday life for you)
With your looped script of "I'm not cool" playing in the background, you go on with your life. You do badass things, like climb Machu Picchu, learn to fly an airplane, or spend a year traveling the world.
Or you go really deep into your thing: you become a concert-grade pianist, fluent in Mandarin, or the Ballroom Dancing Champion of the Midwest.
Over time, you reach a saturation point of amazing accomplishments and you become totally awesome. People start recognizing you for your awesomeness; they consider you an expert or generally a pretty amazing person. Yet, you don't recognize it because that pesky script of "I'm not cool" is working in the background.
Why You're Cooler Than You Think
Alexandra Robbins addresses this phenomenon in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. She writes
[...]I noticed that the people I was most drawn to—whether because of their personalities or because they had genuinely interesting things to say—were rarely part of the in crowd ... Many of the successful and appreciated adults I know were not part of the mainstream popular crowd at school [...]
In other words, the judgments that form the basis of the "I'm not cool" script developed in your younger years are the same aspects that contribute to your success and interestingness as an adult.
How to Own Your Coolness and Awesomeness
Like many things in life, owning your coolness and awesomeness is simple, but not easy.
It's simple to say, "Recognize that you're cool and awesome." It's not so easy to do so, given that childhood and teenage judgments have long-lasting effects on your mental health in adulthood. [extrapolation, source]
What helps is to find a like-minded group of people that shares your values. In doing so, you reap the benefits of group dynamics: support, resources, a sense of belonging, and supplementation of individual self-concept. And finding a like-minded group of people—your tribe, as Seth Godin calls it—begins with widening your pool of potential relationships.
Widen your pool of potential relationships with the Reach Out Initiative
Beginning April 25, 2016, this free, five-day challenge encourages participants to make one new, authentic connection each day via a Reach Out, or a quick contact with a specific compliment, connection, or request.
Each day has a theme, like Coffee with a Colleague or Ballers and Big-Shots, and comes complete with suggestions for a Reach Out, scripts, and methods.
The ROI has its own Facebook group to make new connections and get support.
And did I mention that it's free?
Enter your name and email address below to get started immediately, or visit the ROI Portal to learn more.