Why We Don't Have to Wish We Were Like the Cool Kids
Oh, c'mon, you know the song. If you haven't heard it by now, you have either lived in a cave for several months, or are a bona fide hip alterna person who completely ignores popular culture. (Which may make you lucky, by the way. If you don't know the song I am referring to, go ahead and Google Cool Kids by Echosmith. I'll wait :-)
Catchy, right? That's what I thought. So, sing it with me, "I wish that I could be like the cool kids, cuz all the cool kids they seem to fit in."
I was not a cool kid. At least, not in the sense most people have when they hear the term.
Shy, quiet, introverted, awkward, anxious book nerds don't tend to be "The Cool Kids." At least, not in my memory.
I skated through somewhere in the middle, not a "loser," but not really "popular," either. And that was totally fine with me, because I don't do well in the spotlight, anyway. Invisible is comfortable for an Introvert like me, it's just taken me many, many years to be okay with the one truth that revealed about myself:
No matter how much I wished to be a Cool Kid, I was never going to be one if I kept waiting for the world to tell me I was. There is only one person who could truly give me that label, and that person is . . . me.
We are all different, and shaped by our innate nature (I think the nature vs. nurture question has long since been settled. It's clearly a combination of both.) as well as our families, our experiences, and the people in our lives. It's how you react to everything that occurs in your life that creates outcomes, and certain people react in certain ways.
Every person has a general sense of who they are and the labels they place on themselves (and that others place on them). Outgoing, talkative, shy, compassionate, go-getter, sensitive, etc. It defines who we are, how we see ourselves, and how we handle everything life throws our way.
All the way back to when I was about 7 or 8, I would have defined myself as shy. I was always the dreamer with my head in a book, the one on the fringes of what was going on, awkward and unsure of how to participate. Maybe nobody really noticed because I hid it, but no matter what was happening on the surface, my face a blank mask or smiling and seeming friendly, inside I was a jumbled knot of anxiety.
I've talked about how I made it a point in my 3rd grade year to avoid walking past the middle school because the big kids scared me. I also hate making phone calls to people I don't know, and will stand just out of the fray doing some OCD thing like folding and refolding a paper or flipping a coin in my pocket over and over just to cover my awkwardness.
As life has gone on and I've gotten older and experienced the things most of us do: relationships, jobs, promotions, meetings, giving presentations, raising kids, etc, and so on, I've gotten really good at hiding things I am ashamed of, like the anxiety, the feeling of wanting to escape, the dread of certain social situations.
I've dealt with enough of them by now that I can cope.
But that word: ashamed.
That's what comes up for a lot of people like me. Instead of owning ourselves, being okay with who we are, not caring what other people think, we are often ashamed because we're different. We live in a country where outgoing, bold, extroverted behavior is prized and rewarded. People doing big things in a public way are are expected to be not only fine with that, but even be pumped up about it.
I'm not that person, and I'm sure there are many others who feel the same. According to Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which I just started reading on my Kindle, studies show that one third to one half of Americans are introverts. So, if you go by those stats, up to half the people in this country are . . . kinda like me.
When I first heard the song Cool Kids by Echosmith, part of me thought, that's my whole life. That's how I've always felt:
Nothing in this world could ever bring them down Yeah, they're invincible and she's just in the background And she says I wish that I could be like the cool kids, cuz all the cool kids, they seem to fit in
That was my whole childhood, summed up in the verse of a song. I so badly wanted to be a cool kid, to feel like I fit in. At certain points, I may have even looked like I did fit in, but inside I wasn't buying it. When the song first came out over the summer of 2014, I Googled it to see what I could find out because the words spoke to me so directly. Plus I just liked the song, and so did my kids.
I came across a review of it that wasn't too favorable: it basically said there was nothing special about the song lyrically or musically. I disagree.
Maybe that reviewer is an extrovert, maybe they don't or didn't struggle with the constant war of not quite finding their place in this world, or maybe they just didn't care for the song and are right, it's just a come-and-go forgettable tune soon to be replaced by the next catchy hook. But none of that matters to a person who hears the song and thinks, "Wow, that song could have been written just for me. Or about me. Awesome."
What I've had to struggle with and eventually, in my better moments come to terms with over the course of many years is that I am like the cool kids. We all are. Just because we don't fit into society's standards of what's cool doesn't automatically make us uncool. It just makes us different from what "they" say is popular at the moment. Because, especially today, faster than you can blink it will all change anyway.
I'm sure you've seen the viral posts about How to Know if You Were a True 1980's Kid or 28 Things That Were Awesome About Growing Up in the 90's. People resonate with those things because none of what's on those lists are "in" anymore, so it's fun to revisit those times and remember how awesome you felt strutting out the door wearing your high tops and sweats with the shorts over them. Cool isn't your pair of Jordache jeans, or putting on your slap bracelet, or loving Nirvana. Being cool is a state of being, and you get the say in whether you are or aren't.
It takes years for some of us to be able to even begin to comprehend this, because many of us have spent so many previous years feeling inferior, outcast, different, or ashamed, and have to get over that first. At times it may seem unfair (hey, how come those people just are cool, and we have to work to believe it?) but once you get a certain amount of experience in the real world, you begin to understand the crux of the whole thing, the big reveal of life: deep down, everyone feels as awkward, uncomfortable, or miserable as you do at certain times, even if they never show it or talk about it.
That's why status and importance are so sought after.
That's why social media updates are carefully selected to highlight the most flattering, most envy-inducing moments. All that other shit, the "real" in real life? You bet your ass the majority of that isn't being shared.
That's why people who "seem to have it all" fall so hard when they fall. They are just as insecure and ashamed about something in their lives as the rest of us, it's just that they are really good at pretending they're not. Until they're not good at it anymore. Just look to current popular culture: The movie "Big Eyes," about a man who was so bent on being seen as a talented artist that he forced his wife to paint as him. The news stories we see almost daily about the husband, wife, or child who tried to escape their lives (or worse, eliminate the person who knew the truth about their lives) so they could continue living in Fantasyland. James Frey wrote a "memoir" that, dream of dreams, was picked by Oprah's book club and hailed as a New York Times bestseller . . . until it was revealed that much of the "non-fiction" book was fictional.
What are all these people doing if not trying to be like the cool kids?
We don't yet live in a world where who you are is simply who you are, and taken at face value with no judgement, no bullying, no shaming. Maybe we never will. I thought that because I was shy, because I don't "speak up," because making friends is hard, I don't like social situations, I am happy spending time alone, large amounts of people stress me out, my face normally arranges itself in a bitch-like expression, and I am not an optimist or a pessimist - more like a worryist- that there was something wrong with me.
It's no different from the kids who like band, or the girls who prefer to be friends with boys, or the ones who dress according to their own rules. And to take it further, the kids who are gay, who are Chinese American or Muslim, who are transgender, or who are poor. They want to be like the cool kids and fit in, too. Instead, they are bullied, pushed, insulted, beaten and harassed to the point of suicide, all because they're not "like them."
My problem was a minor one compared to that. It's all part of the same issue though, the one where you're told that who you really are is somehow faulty, like you had an uncontrollable glitch in the system, and now you're supposed to spend your life paying for your non-conformity.
I don't want to be labeled, necessarily, although knowing that I fit into a certain category, that there are scores of other people who are similar to me, is super comforting on some levels. It also is a little bit of my personal preference, where I hate the word "Introvert." It just sounds dumb to me and I wish there was a word that sounded way more awesome but meant the same thing. And while I have 99% of the traits of an Introvert, plus many of a shy person (which don't always necessarily go together), I am more than my personality type.
In my head, I am a cool kid. That's what was always so startling to me. I believed that I was cool, until the world intervened and told me otherwise. But my personality was such that, instead of standing up and saying, "Bullshit, y'all. I am freaking cool," I just ducked my head and faded into the background. "Ok, world. You must know something I don't. Sorry for the inconvenience." How many people out there feel the same? As kids, they happily barrel their way into a school, or a crowd of friends, or even their family, only to be told, "Not good enough, sorry."
Many kids, God Bless 'em, have the ability to say, "Well, then screw you guys. I'll find someone who recognizes my awesomeness."
But many don't. Over time, the "me's" of the world heed the drill Sargent in their head who shouts, "Retreat, retreat! We're not safe here!" Enough time passes and we begin to understand the invisible dividing lines that exist. You're over there, and I'm over here, and that's just the way the world works. We accept, and we adapt, and we form our own world built on how to fit in, or worse, how to become invisible.
I will never be an extrovert. I can pretend pretty convincingly for a short amount of time, but it's exhausting and it feels like Not Me. Just as a gay person can pretend to be straight, a light skinned person can pretend to be white, and a dyslexic person can pretend to be able to read like everyone else. We can all pretend to be the cool kids for a while, but eventually one of two things will happen:
1. You'll get sick of pretending. 2. Someone will find out you're pretending.
So, my advice is to just be a cool kid.
No labeling, no having to fit in to a predefined category. No having to feel ashamed or less than, awkward or uncomfortable. Just be cool at whatever person you are, and you'll automatically be a cool kid by default. Because the ones out there who are telling you, "You have to be this to be cool," they're wrong, and if they are telling you that, they're not even cool to begin with! You don't have to be this, or that, or anything that doesn't feel like you. If you feel so inclined, you can tell those so-called, wannabe "cool" kids to go ahead and kiss your ass, or don't. Whatever feels right to you.
It may take a long time to understand this, to absorb it and to actually believe it. Years, even. And I'm sorry for that. It sucks it has to be that way. You'll see people who are never able to see it for themselves, and they'll be lost to depression, drinking, even suicide, and that sucks more than anyone could imagine. Because how awesome would it be if one person, a long time ago, had said to them, "Hey, you're a pretty cool kid," and it stuck and they believed it?
I tell you one thing, the world would be a lot cooler place.