One Mind-Blowing Moment that Taught Me I Was Better Than Cool

Changing who you are for someone else is not cool.

Self Portrait of the Author as a Teenager
Self Portrait of the Author as a Teenager

I was better than cool, but I didn’t know it yet. We all receive lessons in life that take some time to internalise and act upon. What we do with those life lessons once we have experienced them is the tricky part.

I was 12–13 years old when I had my mind-blowing moment. I was a junior high boy. So yeah, just about everything blew the mind at that age. But this moment truly mattered, and would change the way I did life.

On being decidedly uncool

My family didn’t have much money, so wearing the latest fashion was out of the question. This was the 80s, perhaps one of the most iconic fashion decades since Louis XIV was kicking around. 80s fashion was over the top, and brand recognition was really taking off. So if you wore the latest popular brands, you were super cool.

I was not super cool. All my clothes were hand-me-downs and off brand. Being third in line behind two older brothers meant that my clothes had a certain broken in quality to them. This would be cool when grunge came along (I was ahead of my time! Sure!), but we weren’t quite there yet.

On becoming almost cool

Our family fortunes began to change for the better when my oldest brother went off to college. One less mouth to feed. Thanks, bro!

This meant that I could get some cool brand shoes…the glorious Nikes. Or maybe it was Reeboks. I don’t remember. I thought I was in. This was my moment. I remember feeling so awesome and ready to take on the world because I had cool shoes.

Oh, reality…why so cruel? I think I realised by lunch time that nothing had changed. I wasn’t summoned to the cool kid table. The girls didn’t flock around me. The guys didn’t bend a knee to my greatness.

If anything, the vibe was more of a ‘how dare you put something cool on your very uncool feet’.

The Mind-Blowing Moment

As I sat there in class, I remember realising that in order to be cool, I had to be cruel. I had to find some poor soul to oppress with my superiority. I’d have to become like the ‘cool’ kids, which meant becoming a jerk.

I knew I could never be accepted into their club. I knew I’d never be comfortable there even if, by some mistake, they did accept me.

The Mental Shift

In that moment, I remember realising that I was already cool. Better than cool. I was myself, and I got along with literally everyone else. Just not the few cruel kids. I remember thinking that I only needed to be true to the character and principles that my parents had helped develop in me.

I need to be reminded of that now and again, but that lesson has truly stayed with me for more than 30 years. I want to be known as an artist, a writer, a creative. And it gets tempting to change myself to accomplish that.

But whenever I start to turn that direction, I notice that icky feeling, and remember my mind-blowing moment when I realised I was better than cool.

I share this story with you because I know there is a lot of pressure online and offline to be someone else. “If you just change these 10 simple things about yourself, you too can have all the wealth and fame, blah, blah, blah.”

Self-improvement is development of those aspects that make you who you are — not elimination of who you are so that you can please someone else.

Originally published at on March 3, 2022.



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