"Cool is an emotional straightjacket; it prevents emotional growth and movement." Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage. (Audible lecture).
I was turned on to Brené Brown's beautiful work by a coworker recently after I became interested in exploring and understanding my own resistance to vulnerability. A few short weeks later, I've devoured several of her books, lectures and interviews soaking in her profound research on shame, vulnerability and other tough topics. In this blog post, I'd like to reflect on a quote from her Power of Vulnerability lecture (you can purchase/download the full lecture from Amazon here).
When I heard Brené rattle off her hypothesis on "cool" being an emotional straightjacket, I hit pause, literally, and took note. Wow. For me, this was an important statement that took me back to my childhood: being "cool" has always been incredibly important to me. As far back as I could remember, I had formed the understanding about my self-worth on factors that I perceived made me "cool."
Specifically, I remember a time when I was about six or seven. I'd been desperately dreaming that my parents would put me into dance classes. I knew I was meant to dance and was incredibly envious of the girls I knew who were enrolled in dance. We were having a family gathering at our house and I asked my mother to tell our visitors that I was, in fact, now enrolled in dance classes (which wasn't true at the time). I paraded into our living room to show off some of my moves, thinking how wonderful it was to show off the skills that I'd learned in my imaginary dance class. It made no difference if I was in dance class or not, but it made me feel important for them to think I was.
As I grew older, I recognized quickly what the "cool" kids had; their clothes, their family lives, the things they did. I documented these characteristics mentally and slowly, but surely developed a copycat syndrome. I did what I could to be like them. By the time I was in third grade, my parents had divorced, so being like the cool kids was difficult. Still, I tried my best to be involved in the right activities, get the right grades, wear the right clothes. While a lot of my achievements were fueled by this need to be cool, I reflect now and see how limiting it was as well. I struggled to find myself amidst my desire to do everything that would make me cool; this was not easy (amen to the part of the quote about cool limiting emotional growth and movement). By the time I was in High School, I'd become a master at hiding the aspects of my life that didn't fit the "cool" mold. I didn't talk much about my family and started using humor as a coping and deflecting mechanism (which I got pretty darn good at).
The worst part of all was the shame I would feel when I was busted doing my cool act. Being "caught" was such a double-whammy that further enforced how uncool I was. One of the worst busts came in 7th or 8th grade. My best friend at the time was Lauren, she was beautiful, smart and came from a wealthier family; I so desperately wanted to be the same as her. To me, her life seemed perfect and incredible. One weekend, I convinced my mom to drive me three hours to the closest Old Navy so I could replicate an outfit Lauren had. I literally purchased the exact same outfit; same color, everything. I left for school on Monday feeling powerful. Feeling cool. As luck would have it, Lauren wore the same outfit. Busted. I felt so ashamed. I'm sure I cried. I begged my dad to make the three-hour trip back to Old Navy so I could exchange the outfit for a different color. My ego was bruised, yet I continued to repeat and finesse this copy-cat process throughout high school.
I cannot even begin to count the times "cool" has been an emotional straightjacket for me. Though I've somewhat understood this for a while subconsciously, I only truly understood how prevalent this straightjacket had been in my life when I heard Brené say it so wisely, passionately and eloquently. Not long after I wrote down Brené's quote, I was thumbing through one of my many journals looking for my notes on another topic and I stumbled across a list. The list included habits and patterns I was seeking to release...right at the top of the list: the need to be "cool."
As much as I've grown personally, spiritually and emotionally over the past few years, feeling "cool" is something I continue to struggle with. However, my awareness of this pattern and my willingness to release it have already served me well. I am now able to recognize and let go of that need more easily when it comes up. I invite you to join me on this journey of removing the "cool" emotional straightjacket.
To see more of my favorite quotes, check out my Instagram profile, or read other pieces in this Instagram Quotes series.