Don’t be cool

Life is a balance of the cool and the uncool. Glamour and excitement and dreary reality. Cocktails and hangovers. Magical Christmas Days and overflowing bins on Boxing Day. Mark Cleaver and Mr Darcy.

From what I’ve observed, and the people I’ve met:

Embracing the uncool stuff is one of the biggest indicators of success.

I know it seems like a babyish terminology, but ‘cool/uncool’ really is the best way I can think of framing it. Uncoolness is something to do with focus and concentration, with an unapologetic love of learning to master one’s field. But even that makes it sound a bit too exciting. Uncool stuff is also what makes you the same as everyone else, and who wants to admit that? Who’s ready to accept that they’re a boring physical body that gets ill or frail or ages? How cool is it to do admin and pay tax or have family or mental health problems? What about this? Is this cool?

But it’s the great myth of our absurd Western society that there isn’t dignity in the unglamorous reality of existence, and that we should avoid discussing it or fully embracing it as part of the necessity of life. As soon as we start buying into that nonsense, we open the way to very phoney existence – at best, a kind of shame spiral.

I’ve noticed a lot of social media stars coping with the agony of being real by making their realness the new cool. A good start, to my eyes at least, but is it enough to replace one cool with another? How do you even champion something that’s rather destroyed by celebration?

The coolness paradox

Discipline isn’t cool, therefore we can conclude it’s probably ideal for success. But you’ll mostly just hear about it through cool things, like inspirational speakers and New York Times bestsellers. Being undisciplined is cool! Giving the impression of being undisciplined is even cooler – regular readers will know I’m always going on about the phenomenon of pretending you did well at something without ever working for it.

I can’t stress this enough: we are inundated by coolness. Rather than becoming underwhelmed and cynical in the face of all this razzmatazz — which, you know, does have its merits — I think we need to get used to surfacing the labour. We don’t have to be excited about it (too cool), simply to show and share it enough that we get used to it.

Years ago, floppy-haired bassist Alex James from Britpop sensation Blur left the music business, more or less, to become a cheese farmer in the Cotswolds. I often think about something I read in an interview he gave around that time. People would ask him: ‘Isn’t it boring, doing this, after being in a band?’ But the truth, Alex explained, is that anything real is boring. “The reality of being in a band,” he said, “is that it’s boring.”

Find the ordinariness in things. Don’t suppress your interests, surprise yourself with new hobbies and new people. Being too cool for things means you’ll miss out on opportunities left, right and centre.

Today’s challenge

Spend time enjoying the special qualities of something ordinary, today. Embark on even the most dull of tasks, and see if you can find a way to not resent it.