When I was young, I’d soak in all the stuff that is on TV. I thought life was supposed to look the way it looked in those popular TV dramas.
The hero was smooth and suave, with no rough edges all around. Everything he or she did was by the book, and made sense in a logical seamless way.
In the TV shows, every scene has a purpose. An end to a means. Everything was so well connected from start to finish. The plot was understandable and everything came to a neatly wrapped conclusion at the end of the show.
So, I thought that this was how life was supposed to go for me. Everything should be done the way it was done in the media shows. On TV. On the Internet. When the cameras are looking at you.
So, I tried my best to look cool at an early age. When playing basketball, I’d try to mimic the styles of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. And play in a well-rounded fashion.
When walking down the street, I’d try to walk as if the TV cameras were flashing all around me. I needed some swagger in my step, so as not to look meek.
I bought clothes that were in fashion and tried to look as trim and neat as possible. I thought that this was the way to be.
And for a time, I was a bit distant towards environments or interactions that would challenge my perception of looking cool.
I’d avoid talking to girls because what if one of them rejects my advances! I’d avoid hard situations because there was always the risk of failing and looking like a dope.
My image had to be clean and pristine. It had to be squeaky clean like a glossy wooden floor. Everything needed to be seamless.
And for a while, I was able to get by with this mentality. I got good grades in school, and excelled in athletics like tennis and basketball. I tried to be good at everything.
And again, for a time, it was a success. My grades in high school were passable, and my extracurriculars were similarly efficient. I was able to get into Cornell University, which is when I thought life would be on auto-pilot.
That was when my crystal clean image of perfection really began to take a hit. I was struggling in academics and surrounded by seeming geniuses.
The engineering school was overwhelming for me, and I struggled to understand some basic principles of my operations research major.
The coursework was non-stop and I often exerted countless effort to finish my assignments, only to be greeted with a C grade as a reward.
All that effort and hard work didn’t yield the fruits of success like it used to. And gradually, I became anxious and nervous in my interactions with friends and groups of people.
My confidence suffered and I struggled with public speaking. Cold beads of sweat would flow down my face as I couldn’t figure out what to do with myself in social situations.
I no longer felt calm, cool, and collected. I no longer walked with swagger down the street. I felt ordinary and I thought that was not enough.
So, I continued to try my best to hang on to those lingering feelings of coolness that I had when I was back in high school. But, at the end of the day, it just didn’t feel natural.
It felt like I fell down flat on my face in the cold hard world of reality. And things were no longer the way I imagined. Calm. Cool. Crystal clean. Like everything is always supposed to go the way it seems.
The ideal image of coolness and perfection flew out the window, and I found myself in a state of anxiety and confusion during those first few years out of college.
There was no epiphany or one special day, but as I grew older, that feeling of anxiety and confusion gradually dissipated. I guess that is just how life is.
You learn from the hard times, you grow, and you move forward. And that’s what I did. Now, in my mid-30’s, I’m no longer preoccupied with trying to look cool for the cameras.
Trying to prawn and preen and show the world how good-looking, talented, and “elite” I can be. Instead, many days, I feel like a simple ordinary Joe. With my own success stories, my own worries, my own failures, and my own vulnerabilities, just like everybody else.
Most of us are not movie stars on the big screen. Nor do we act in an Emmy-award winning TV show. Looking cool is not part of our life description. And that should be embraced.
Sometimes, it’s okay to be ordinary. It’s okay to be simply yourself. It’s okay to strive for greatness. And it’s okay to be content with what you have. Everything is okay - whether we are cool or not.