Be Like the Cool Kids ||
Someone told me a couple weeks ago that they thought I was one of the “cool kids” in high school. All I could think was, “Wow.” It’s funny how our perception and the reality of a situation can be so different—because I did not feel cool. At all.
As I watch my daughter navigate the trials and tribulations of growing up and into herself, there are so many things I wish I could save her from. If only I could buffer her heart from the harshness of the real world, soften the blows that are bound to come, absorb the inevitable pangs of pre-adolescent angst that will test all the parts of her—her untethered spirit, her strong will, her fragile and not-yet-defined sense of self and mostly her delicate but still-impressionable heart. As a parent, is that even possible? And really, is sheltering her from the growing pains we all endured really saving her anyway?
I think back to my own school days, and I’ll be honest, there are wounds that still sting a little. Okay, maybe a smudge more than a little. Some. Not all. Like most things, time has healed what then seemed unbearable. But here’s the thing: Most of it was in my head, and the parts that weren’t, those people and those situations, I know now that they’re so insignificant in the grand scheme of life. Best of all, and here’s the kicker—I spent most of my adolescence, well into my college years, feeling like an absolute, 100%, complete farce. I was a fake and it was just a matter of time before someone figured it out. Any moment, someone would call my bluff, and then the world would know that I was not smart enough, not pretty enough and certainly not cool enough to be in the “popular” crowd. “It girl” I was not.
I spent most of my time trying to balance fitting in with blending in, while not standing out too much but standing out just enough. Make sense? Exactly. It doesn’t and it was exhausting. My life at home was so dysfunctional that I stumbled and staggered at trying to be cool. Failure—or not being popular or cool—was not an option. And boys! Don’t even get me started on all the stupid things I did because of a boy.
How much of me did I lose trying to be the me that I thought everyone wanted? How many tears did I waste? How many kisses, or more, would I take back? How many wounds would not exist if I’d had the courage to be me?
I wish there was class for girls, where they could share their insecurities without judgement and their too-often unasked questions without the fear of being ridiculed. A class where the playing field was leveled and they could just be themselves. Where the crazy feelings they feel were talked about freely and girls became allies and not enemies. Where everyone was honest! The angst, the heartache, the worry, it’s all so unimportant yet it defines who we become well into our twenties.
So here’s what I would tell my daughter (not that she wants to listen) and what I wish I could go back and tell my younger self:
Being a girl is hard. Being a good friend is harder. Doing the right thing, especially when no one is looking, is hardest. It just is. The sooner you accept these as facts of life, the more capable you will be to cope with all of their unique challenges—and also embrace the singular joys that will ultimately come to you.
Being cool is overrated. Being kind is cool. Being polite and humble—that’s cool. Being a good friend is cool. Being smart is cool. Respecting your teachers and other humans, that’s cool. Responsibility, accountably, honesty—all cool.
Your words are powerful; choose them wisely and use them only for good. Kindness gives you power and to all those that you bestow it on. Give that freely instead—you may never know how one kind word, one unexpected smile or one small gesture changed a person’s life.
Your clothes, your make-up, your hair, it’s just armor. It doesn’t define you nor can it mask all the craziness you have swirling inside of you. It won’t be what wins you friends or gets the guy. That’s in your heart. Have fun with it instead, and know that no matter how hip you thought you looked, your future child will make fun of your hair choices. And probably your choice in clothing, too.
People make mistakes. We’re human. Own up to yours, forgive others and try to be better next time. It’s all you can do. Forgiveness is for your own soul, not for those that have wronged you. You deserve to move on, regardless of their actions or lack of remorse.
Mean girls are not cool or popular. They are not suave or savvy or anything to aspire to. They are simply mean. At best, avoid them or at the very least, never let them steal your spirit. Mostly though, feel sorry for them, because usually, they are more insecure and more unhappy then they will ever let the world know. There is nothing funny about pushing someone down to lift yourself up. Period. Mean is mean and it’s ugly. Inside and out.
Be the cliche. Please! Take the road less traveled, be the better person, always look on the bright side, know that beauty is only skin deep, bite your tongue when necessary, bounce back when they try to break you, break the ice with the new kid in school, don’t judge a book by its cover, do unto others as you would have others do unto you, take one for the team. Embrace these. Own them. All of them. Seriously—be that change you wish to see in the world. This will bring you greater joy and depth of person than you can ever imagine. When they no longer serve you well, let them go.
This is a good one: Treat yourself and others with the same kindness and care that you would your own child, your dog or your Grandmother. Assuming you are human and have a heart, most people treat all three with tremendous respect, love and grace.
Know that no one person and no one thing can complete the part of your heart that feels unloved or unfulfilled or even unpopular. Not getting straight A’s, not being cheer captain, not dating the Quarterback. Nor can having the right friends, going to the right parties or wearing the right clothes. That’s all nice, don’t get me wrong. But if you use it to fill a void inside of you, that hole just gets deeper and deeper the more you try to fill it for all the wrong reasons.
That boy, the one you’re going to chase, the one you think you can’t live without, the one you’re willing to fight over, he’s probably not “the one.” But if he is, know he wouldn’t break your heart anyway and he will wait for you.
Enjoy your innocence while you can: laugh and giggle, be silly; have secret crushes, lip sync in the mirror, have slumber parties and bonfires, just kiss for as long as you can, be naive. Truly. Keep it simple until you no longer can. Once you’re all grown up, it gets real, fast. Too fast.
Be the friend that you want in your life; support one another, wipe each others tears, protect each other and when necessary, defend each other, from the harshness of the real world or from those that don’t see your sparkle. Be each others biggest advocates. All your fears and insecurities, they are not yours alone. Rather than fixate on them, lead with open hearts, open hands and an open mind.
That girl that acts so cool, the one who doesn’t break; she’s not cool. Not even close. She doesn’t even think so. More likely, she’s a hot mess of terrified, insecure and maybe a little sad. Maybe a lot sad. I know, because I’ve been that girl. We all have. Reach out to her. Be kind to that girl. Be her friend. If she doesn’t let her guard down, know you tried.
Jock, cheerleader, nerd, drama-geek, ASB President, quiet, outgoing, pretty, ugly—whatever you think you are or aren’t, none of it matters, this outward version of yourself. It’s one tiny part of the who you are. Don’t let these titles define you or determine your course. You truly are the master of your own universe.
Lastly, in case you’ve forgotten or if no one ever told you, you matter. Your choices, your words, your actions, they matter. I hope you choose wisely. And when you don’t, because there will come a time when YOU are the mean girl or the one who made the mistake, pick yourself up, brush it off, say sorry and give yourself a break—most of the time, you deserve it.
Thirty-seven years later, these lessons, they’re finally sinking in. For my daughter, while she struggles to find her balance and her own way, perhaps we can both focus on the fun of growing up and growing old and leave the mean girls where they belong—with the so-called cool kids—and we’ll just worry about being ourselves.