When you're uncool

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." - Lester Bang from Almost Famous

I had entirely forgotten this quote (and the equally amazing film from which it comes from) until I came upon the reference in my reading of Brene Brown's Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. At least amongst my social circle (read: Millenials), Vulnerability is a hot new topic. I see a trove of articles thrown my way every day on how to be vulnerable, the importance of opening yourself up to the world, etc. And while these readings make sense to me, the talk always seems easier than the walk. There are a few great vignettes in Brown's book that allude to the "vulnerability hangover" - you know, that moment after you've opened yourself up and realize your mouth is a fire hose of overshare. 

So, naturally, I was excited to pick up Brown's book, which walks through what it means to be vulnerable and how to do it in a healthy, meaningful manner with the science of a psychologist's lens and without the suffering embarrassment of a vulnerability hangover.

Increase in "vulnerable" searches from 2009 - present:

Two points on vulnerability stood out to me: 

1) Use your uncool pool. 

Finding people you can be uncool around, to build on Lester's wisdom, is about finding the people closest to you and using their holistic perspective of who you are to help you reason through decisions. There is no firehose and there is no overshare if you're speaking to those closest to you, just honest dialogue. 

Brown identifies these people as the following:

"To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I'm trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod. You have to know and respect that I"m totally uncool."

Brown calls these friends "stretch-mark friends" because her "connection to these people has been stretched and pulled so much that it's become part of who we are, a second skin." I'm going to call these friends my "uncool friends" because I like the idea of having a group of people in my life where I can be uncool, un-scrutinized, myself. The irony in relying on this network of friends is that having a group of "uncool friends" means that at one point you've opened yourself up to them. On some level, whether by design or accident, these people have seen you stumble, they've seen you rise, and they've seen you everywhere in between. 

Brown goes so far as to write the names of these people on a piece of paper that she keeps in her wallet. I didn't do that, but I did write names of my uncool friends in the margins of the book. 

The utility of the uncool friends, according to Brown, is that they provide a trustworthy second or third opinion when trying to find balance:

"When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. if we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It's a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism."

When I think about moments in my life when I've been vulnerable (oh, boy), I can remember the moments before, during, and after the vulnerability. I analyze them internally. And eventually, I walk that analysis through with my uncool friends. In that sharing one of two things will happen: over the course of the conversation I'll come to articulate something I could not have before, or my uncool friends will tell me I'm overanalyzing and the moment needs to pass. Both scenarios provide balance, help me understand why a vulnerable moment was worth my time. But the point is that I wouldn't have been able to go through that process without my uncool friends. 

2) Perfectionism is not self-improvement. 

Brown writes: 

"Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: 'I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect." Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think? Perfectionism is a hustle."

Looking at perfectionism with this definition is paralyzing, which is the point that Brown is trying to make, along with the notion that perfectionism is also an addiction. According to Brown, perfectionism lays opposite from worthiness. Perfectionism is cousin to a world of scarcity, where we can easily identify ourselves as not being smart/good/successful/fatherly/friendly enough. Perfectionism, as I read it, doesn't leave room in all its stifling wonder for vulnerability. 

When I think about the greatest inventors and creative minds that I admire today, I recognize the emphasis they place on feedback. To go through that feedback process correctly means opening oneself up for criticism. That criticism brings the creator closer to perfection, closer to a better piece of work, though the creator knows there is no perfection. There is a difference between perfectionism and excellence. Aim for the latter.   


Brene Brown also has her own TED talk, if you'd rather take a quick dip into the daring greatly world, instead of a deep dive into the book.