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I’m Not Cool

Two weeks ago, I bit the bullet and moved to Brooklyn. To my Manhattanite parents, this is a betrayal of epic proportions. To my childhood friends, I’ve lost my mind. But to the web community, what the hell took me so long?

I’ll tell you. It’s quite simple really. I’m not cool.

The same week I moved, I attended the much-acclaimed Brooklyn Beta. It was filled with borough-dwellers wearing plaid shirts and black-rimmed glasses. Even the women. They have nerdy tattoos and bed head. They take sketchnotes with fat markers and draw their own avatars. They live to build stuff. They want to change the world. I want to change the world too, but I’m not cool.

I have perfect vision and I’ve never dyed my hair. My body is a blank canvas dressed by Ann Taylor and her friends. I’m not skinny. I hate electronica. I can’t draw. I like money. I’m not cool.

I’m not popular cool and I’m not nerd cool. I’m not stylish or trendy, ironic or vintage. I’m not into politics or literature. I don’t follow sports or indie films. I haven’t seen the Star Wars trilogy. I couldn’t understand a Woot shirt if I tried. I don’t know what fonts were recently released by Typekit. I haven’t upgraded to iOS5.

I’m not friends with all the right people. I often feel like I don’t fit in. Sometimes it gets to me that I’m not on the inside. It can seem like everyone else is in on something I never caught onto. It can make me feel behind.

But then I realize…

I think we all feel judged. I think we all struggle to remain current. I think we all carry the burdens of high school too far into our adulthood. And the echo chamber is bullshit. No one has all the answers. No one knows the right way. We’re all in service to something much greater than ourselves and that’s what we each really need to focus on — not whether we’re accepted, or impressing anyone, or fulfilling another person’s expectations of who we are, who we’re supposed to be, and what we’re doing here.

I know exactly what I’m doing here. I’m doing me. You do you. Then let’s do ourselves together.

Get your head out of the gutter.

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  • http://www.marcdrummond.com Marc Drummond

    I have no tattoos. I like Huxtable sweaters. Black-rimmed glasses feel clunky to me. My hair color has always been a pretty plain brown. I put hair spray into it every morning. I’d rather listen to Weird Al than Moby. I’ve always felt like I’m on the outside edge of a number of circles of friends, but I’m okay about that, because I have a few close friends, and I stay connected with my family. I’m not cool. I’m pretty dorky. But I solve design problems every day. And I love figuring out how to make it easy for people to learn and do things on the web.

    Part of how I do that is from the tips I get from people like you, Whitney. You’ve been willing to share what you’ve learned your experience. That’s pretty cool in my book.

    The last time I was popular was in first grade, when I was the Gobot King and organized all the kids on the playground to play with our Gobots. It’s been a long downhill slide from there. I care a lot more about how people treat each other and what they contribute to the world around them than what they are wearing or how they look. If some people care about that, fine. But I’m just not going to worry about it.

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Marc, I love your riff off of the rhythm of my post…now THAT was cool. Really glad you enjoyed the post and glad we could both share our feelings and get a bit more peace of mind.

  • http://arquiteturadeinformacao.com Fabricio Teixeira

    This was one of the most incredible posts I’ve ever read.

    “I know exactly what I’m doing here. I’m doing me.”

    Thanks for this :)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Wow Fabricio, thank you so much. I’m glad it resonated with you!

  • http://rachelnabors.com Rachel Nabors

    Reading this, I couldn’t help but think, “Not cool? Don’t know the right people? Ha! This from the woman who is constantly retweeted by all the ‘cool’ people I follow who never cast a sideways glance at my online scurryings!”

    “Cool” is relative, like the value of art ;) I’m sure there are people watching me who think I’m way cooler than I do. But how lame is it if we all go around staring at our feet saying, “I’m not worthy.” Who gives a flip if you’re worthy? Worthy of who? The people you think should value you? What about the people who value already?

    I am with you! Be a subculture of one and rock on with your bad self!

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Rachel, you’re so right. It’s all relative. I’m happy to be me, to be where I am, and to be surrounded by people that I love. How we perceive other people’s loves is very likely far off the mark so it’s a complete waste of time. You go on with your bad self, too!

  • http://megfowler.com Meg

    I think “not cool” is the new cool.

    I have very stylish, highly educated, technologically savvy, upwardly mobile friends who have an order in which they do things in life, and who have / listen to / care about the right stuff. They even have cool taste in indie music.

    But I’m totally fine with my love of 90′s r&b, my flip flops, my disdain for shiny new social tools, and the order in which I’ve done things in my life.

    I figure whatever I do is what I do, and worrying about whether or not other people like it or did it first (or if I did it first) just adds stress.

    Life is much easier without a template. :)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Templates are bullshit anyway, no? They just lock us in. And who got to define them anyway? No one I’d wanna be friends with. I’m very glad you have such a strong sense of self — it’s contagious.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/@bikeboy389 Mark Eberman

    Hey, whatever happened to “You’re not a user experience designer if…”? This is, to my eyes, in direct opposition to the implications of that post.

    And in being that, it is probably the first post I’ve read here I can fully agree with.

    So…good work.

  • Derek Pennycuff

    I just wanna +1 Rachel’s comment. She nailed my feelings pretty damn well.

  • CC

    That’s okay, I wouldn’t want to be friends with anyone who thought of themselves as “cool” anyway.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Hehe true dat

  • http://www.jbspartners.com Jim Spencer

    You are not alone. March on.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Thanks, Jim!

  • Kathy Sierra

    I do not know if you are cool or not, since I am definitely NOT cool and thus unable to judge coolness. I do know this: you, Whitney, are one of my favorite people on this planet. I so rarely get to see you in person, and when I do, you always light up the space.

    Aliveness beats coolness.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Kathy, your words carry a lot of weight with me. Thank you for such kindness and wisdom always.

  • http://www.petragregorova.com Petra Gregorova

    Whether you are cool or not, nobody cares ’cause the only thing matters that there are people who adore you for who you are!
    … and I sure am one of them!

    Plus you love Glee, so you MUST be cool whether you like it or not ;)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      I’m pretty sure that loving Glee makes us huge dorks, but I really couldn’t care less. Back atcha hun!

  • http://levertux.com Lori Widelitz-Cavallucci

    You are “you”. That is what makes you cool. Never ever ever compare yourself to anyone else. I am so glad that you are exactly who you are.

    • Jess Ivins

      :)

      • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

        :-D

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      And the same to you my love!

  • http://www.12robots.com Jason Dean

    But “doing me” involves having my head in the gutter. That’s just who *I* am.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Ditto!

  • http://www.visualsforchange.com Amanda lyons

    Your words work well. Together. Amazing post – beautiful words strung together seemingly without effort in soliloquy style. It’s fresh and more importantly feels strikingly real. I’ve been struck speechless, as I recovered and your words resonated,”we’re all in service to something much greater than ourselves…” Even though I have moments of ‘knowing’ this, I still haven’t figured out who/what I’m serving. Have you? I’m on my search and I think I’ve figured out the ‘how’… I digress.

    Thanks for sharing the pleasure and pain of ‘fitting in’ – after all being cool is all perception. A perception that you nailed into place in your eloquent curation.

    Cheers,
    Just another ‘not popular-uncool-judged-high school burdened’ Brooklynite

  • Frank Goertzen

    Everyone feels like this at some point :) But it’s nice to hear it coming from someone closer to the top of the ux mountain.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      There is no mountain :)

  • http://UIandus.com Keith Lang

    Sorry to hear you felt treated as an outsider, Whitney.

    Here’s a little story to cheer you up:

    I was recently departing from an international airport here in Australia. With a couple of hours on my hands, I took a wander into the news-agency to see what magazines might be of interest. It’s been a while since I’ve even looked at printed media like this.

    An illustrated Rolling Stone magazine calls out to me with a giant rendition of Steve Jobs on the front. It was a special issue with a long piece on the life of Steve Jobs.

    Grabbing it I headed up to the counter to pay. The 30-or-so year old man at the counter scanned it and asked me “So, who is this guy? I’ve seen him on the news a few times.”

    Of course, Steve Jobs was, and is, an inspiration to many who’s death had saturated our internet based news-streams.

    The guy at the counter had never heard of him.

    It was oddly calming to remember that there’s an entire world out there living in a venn circle that barely touches my own.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      What an incredible story. You’re so right, Keith. A great reminder.

  • http://www.perfecttuna.com Samantha LeVan

    My teenage nephew is going through a bit of this, figuring out what he’s about with the pressure of what he thinks is supposed to be cool. I sent your post to him so he understands that we’re all fighting to figure things out, to remember that we are important to ourselves and that cool is relative. So thank you. :)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Thank you Sam. I’m honored that you wanted to share it with him. I look forward to hearing how he took it. That is such a tough time for everyone. Keeping your sense of self intact is something we all struggle with, in our teenage years and ever after.

  • Tim Meaney

    …not cool is the new cool, so does that actually make you not cool, or cool?

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      I think I’m still not cool :)

  • http://rickettsfish.com Ryan Ricketts

    Normally I just read your blog on an RSS reader, but this post was so good I had to comment on it. Thank you for writing it. I’m happier tonight for having read it.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Ryan, that means so much. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope I give you more and more reasons to share your thoughts.

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  • http://littleIndiana.com Jessica Nunemaker from little Indiana

    I <3 this. Hard.

    This should be required reading for every kid getting ready to enter high school. :)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Wow Jessica, thank you so much. I’d love to find out what a teenager thinks of what I had to say. I wish I could go back and tell it to myself.

  • http://thespottedduck.com Shelley

    You’re a 4th generation Manhattanite. To me that’s always made you infinitely cool. And you’re your own boss. You support yourself doing what you love. I WISH I could be that cool.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Shelley! You’re the sweetest. Yes, I suppose coolness is all relative. It’s nice to know my oddities appeal to someone :)

  • John Labriola

    That made me a bit Whit, only because I thought of all the mutual people we know in Brooklyn. Have to admit, I prefer the Brooklyn pre-hipster invasion…

    And hey you’re cool in my book.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      Thanks sweetheart :) We miss you!

  • http://techkik.com Amrita Mathur

    Good post Whitney. But I gotta say, the essence was lost on me. It almost felt like you were tying hard to make ‘not being cool’ – well, cool.

    While i appreciate pouring your heart out like that, i think this was as much justification to yourself as much to everybody else that may be reading this.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      I’m trying to share myself openly to encourage others to do the same.

  • http://www.leilappetit.com Leila Arfa

    Now, so here’s the thing. About a year ago you randomly replied to a tweet I wrote about H&H bagels. I live in Edinburgh, Scotland. Anyone who managed to find me (tiny needle) in a giant haystack (erm, the internet?) is deeply, deeply cool. Great post!

  • http://twooy.wordpress.com/ Salathiel Jones

    You Rock!!!!

  • http://gabyflo.com gabyflo

    LOVE IT!
    “We’re all in service to something much greater than ourselves and that’s what we each really need to focus on — not whether we’re accepted, or impressing anyone, or fulfilling another person’s expectations of who we are, who we’re supposed to be, and what we’re doing here.”

  • http://billcammack.com/ Bill Cammack

    lol, You’re cooler than you think you are, Whitney! haha ;)

  • Brady Ajay

    Reading your blog today and came across this post.

    Yes, in moods like this, I turn to the wisdom of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog for perspective:

    http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/dbe8578db6/triumph-the-insult-comic-dog-star-wars

  • Masrur Hannan

    ‘I’m Not Cool’ is the most fun and The Coolest blog I have ever read.

    First time I read it was sometime last year – when I was looking all around the web for UX learning resources like a headless chicken! When I found ‘pleasure and pain’ I felt I had gotten all the right directions for HCI, UX, IA, usability…

    And after reading this post (‘I’m Not Cool’) – I became your FAN right away :-)

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