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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  1. says

    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.

    • says

      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.

  2. says

    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!

    • says

      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!

  3. says

    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. :)

    • says

      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.

  4. says

    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.

  5. Kathy Sierra says

    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.

  6. says

    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 ;)

  7. says

    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.

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

  8. Frank Goertzen says

    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.

  9. says

    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.

  10. says

    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. :)

    • says

      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.

  11. says

    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.

  12. John Labriola says

    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.

  13. says

    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.

  14. says

    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!

  15. says

    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.”

  16. Masrur Hannan says

    ‘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 :-)


  1. […] I’m Not Cool: I love this piece by Whitney Hess because I think we’ve all felt like this at some point.  Not cool enough to be cool and not nerdy enough to be nerdy. We’re all just us. […]

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