cool: the emotional straightjacket

What has a decade of research on authenticity, shame, vulnerability and courage taught me about “being cool?” 

1. The need to “be cool” is an emotional straightjacket. It keeps us from moving, growing, stretching and feeling free. 

2. “Cool” and authentic are often mutually exclusive. 

3. It takes courage to be awkward, goofy, and silly – all of the feelings that we experience when we’re brave enough to try something new or risk being innovative. This is so tough for me. My mantra when I’m trying something new and feeling awkward and goofy is “Effort + the courage to show up = enough.”

4. The language of cool permeates our culture and sends messages to the people around us – especially our children. Try boycotting words like LAME, UNCOOL, and LOSER. Also, there is an entire collection of words that are used as cool armour by vulnerable teens and tweens (and adults). They include words like retard, retarded, bitch, fag, and queer. Trying to come off as cool and indifferent often leads to the use of hate language.

5. The greatest casualty of the endless pursuit of cool is connection. When we don’t let people see and know our true selves, we sacrifice connection. Without connection, we struggle for purpose and meaning. 

Have a great week, be connected, and be cool you.  


Leave a Comment

  1. Cat in Palma

    Great post, Brene! What's strange is, I love it so much when other people are being "uncool" and I have so much respect for them putting themselves out there and TRYING or just BEING THEMSELVES and FEELING FREE.
    I know the difference, I can see and feel what's right and beautiful, but why can't I be so generous (as often) with myself? Sigh.

  2. Sarah

    I've been touched ever since I saw your presentation on TED and posted it to my FB wall. I'm commenting because I had to quote from this post on my blog. I just wrote a post for my birthday about making connections with people, and not being afraid of labels such as "lame."

    Your work is deeply profound and I hope you don't mind that I've shared it.

  3. MJ

    Interesting post Elizabeth.
    I have been thinking about this and my husband. He is a really nice guy. He does not act cool which is why I like him…but….. I find myself wanting to tell him to try to be more cool, try to not be so honest about things so we seam more cool….. i know I am wrong. He is well liked by anyone 15 years or more older than us, by all women (he can carry on a great conversation and is interested in people). BUT not so much with most guys/husbands our age. He likes sports and can get along with guys by talking about sports or playing them. But he doesn't have the close connections to guys our age. I don't necessarily like these guys because of their lack of authenticity and my thinking is that my husband needs to change to have more close friends – this doesn't seam right. There just aren't that many great people that are an option for us.

    I have another thought about your post too. You can choose not to participate in gossip – but don't seam too self righteous about not doing so. I usually just drift from those conversations … avoiding them without anyone knowing. It doesn't seam to work to proclaim I don't participate in that stuff.

  4. elizabeth

    Sorry, just one more–I am WAY too authentic. I'd LOVE a connection with anybody. My best friend from HS confirmed to me accidentally that I am not making new connections in my new city, b/c I am TOO nice. A little too honest, too kind.

    I actually thought these were nice qualities. I cannot find a friend to save my life.
    Maybe I really AM NOT being authentic. I do have a bit of ire in me. Maybe I'm just wearing my party dress a little too much?

    It should work itself out b/c I've just about given up after 10 yrs. NOBODY wants to share 10 feet with me. I'm weirdo nice. Right down to NOT participating in gossip about neighbors. Pointless.
    Our neighbor is probably entertaining men, but I'm thinking the very nice car on the drive is prob'ly her father. Can't we give the benefit of the doubt and leave her alone? Could she use some zuichinni bread?

    I will continue to peruse your blog to find out more about connections. I sure could use some lessons. Authenticity just isn't cutting it for me. I just don't know how else to be besides myself!

  5. elizabeth

    i've never seen it written or stated. Maybe it was the lab notebook and red sharpie that hammered it home: Vulnerability means saying no.

    The way I heard it: When I tap-dance around saying no, it is exactly because it makes me feel vulnerable—to talk, to judgement of my competence, to maybe not being asked again.

    Uh-oh, now it's plainly clear. What is the salve for it? And how do you say no and maintain your integrity?

  6. Your article is great. All to often we spend our youth trying to be cool and fit in with all the rest of the crowd. It can take a life time to realize that being honest and true to your own believes is what counts.

  7. Anna

    I love the piece around connection. Keeping our hearts open with all the vulnerability of staying authentic to self is scary!

  8. Loren


    Vulnerability feels like BEING WEAK.

  9. Chuck

    good words. thnx. I've been asked to perform a cello solo this weekend. 1st time public solo. The accompanist and I aren't in sync too well. My preference would be to scratch it, but I've given my word. So, rather than dread this, then then regret it afterwards, I've opted to adopt your mantra: I'll show up and give my best effort and that will = "enough". Thanks.

  10. MJ

    To be cool is actually to seam like you want to be uncool – it even takes more effort to want to be cool by being uncool. Stay away from it all!

  11. TC

    I just found your authenticity movement and badge. I'm so inpsired! Thank you for doing this. In my recovery from drug addicition, it's been learning to be authentic that has given me the greatest gift, to others and to myself (I say as I'm about to paint each fingernail a different color.)