You’re keeping it real but don’t have a clue what reality really is.
The Tyranny of Cool
Not too long ago, I wanted to be so freaking cool.
Being cool was important to me. It mattered. I had to have the perfect clothes with the right logos. I had to have my shiny Lexus with the tan leather interior and in-dash navigation system. I had to have those stainless steel appliances and hardwood floors and modern furniture and all the trappings promulgated by our heavily mediated culture.
I was trapped by the pernicious tyranny of cool.
If I bought the perfect clothes, then everything would be right, right?
If I drove the perfect car, then everyone would respect me, right?
If I had the right furniture, then I would be happy, right?
I laugh at myself now, but those things were so important to me once upon a time (a time not too long ago).
Those things forced me to continue to work a job—and not pursue my passions—so I could buy more and more stuff. Because if I bought more stuff, I’d be more cool, right?
And then three separate things made me realize how ridiculous being cool really was. These three realizations made me discover that being cool wasn’t cool at all.
1. Coolness is perspectival. I discovered that things have no meaning. Or, rather, material items only have the meaning we give them. You can think buying a forty thousand dollar car is cool, or you can believe that riding public transportation is cool. Neither is right or wrong. It’s all based on your perspective. It’s up to you to decide what is cool. You don’t have to let your TV or radio or magazines or the people on the internet tell you what is cool.
2. Real friends don’t give a shit about cool. Why was I so concerned with fancy things? Was it going to make people respect me more, like me more, love me more? No, of course not. Besides, anyone who respected me because of the car I drove didn’t respect me anyway; they respected the idea of me, but not me—the me on the inside, the real person that is Joshua Fields Millburn. Ryan will always be my friend, even if I wear a Jockey teeshirt and ride the bus to his house. He doesn’t care about that stuff; he cares about me. He is a real friend, and I’m thankful to have a lot of great people like him in my life.
3. I met Leo Babauta. Leo is incredibly cool (though he vehemently denies it); but he is unconventionally cool. He is an acute listener; he is honest, genuine, trusting, trustworthy—all virtues I consider to be tremendously cool. He wears simple clothes, uses simple words, and lives a simple life; but he is the physical embodiment of cool. Leo taught me that being cool had nothing to do with the stuff I own and everything to do with the way I act, the way I treat other people, the way I contribute—those are the attributes that make people cool.
How about you—what makes you cool?
The new In Treehouses Magazine features a four-page interview with me (my interview starts on page 47). This issue, “How Minimal Are You,” is about minimalism and writing and includes interviews some of my friends: Colin Wright, Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker, Nina Yau, and others.