Henry Winkler, Matthew McConaughey, John Wayne, Tom Cruise…are they as cool in real life as the characters they have portrayed? I’m not. And I’m not as good of an actor, either. Oh, I’ve been acting, and sometimes even passing. But if one uses the Fonzarelli yardstick, I do not measure up to the Hollywood definition of cool. And when I settled down after the sting of my ASD diagnosis, I started to get some perspective on this thing we call “cool.”
I am considering getting rid of a few jackets. It’s hard, because many of them are gifts from loved ones, or hand-me-downs from one of the coolest guys I know, my father. He gave me a leather jacket that he had outgrown during my first year in college, right before we went on our 3-week trip on his motorcycle across the country (blog post worthy trip…one day soon). Deep brown, one big zipper up the middle…I have always felt cool wearing this jacket. But after almost 40 years, the collar is starting to chip, the lining has been redone once and now needs it again, and it doesn’t fit in the closet with all the other jackets that are much more functional. This jacket shouldn’t get wet – that’s a clue. Maybe cool is a fair-weather friend, too.
Being cool under pressure is a skill; good actors are better at it than others. That’s where my autism starts to kick in – instead of seeming to be able to handle the pressure, I say the wrong thing. I make the wrong decision. My executive function only hits on about 50%. I have recently learned that I can take some deep breaths, or defer speaking, or even defer decision making. Also, there are a couple of supplements my doctor recommended that I think help to mitigate anxiety in general, so my executive function has a fighting chance.
I care way too much about what people think of me sometimes, and that can thwart my effectiveness. When I think about my true values, I’d rather be effective than cool. I told a friend a couple years ago I was done trying to be cool; it just wasn’t worth the effort. At least that was my lofty goal. I’m still torn sometimes between wanting to be cool or being relaxed. Or being happy. Or being passionate about caring for people. Or being respectful.
I still like cool cars, cool movies, and cool jackets. But I have lived a lot of my life where I’ve had to sacrifice those things to keep the roof over our family’s head. Hopefully I have been able to live a life, and will continue to do so, where the cool things are not my main goals.
I realize that I can talk too much – uncool. Trying to entertain others, to get their admiration, I quickly and unwittingly slip on the fool’s jacket, leaving cool far behind. We all long to be admired, but what do I really want to be admired for? I am still working on this goal: Listening to and hearing my wife and others so we are fully communicating. If that’s too uncool, then so be it. It takes pressure and heat to get the wrinkles out of my shirt – the shirt I have to keep on when it’s time to take off the jacket!
The jacket still sits in the closet; its future is undecided. Maybe I’ll wear it while I’m driving my cool automobile today – that would be cool – but who cares? Not the people who love me for who I am – whether I am outside of the car, or inside the jacket. Keep shiftin’!