Hello, you. How’s it going? Did you remember to eat a balanced breakfast?
When I started attending primary school at the tender age of four and a bit, I felt pretty overwhelmed. Not by the lessons (organised colouring in and obligatory dressing up sessions? I’m all over that), or the social aspect (I have four siblings. Social stuff is a doddle), or even the school dinners (packed lunches for the win). I was overwhelmed by the older children. I remember walking into my first ever school assembly and being awestruck by the Year 6 kids. Who were these impossibly grown up people?
The Year 6 kids got to sit on benches. They had a different colour tie from the rest of us. They would soon be leaving to go to – whisper it – big school. For some reason, they seemed older and wiser to us than the teachers or our parents. No matter that as an adult I am now friends with people who are the same age – and in some cases, older than – those Year 6 children would be now. Stephen Fry said something similar in his novel The Liar; the older children from our early lives will live in our memories as the most mature and intimidating people we’ll ever know. No matter how long I live or how many people I meet, no one will ever be as impressive or as impossibly cool as those bored eleven year-olds who sat at the back of the school hall.
It would be nice to think that, twenty-something years on, I have outgrown the tendency to feel intimidated by ‘cool kids’, but I haven’t. None of us really have. This is for two reasons: firstly, I am friends (or friends of friends) with a lot of incredibly talented people, who are nearly famous if not already so. They deserve to be. Like I said, they are awesome people. The second reason is that we live in a society which encourages us to feel small in the wake of giants, whether they be intellectual ones, culturally influential ones or just unnaturally beautiful ones. Don’t you just hate the beautiful ones?
The problem with the ‘cool kids’ syndrome is that, unless it’s based on actual merit, we are perpetrating a ludicrous fantasy (à la Mean Girls). Believing that supermodels are worthy of special treatment is how teenagers start to think that anorexia is a solution for their low self-esteem. Allowing reality television celebrities to dominate our screens is making us all forget that real talent is a thing that exists. Thinking that hipster values are cool is how we end up with parts of London being no-go-for-normals territory: for example, I wouldn’t go to Shoreditch if Noel Fielding himself invited me. And London is a big, beautiful city with a lot to offer – why are we letting ‘cool kids’ shotgun certain parts of it?
Believing other people are cooler than you are automatically undermines your self-image. Of course it’s good to look up to people who are worthy of our respect, but we should look up to them because they can teach us something, or because they already have. Feeling intimidated by people who are more famous, more attractive or just more arrogant than you are is silly, and as I keep telling you, you should be far too busy being your lovely self to give a monkey’s what the ‘cool kids’ think of you.
With that in mind, go and finish your Christmas shopping. It’s getting a bit close for comfort.