As a teenager, my definition of cool was kids rocking Nirvana T-shirts, pulling drags behind my high school. During college, I thought guys who were good with girls were cool. When I entered the real world my definition changed again and I thought people with money were cool.
But at the age of 41, you want to know what my definition of cool looks like today?
It’s someone who’s a decent human being.
As long as someone is respectful and doing what they can to make the world a better place they’re cool in my book.
Since this revelation, I’ve been paying close attention to the actions of the good people around me. This is because I want to be cool too.
Below are five of the traits I’ve picked up that have helped me move from thinking money defines someone to finally realizing kindness never runs out of style.
1. They embrace small talk
Three years ago I was complaining to my wife about complainers and right when I was hitting my stride she hit me with the following words — “You should hear yourself sometimes when you’re with my friends and family. You’re not exactly Positive Paul yourself.”
These words knocked me back. But not before I managed to get out one last jab — “It’s always the same conversation. It’s boring.”
Normally I would have instantly regretted saying this, but my wife’s response changed my life — “Ahhhhh you poor thing. We have the opportunity to make boring lives beautiful. Most people don’t — so suck it up and show some damn interest in people.”
Asking people how their day is going? Asking for an update about their kids? Hell even stopping to talk about the weather with the person at your corner kiosk.
These conversations may be boring. But they matter and the better you get at small-talk the greater the chance real talk can take place.
This can be especially true when meeting new people as most people need a bit of space and they aren’t going to open themselves up to you immediately.
Being interested is cool.
2. They forgive quickly
A few months ago I messed up. I missed a meeting with someone I greatly admired. I put the wrong date on my agenda and at the last minute, I had to cancel. I was half expecting never to hear from the man again after I sent my apology.
Later that evening I was talking to my mom about this situation and she said something I’ll never forget — “Before you get too bent out of shape, give it a day and see how he responds. It’ll give you a key insight as to the type of person he is. From what you’ve said of him it sounds like he’s the type of guy that understands everyone makes mistakes and not all of them are intentional.”
My mom was right — later that evening I received a freaking “Thank You” message from the guy. Evidently, the hour I had freed up for him was instrumental in him knocking out a project he’d been putting off. He then ended the note with a few options of times he when was available during the upcoming week.
The only certainty in life is bigger problems are going to arise than missing a meeting. But that lesson my friend Conor Neill taught me showed real character and in doing so solidified my belief that he was just a decent person — but a damn fine human being.
Forgiving people is cool.
3. They’re trustworthy
During a recent seminar, the keynote speaker said something that really opened my eyes: “People want to spend time with people they like, but they want to do business with people they trust. Being a person of your word is what separates the best from the rest.”
When it comes to having a successful career I can’t help but think the woman speaking was right: being trustworthy is the ultimate competitive advantage not only in business — but also in life.
However, recently a number of people have taught me that trust isn’t only about doing what you say you’re going to do. Nor is it only about being there for the people you care about through thick and thin.
It’s also about having the courage to not hesitate when it comes to giving people bad news.
Holding out on telling someone something you don’t want to say, but they deserve to hear. Not telling people if they hurt your feelings. Avoiding conversations about things that are gnawing away at you.
These are the silent actions that slowly erode relationships. Cool people understand this and even though they don’t want to have these conversations they know that letting them collect dust jeopardizes trust.
Being trustworthy is cool.
4. They don’t try and solve everyone’s problems
A few months ago I made the mistake of not taking the steps each day to keep my anxiety under control. One evening while eating pizza with my family on our terrace I paid for this by having an anxiety attack.
I was embarrassed by this. But for once in my life, I talked to my friends and family about my experience and opened myself up for help.
A few days after doing this I received a message that literally made my wife tear up. Tom Kuegler didn’t lead with the standard “I know how you feel” or any form of trying to solve my problem. Instead, he left a message simply letting me know that if I ever needed to talk he would pick up no matter the hour. He then concluded his message by letting me know how much my friendship means to not only him but also our group of friends.
Like a lot of people, I hope my existence helps people. But Tom made me think about how I’m doing that and in the process, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is simply listen to them and do what you can to let them know you care.
Being there for people is cool.
Quick aside: Two weeks ago I had the privilege of spending a week with Tom and he’s even more thoughtful and kind in real life.
5. They proactively make time to teach people
Roughly a year ago I started a mastermind group with my favorite writers and creators. I like to think everyone in the group likes me as a person. But I can’t help but think there is one person in the group who everyone loves.
This person has a lot going on. Many of these things are much bigger and more important than spending time each day in the group.
Despite this every single day for the last year he has taken the time to share what he knows and help every single person in the group to reach their own definition of success.
Watching the actions of someone I am very proud to call a friend today has been amazing. Niklas Göke has not only taught me and countless others the tricks of how to make it in the online world. But by giving his time each day to help people while asking for nothing in return over the last year he’s shown me first-hand what a truly cool person looks like.
Sharing is cool.
Pulling it all together:
Over the years my definition of what it means to be cool has changed. But thanks to the good people around me I think I’ve finally found a definition that I’ll hold onto for a while.
Being interested in people. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Being trustworthy. Checking in on people. Teaching people.
I don’t know about you but I think the actions above are cool as hell.
And I’ll be damned if each and every one of the good people that taught them to me aren’t cool as well.