How to be Cool? Stop telling me you’re cool!

In my longish list of pet peeves, this ranks in the top 5 without a doubt. Over the course of my career (er…life), I’ve learned one or two valuable things along the way. One of them is this. You know how to tell if someone is really Special Forces? They don’t TELL you they’re Special Forces. Somehow, it just gets to be something that is known.

So, like I always say, “If you have to tell someone you’re Special Forces, you are NOT Special Forces.” Even if you happen to actually be a Green Beret or SEAL or whatever, I’d argue that, if you go around screaming it from the rooftops, you’re probably a junior Green Beret or a baby SEAL. I just don’t buy that truly talented people have to TELL you that to make it so.

This is probably somehow related to my last post because at the root, this is all based on insecurity, isn’t it? People brag because they’re insecure or they want to be accepted and they’re just not sufficiently confident to know that they are good enough without telling you how good they are…how busy they are…or all the myriad of things they do that make them oh-so-great. And I guess it’s sometimes a fine line – what’s the difference between expressing yourself confidently and bragging?

Who’s to say that my waxing poetically in an online blog isn’t my way of bragging? Look at me! I can write…and stuff. An argument could be made….

I just read an article on the topic. Because, in true “me” fashion, I have to confirm I’m not, in fact, crazy before I put something out there in the world. And the writer said two things that struck a chord:

  • There was a deeper question mulling around in my mind, a psychological puzzle: It’s more-or-less common knowledge that everyone hates bragging, so why do people keep on doing it?
  • And also: Why was I repulsed by some people’s bragging behaviors, yet could tolerate – heck, in special cases, was even riveted by – others? What was it that distinguished a repellant brag from a palatable one, a Kanye West from a Clooney?

I think there is inexplicable nuance that maybe can’t be sorted out but I also think there are some obvious things that could make braggarts appear a little less smarmy. One is this – the words, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have a terrible history but maybe we can rewrite history here a bit? When it comes to preaching about how great you are, if I didn’t ask you, perhaps you should think about not telling me. When a question is posed about your background or your knowledge, game on. Give it your best shot. But I think, in a lot of cases, unsolicited “success stories” are just monumentally annoying.

Also, where possible, shouldn’t we spread the wealth when we can? I can almost guarantee that whatever it is that someone is bragging about – well, they didn’t just wake up one day and put on the outfit of awesomeness. Sure, it probably came at a personal cost or a level of effort that earns some level of respect but I bet someone helped them along the way. Why don’t we lean into that just a tad and give credit outside of ourselves too? Me thinks that would help minimize the eyerolls.

That article said one more thing that I think absolutely nailed it. It’s the writer’s definition of bragging and I think it amplifies my point pretty well (humble brag hahahahaha): “Bragging is personally imposing what-you-believe-to-be-status-elevating thoughts on your audience.”

You really should read that article. It also lists the 17 modes of bragging and they are….chef’s kiss!

I particularly got all twitchy at: the one-upper, the reciprocal brag, the out-of-nowhere brag, and the race-to-the-bottom brag. That last one is the worst (which is a pun I am fully committed to)!

And finally (last time I will mention this article I swear), as I read through the portion that detailed why people brag, my mind was blown once again. Every single one described a particular person that I referenced recently (cough cough). Just in case you’re not a follower of links, the writer said people brag for five primary reasons: Feeling Small, Self-Promotion, Fear of Abandonment, Dopamine Kick from Sharing, Aggression, and Lack of Social Awareness.

Here’s something though – if you’re wondering if this applies to you, it probably does not. I feel like a lot of people could read this and think, “hmmmm…I wonder if the people around me think I’m bragging all the time?” Well, if that thought crosses your mind, chances are, you are not the source of exasperation. That implies self-awareness and I don’t think the two live in the same universe. So, consider yourself off the hook and go ahead and post that awesome casserole you made or the medal you got for finishing that 5k. It’s not the same thing. Or is it? I kid I kid!

I think that we all have tinges of jealousy when someone has a monumental success that we haven’t achieved and often, in those circumstances, we can feel like people are boasting. What we are really feeling though is envy, an internal nagging at our own confidence and that’s…different. If it makes you feel like doing more…or better…I’d argue those are pretty healthy things to focus on. It’s when someone brags because they need to feel “more than”. That’s when it is irksome. To muah, anyway.

What are your thoughts? Do you think bragging would be better tolerated if that same person raised you up to some higher status, gave compliments and didn’t just take all the credit? Probably.

And if we take into consideration that the person who is bragging is probably reaching out for validation on a level that we have no way of comprehending, maybe there are moments that we should just say, “That’s great!” and move on. Not ALL the time but sometimes perhaps. They need the vote of confidence more than we need to tell them to hush so I guess that’s an option. Though, as one of my friends commented recently, “sometimes you just have to choose violence”. HA! Take that Junior Green Beret.

P.S. No Green Berets or SEALs were harmed in the writing of this post. I know a few and love and respect all of their sacrifices. It was just an example folks – I swear!

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