You Gotta Be a Dork Before You Can Be Cool

You know how there are just certain “rules” in life? Like you can’t have 20”1 biceps unless you workout or you can’t control the weather? There’s no denying that you can’t be cool unless you are a dork first. I know the ladies might disagree but George Clooney was a dork at some point in his life. Nobody is exempt from this rule.

I love looking up definitions of words that we use in our everyday conversations, dork being one of them. With the advent of Wikipedia no word is safe. The definition of dork is as follows:

Dork – Slang for quirky, silly or stupid. Socially inept, out of touch with contemporary trends. Often mistaken for the same as geek or nerd but does not imply the same level of intelligence.

Who wants to be a dork? Can I see a show of hands?

What about cool? I went to the Urban Dictionary to check out cool and was relieved to learn that in fact cool is still cool.

Cool – An adjective referring to something that is very good stylish or otherwise positive. Laid back relaxed, not freaked out, knows what’s going on.

Who doesn’t want to be cool? I don’t care who you are, what you do, where you come from everyone wants to be cool. When you are cool you make it look easy. When you are cool you are confident. No matter how much we want to be cool the fact still remains you can’t go from zero to cool. There are no direct flights to cool.

When I think about my own journey there have been times in my life I didn’t take on a challenge because I didn’t want to be a dork. For whatever reason I wasn’t willing to go through that awkward stage to get from zero to cool. Call it self- doubt, call it procrastination at the end of the day it was a bad case of “ Acute Dorkitis” more commonly known as fear.

While I have examples in my life of times I walked away from a challenge I do have several examples when I allowed myself to fight through the dorky stage to get to that feeling of calm confidence or cool.

When I first started my career in marketing I was a pathetic public speaker. I promise you pathetic is an accurate depiction. You know how they say people fear speaking in front of a group second only to death by fire – that was me. I was the classic nervous, sweaty pitted speaker who fumbled, mumbled and bumbled his way through a presentation.

Because I knew I’d have to become at least proficient at public speaking to advance in my career I decided to face my fears and allow myself to be the dorkiest of dorks. I enrolled in Dale Carnegie, and joined Toastmasters. I started volunteering to make presentations at work. I made bad presentation after bad presentation.

My favorite was toastmasters where they actually counted your Ums. (I think I’ve been enshrined in the Toastmasters Hall of Fame for having the most ums in a 5 minute speech) I can remember when we had to do impromptu speeches – no warning, just get up and start talking. I would have preferred hot pokers in the eyes. For the longest time I felt like I wasn’t improving, often times feeling like I was digressing.

Eventually I would have stints during a talk where I felt like what I said actually made some sense. There were even times when I could make an audience laugh… on purpose! As these fleeting moments occurred I could feel my confidence begin to build.

While I was starting to feel cool I still wasn’t there. I’d have a talk that didn’t go well and I’d feel like everything I had accomplished had gone to hell in a hand basket. Eventually the dorky moments began to fade away. My speeches were mostly cool. I actually began to feel a certain calmness before speaking in front of an audience and then a confidence that the words would be there even if I wasn’t fully prepared.

There were even times when I felt like I was in the zone or as I later learned I was experiencing flow. This is where you are fully connected with your audience, you are not even thinking about the words you are saying and it’s all making sense. This was proof for me that the dork was finally history and I was becoming cool or at least I felt that way. Interestingly enough there was no breakthrough moment. It didn’t feel like divine intervention – no angels, no harps, no voice from above or anything like that. It just happened.

While it may sound cocky to say I’m cool when it comes to public speaking I’m finally okay with that. In fact I’m okay with letting the world know public speaking is my calling – it’s what I’m here to do. Hmmm what a far cry from sleepless nights and sweaty pits.

It’s important for all of us to understand this process. It applies no matter what it is we want in life. It is so easy to give up when you are in the dork stage! Often times we feel like we’ll never get to cool. The process is gradual, uncomfortable and painful at times. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy the journey. Have faith that each dorky step you take is one step closer to cool. And oh by the way – cool is still cool!

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  • Chase nice - trust me it's your audience not your message. I love the Tony Robbins quote which is so true. Thanks for your interest. I appreciate being the first to receive a comment in the form of a poem.. BC
  • Bill, Follow up - re - my "message" -

    1) Most everybody has dorky issues or just issues and you can make something out of what you got/are - if you decide to really work at it - It always motivates me to recall a Tony Robbins quote "Somebody is in the hospital begging God for the opportunity you have right now. Step into your moment."

    2) Wanted to be the first on FohBoh to reply to a post with a poem :-)
  • Chase thanks for your poem. Great moral by the way. Any chance you can elaborate a little. I'm not sure I'm catching the message... Sometimes I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed! Paul, I could talk about your comment for hours. I think we as leaders have to work with our twenty somethings to identify their higher purpose. In other words what do they want out of their experience working for us. Too often we allow it to be all about the money. I believe if we support that notion (that money trumps everything) we are taking the easy way out. We have to make an emotional connection. We have to uncover each employee's higher purpose. This is challenging because it can get messy along the way. We have a saying at Talent Revolution "You hire for the postion but the whole person comes to work". A lot of managers would rather focus on the tasks which typical serves them well in the short term. However if we want to stand out in a crowded market we have to take the time to connect with our "brand ambassadors". Thank you for commenting. I'd love to hear more from both of you. Enthusiastically Yours,
  • So how do we develop all our "twenty-something dorks".. trying to be "cool"... in the many restaurant and hospitality hourly positions that are the face of our companies? Our customers won't wait for our staff to transition to a higher level of engagement. Any ideas to lead and inspire the underlings following our tutelage?
  • Hello Bill,
    You made me think of this poem - (Is it dorky to reply with a poem?)

    There once was an oyster Whose story I tell,
    Who found that some sand Had got into his shell.
    It was only a grain, but it gave him great pain.
    For oysters have feelings Although they're so plain.
    Now, did he berate the harsh workings of fate
    That had brought him To such a deplorable state?
    Did he curse at the government, Cry for election,
    And claim that the sea should Have given him protection?
    'No,' he said to himself As he lay on a shell,
    Since I cannot remove it, I shall try to improve it.
    Now the years have rolled around, As the years always do,
    And he came to his ultimate Destiny stew.
    And the small grain of sand That had bothered him so
    Was a beautiful pearl All richly aglow.
    Now the tale has a moral, for isn't it grand
    What an oyster can do With a morsel of sand?
    What couldn't we do If we'd only begin
    With some of the things That get under our skin....
    - Lessons from an Oyster, Author Unknown, Source Unknown
  • Bill if you're a dork, you're the coolest dork I know. Thanks for posting Bill :)
  • As you you Mr. Urdan concise and profound. The journey is the destination. I'm using that line.
  • Joni thanks for commenting! I love my book! Thanks again for thinking of me. Isn't that the truth the older you get.... Not that you and I are getting any older, that applies to everyone else. This quiet time/meditation time is huge. Mobi is certainly the model for that. I used to think people couldn't change. Now I know the exact opposite is true. I'm still a social media dork but I'm working hard to be in Amanda's league - I say play big! Here's to everyone who is willing to be a dork!
  • You are too cool for school. Great article - and great point - and the further we progress in life or our careers it gets harder and harder to risk looking like a dork - which is the no. one enemy of learning and growth. Thank you for sharing your journey!
  • Well said Bill. The journey is the destination. I aspire to be as cool as you some day.
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