I believe that you’re as cool as you want to be.

I wrote this essay for the NPR series “I Believe”, and wanted to share it. Hopefully this won’t count as a “previous publication” if they care about such things. Well, my chances are about 1 in a 1,000 so whatever. Hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving.

I believe that you’re as cool as you want to be.

I know what it’s like to have self-doubts. Everyone does. It’s especially true when you’re a kid and your friends and family ride you too hard. If you’re constantly being blamed, it’s natural to think, “Maybe it’s all my fault!” That’s not good for self-confidence.

But I believe that you’re as cool as you want to be. I found my way out. It was surprisingly like going on a diet. It takes some effort and you don’t become a cool person overnight.

First I identified the sourpusses in my life. You know, the people who always complain. They’re never happy with me just as I am. I used to make excuses about sourpusses. Maybe they’re just having a bad day. Or – I know! – maybe it’s my fault and if I just “worked harder at our friendship” everything would be OK. That’s a mistake though, because most people don’t change. Once a sourpuss, always a sourpuss. Or to put it another way, you can turn lemons into lemonade but it takes tons of sugar. I was going crazy trying to dump sugar into my relationships. It’s very draining.

Then I realized that instead of trying to “fix” the people around me – I can just walk away and seek out people who are sugary to begin with. Loving people who would care for me. At first I was worried that if I walked away from my sourpuss friends I’d never find new friends. I’d be totally friendless forever. Or maybe there aren’t any good people in the world and this is the best I can do. Lacking self-confidence makes you think crazy things like that. I felt trapped.

Well, I decided doing something was better than nothing. I pushed away just one sourpuss, basically by slipping from weekly get-togethers to monthly. Or never.

Pushing away one sourpuss didn’t do much. But I got a little extra time. And a little extra confidence. Just like with dieting, once I saw that I could do it, I got the courage to keep going. I pushed away more negative people, found more positive people – and suddenly I was as cool as I wanted to be!

These days I like to look at relationships — friends, family, dating, or business – and ask myself one question: “Is this relationship positive?” Everyone has self-doubts. But these days, I believe I have the power to walk away.