How to be truly awesome

Forget passing trends and popularity contests. There are only 4 ways to be genuinely awesome in the eyes of your friends and ourselves.

Danil Nevsky | Stocksy United

Growing up in the ’80s, I wore baggy neon shirts like the Fresh Prince, sported Air-Jordan sneakers, accessorized by getting my slap-bracelet game going, and memorized the lyrics to Ice, Ice Baby. These were trends that had the power to make me super cool and popular. At least, that’s what I thought.

The trends have changed, but I still want to be awesome. As a busy dad, I have less time to obsess over what’s hip, so my incredibly old, slightly rusted Camry or the used iPhone complete with a sparkly pink case that I begged from my mom when she upgraded, should just be ignored.

But while I can no longer keep up with popular fashions, I haven’t given up entirely and I do still strive to be cool in my own ways, like trying to impress my kids by claiming I’m the strongest man in the world, following the newest fads in home-roasting coffee and home-brewing beer, and intentionally moved into an urban neighborhood where all the “cool families” supposedly live. Perhaps most of all, though, I want to be likable and for people to think well of me. I want faces to light up at the thought of hanging out with me and for my name to come up in conversation as someone good to know.

I still want to be awesome in every way, but in a world where what’s cool now will soon be lame, what’s a person to do?

I work in a church and hang out with the youth group, and one day the teenagers took a great amount of joy at mocking me for not knowing how to use Instagram, how to hashtag (#ifigureditout?), or who in the world Justin Bieber is. This reinforced a growing suspicion I’ve had for a while now: it’s impossible to be cool forever, but there must be a better way to be awesome than a lifetime of trend-hopping.

When I began to consider the people I admire most, the ones who are truly awesome, I realized the reasons I admire them actually have nothing to do with their coolness factor. They’re amazing for different reasons entirely. I don’t admire them because they have a fancy car or hip new sneakers. What makes them great has nothing to do with trendiness and everything to do with qualities that surpass superficial signs of coolness. Their awesomeness comes from a deeper source.

Here are the main habits I’ve observed in others that I now seek to emulate in my own quest for authentic awesomeness:

Open-heartedness

We once had a neighbor named Craig who would literally do anything for our family. He would snow-blow our driveway, spray the foundation for spiders, lend me his truck, whatever we needed. When I would thank him, he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “No problem.” It would have been easy for him to claim tiredness from a hard day at work, lock the door, and watch television, but instead he was always ready to lend a helping hand. I don’t think he knew how awesome he was to us—he was open-hearted and didn’t even realize it.

Every day, we have opportunities to love those around us, whether they’re random strangers, co-workers, friends, neighbors, or family. In every situation, we get to choose how we treat others. Most of us have probably read somewhere that marriage is a constant choice to love, and the same is true in all of our relationships. This can cause minor inconveniences like having to feed the neighbor’s fish or give a friend a ride to the airport, or it can be a major commitment like visiting grandma regularly at the retirement home. Whether big or small, people who are awesome choose to be open-hearted and kind even if it’s inconvenient.

Beauty-seeking

Not only do awesome people give time to others, they also take time to appreciate beauty. Research shows that pausing to enjoy art makes us happy, but even more than that, the people I enjoy spending time with appreciate the beauty of each and every moment. Whether gazing at a Van Gogh painting or simply enjoying a mild spring day with a cup of coffee, there’s beauty all around us. If we make a habit of looking, we won’t be disappointed.

Maybe this is why my children are so awesome. Among other things, they’ve taught me to slow down. With them, I’m encouraged to watch a worm wiggle on my hand, observe a bee pollinate a daylily, and discover all the bird nests in a five block radius. I’ve learned to treasure the broken blue egg shells left behind by newborn birds, how to examine a salt crystal under a microscope, and how to savor an ice cream cone.

My kids have also shown me how to decorate a house with homemade artwork and dress fancy for no reason at all. For them, life is a constant wonder, each moment a gift to be unwrapped. On my own, I tend to focus on work, budgets, and chores. I forget what a miracle existence really is, but when my children encourage me to pause and seek beauty, I come away from the experience enriched and more positive about life.

Self-forgetfulness

Because I hurry along too often and fail to appreciate the moment, I often turn inwards. I think of myself, what I need to get done, and what task I need to complete next. The result is a lack of gratitude, especially for those around me. It’s terrible, but sometimes I have no problem cutting in front of another driver on the highway, eating the last cupcake before anyone else gets to it, and avoiding friends who want to talk about relationship woes.

People who are awesome, on the other hand, think of others first. They’re the ones who remember the little things like complimenting me on a haircut or sending a handwritten thank-you note.

Not only does this make someone a joy to be around, but there are hidden benefits to cultivating self-forgetfulness. People who think more about others and less about themselves are able to fearlessly try new things and live without the pressure to be perfect. Mike Austin, a professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, says that this “really frees them up to take risks. They’re not paralyzed with a fear of failure because that’s not their chief concern.”

Purpose-driven

What should I wear today? What movie do I want to see? Should I buy low-fat ice cream? (Never!) Even though I go back and forth a million times about what sandwich I want for lunch, small questions like this are easy.

It’s the big questions we avoid and it shouldn’t be this way because before we know it, we’ve aimlessly wandered through entire decades with no purpose. To get my bearings, I occasionally pause and reflect: Why was I born? What am I meant to do? How do I want to be remembered after I die? These questions matter.

Alex Lickerman writes at Psychology Today, “Having a mission to which you’re committed will make you strong. By keeping your eye focused on the long-term ball of your life’s purpose … short-term set backs will have far less impact on your life-condition.”

Personally, my long term goal is to get to heaven with my family. The more I keep this purpose in mind, the more my actions reflect it. The people I admire have similar long-term goals. They never react thoughtlessly, are not anxious, and generously give of themselves, knowing there’s much more to happiness than short-term success or popularity.

Being awesome has nothing to do with being cool, trendy, or having the most stuff. Instead, it requires looking outside our own needs all the time and thinking instead about how to make others happy. When I do this I break free from being defined and limited by random trends and am able to step into my true identity as a child of God who indeed loves greatly, seeks beauty, thinks about us always, and aims to work all things for good and be with us forever. God is awesome, not the way kids use the word “awesome” to mean “cool,” but in the way that he inspires awe.

If I can somehow inspire people to think not of how cool I am, but at how amazing life is and how wonderful God is, then I will truly have learned how to be awesome.

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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