Marketing Eye

Are cool kids doomed for failure?

I don't know about you, but when I went to school, the coolest kids in the class who were destined for greatness somehow fell short of their schoolyard celebrity status and became, well, um, not as successful as their parents and friends first thought.

I remember all those cool  kids who seemed to have it all at the ripe age of 14, while I sat in the library reading a book because, quite frankly, I wasn't as cool, nor did I win any particular popularity contest to speak of.

Instead, I wrote my weekly debates and hoped that the cool kids' "coolness" would somehow rub off on me and overnight, I could hang onto their coattails too. But that was not to be - instead, I spent every free hour at school secretly hoping that one day I would be cool too.

As I became older, my luck changed. I didn't become cool as much as I hoped I would, but instead, I used the only thing going for me to gain some notoriety in other areas. 

Seems like I am not alone, although I am a bit ashamed to admit my shortfall in the schoolyard out loud or on this blog for that matter.

Likewise, I doubt that I am gaining any type of popularity by putting my name in the same paragraph as the people I am about to mention.

Why are cool kids doomed for failure?

It's simple. The rich list is not full of cool kids - it's full of nerds, unpopular people and those who are sometimes known to be lacking in any type of IQ which resonates with the education system.

Mostly, they are college dropouts, come from poor families, were bullied at school and, believe it or not, they got "C's".

High School dropout David Karp is Tumblr's founder and CEO. He started learning HTML at 11 years old and dropped out of school at 15. His net worth today is a staggering $200 million and his "mug shot" has been featured on the cover of Forbes.

Michael Dell wasn't part of the cool kids brigade but was making more money at 15 than his history or economics teachers. He went on to build a company that is now worth more than $14 billion.

My personal favorite, Steve Jobs, dropped out of college after just six months, wore coke bottle glasses and had more geeky traits than you could ever imagine, yet went on to become one of the most acclaimed and recognised business people of all time, with billions in his bank account.

Sean Parker from Napster didn't make it to college but was making $80,000 per year in his high school year. He was also the founding president of Facebook. Although he became cool when he made some cash, he didn't win popularity contests at school and couldn't keg-stand for the life of him. 

Everyone has seen David Fincher's cinematographic adaptation of Mark Zuckerberg's success story "The Social Network" and you could see how a young Zuckerberg wasn't exactly popular and was somewhat nerdy.

One reason that might explain why not-so-cool kids succeed in later life is that they have much more time on their hands. They are not hanging in the "in" crowd, don't get invited to parties and need to hide in the library in order to not get beat up or teased endlessly because they don't fit in, haven't got fashionable clothing at their disposal and stutter every time someone remotely cool walks in their path.

As for the cool kids at my school, they became single mothers, secretaries, laborers and school teachers - vocations that didn't rely so heavily on high school results. In my year, you didn't have to be overly bright to be a school teacher, unlike someone studying medicine or law. 

Like Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs and Dell, it appears that the rich list is cluttered with "not-so-cool" school kids, but highly desirable adults. I bet if they were single right now, they wouldn't struggle for a date. Amazing what a few zeroes at the end of your name can do.

So explaining to your children that it doesn't matter that you don't have the right color shirt on, or that you actually like your glasses just the way they are - may mean that they too become the inspirational entrepreneurs that rule the world, rather than the popular kid in the school yard on social benefits.

Were you one of the cool kids? Did you succeed? Share your story!

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comment ( 1 )
  • Maria Prawitera
    Maria Prawitera
    03 Apr 2013

    Nice topic! But I think it's not a matter of being one of the cool kids or one of the nerds. I think it depends more on one's personality. I believe that the ones who will succeed at the end are the ones who are high-achievers in person. You can be a cool kid, or a nerd, AND have a high-achiever personality.

    Are managers or entrepreneurs all geeks and nerds? I don't believe so. Richard Branson for example is very-well known for his adventurous personality, and he did not succeed in school either, thus was never a nerd.

    I think that anyone can become successful if they WANTED to, AND if given the opportunities! :)