Hey you. Yeah, you, over there in the corner of the internet, looking behind you to see who I’m talking to. I’m talking to you, lonely awkward kid who always feels out-of-place and unable to “fit in.” I’m here to tell you it’s going to be okay. There is indeed life out there for all of us who would much rather sit by ourselves and read, or play computer games, or do anything that doesn’t involve human interaction. We go by many names: nerds, geeks, wallflowers, bookworms, gamers, Trekkies, etc. But we all have one thing in common: in groups, we don’t really feel comfortable in our skin. We’re the “weird” ones, who have our own “weird” friends and have an old World War II bayonet near our bed in the very real case of an Orc attack. No? Just me? Okay, just me, but we all have those things that are a bit…odd. But that’s fine. In fact, it’s more than fine: it is Most Excellent.
At this point you’re thinking, “Prove it.” Okay, I will. In the language of our generation’s favorite media sensation: a listicle. Here’s my lessons learned for awkward kids. They came the hard way: living them.
- Survival Instincts. Look, we’ve all got to survive, right? Especially those of us lacking good hand-eye coordination and the body mass needed to take on the football team. Or sometimes, the soccer team. Or the really testosterone-filled part of the chess club. So we develop survival skills. We learn to think on our feet, to become rhetorical masters, to hide really, really well, and to be absurdly polite. This isn’t grovelling, this is survival. Guess what? All those things come in handy as an adult (except the hiding unless you join the Army, more on that later). Quick thinking and rhetoric are prized at all levels of corporations, and will serve you well your whole life. And politeness and empathy are lacking in the world, so by all means, keep that up.
- Romantic Failure. I’m going to start counting the number of times I’ve been shot down, through high school and college. Grab a chair, it could take a while. We are indeed awkward and nerdy, and not as shiny and sexy as the, well, shiny and sexy people. Since we’re more comfortable being alone, we don’t quite have those social skills necessary to talk to someone of the opposite sex without stuttering/blushing/sweating/falling down/throwing up, etc. Rejection is a part of life. A BIG part of it, if you’re me. Heartbreak Ridge? They named that movie after my freshman year. Oddly enough, though, romantic failure makes you stronger. It makes you more understanding of people and it gives you perspective. I’m actually glad I got shot down so many times, because it taught me to get back up again. And also that maybe I should change tactics. Somewhere along the line you’ll get lucky enough to string some intelligible syllables together and someone will fall for you. My beautiful wife did, and we’re both still confused by that.
- Keep Reading. The world is a messy and complicated place. Oftentimes our most favorite realities exist in fiction. There is nothing at all wrong with that. Reading keeps your mind sharp as well as giving you a place to retreat to when things get overwhelming. So don’t stop reading late at night when you should be sleeping, no matter what your parents say.
- Dress Weird. I remember that as a middle and early high schooler I dressed in a bizarre way. What I didn’t realize that I was apparently ahead of my time. Having socks pulled up above your ankles while wearing shorts is actually a thing now. Be that trendsetter, from the future.
- Join the Military. Okay, it doesn’t have to be the military, that was just me. But do something that challenges you and builds your confidence levels. With your innate intelligence paired with confidence, you will be unstoppable. Plus, the military is actually a pretty good home for geeks and nerds. We’re all obsessed with Star Wars, only hang out in our own weird little cliques, and make fun of the jocks in the infantry.
- Keep Writing. I hope to God that somewhere out there, a kid is reading this as she or he types away at a manuscript that they think is going to be the next Harry Potter. News flash: it probably won’t be, but don’t stop writing. Like reading, writing actually makes your mind sharper. It also keeps your creative spirit alive, something that is highly sought after by companies that want to pay you to think. And speaking of that…
- Being Weird? That’s Called Innovating. As weird kids, we tend to spend a lot of our time in other worlds inside our head, often plotting the theoretical demise of people who are mean to us and wooing those attractive people who are ignoring us. That’s okay, it’s just our ingrained creativity and innovating soul. Innovation is the heart of the business world. “Innovate or die” is the name of the game for technology firms, and they want your ideas. Matter of fact, everyone wants your ideas. Sure, you may have to tweak them a little bit and apply some grown-up jargon, but it’s all the same in the end. Geeks and nerds run the world. So be hopeful.
- Keep Dreaming. This is so important. As you get older, you will be told NO more and more often. This will mainly come from grown-ups, but it will also eventually come from your peers. The critical thing is to keep dreaming. Keep thinking of ways to make the world a better place, a more interesting place. We have a shortage of dreams and dreamers in the world, who aren’t thinking about money, power, or fame. Keep dreaming, kid, keep dreaming.
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