I’ve been thinking about this post off and on for a week now. Mostly prompted by my own Birthday and the introspection that inspires in me, but also driven by having finished the second season of the Penny Arcade Web series. The season finale talked a lot about Jerry and Mike (the creators of Penny Arcade) and their experiences in school being “nerds” and what their adult life is like. It’s something Wil Wheaton has talked extensively about on his blog. I figured it’s time that I give it a whirl.
I didn’t have a good time in traditional schools growing up. I’m a tall guy, and I was always on the taller side for my age, but I still got picked on a lot. I didn’t feel like I was bigger then anyone that’s for sure. Even as a kid (I mean like 8 years old here) I liked nerdier things, I thought Star Trek the Next Generation was the most awesome show that could ever be on TV. I got hooked on the X-Men animated series on Saturday mornings on Fox and that inevitably lead to collecting comics. I was one of the smarter kids in my classes, but I always had a hard time socializing and making friends. I was shy and awkward socially even before girls really entered the equation.
In Middle School I discovered Tolkien and from that D&D. At lunch, my friends and I hung out in our home room and played Chess or Magic the Gathering. I sucked at Gym Class especially at running (asthma) or anything requiring hand-eye coordination. In 8th grade I proudly came to school in a Starfleet Uniform with full Klingon make up and thought it was just the coolest costume ever. Not everyone agreed. I wasn’t getting beat up on a daily basis like some people who talk about getting bullied. Generally it was just mean jokes, pranks, and isolation. The things I thought were “cool” just weren’t that cool to my class mates.
My first two years of High School sucked pretty consistently. I had a pretty tight small group of friends. But it was a big school and people thought I was an easy target. Probably mostly due to my lack of confidence. I got in some fights, that mostly resulted in teachers breaking it up before a clear victor could be established either way, but they were also pretty unskillful on my part. I changed schools for my Junior & Senior years to a much smaller and smarter school. It wasn’t a true charter school, it was basically a great big experiment inspired by the Dot Com boom, and was very technology focused. We had a computer at every desk. By and large this place was heaven for me, and it was the first place that I had a large group of friends. A lot of the students there had escaped other school where they had been having similar experiences as myself. This was the Nerd school, where the people who would have qualified as the “cool kids” at my old school were in the vast minority. It was the first place where I really started to learn that being a nerd was not only alright, it was a good thing. I flourished there, and when I identify myself by which High School I went to, I identify as a student from there and mostly forget about the other place.
I wouldn’t say college was the same experience, but my nerdiness was a lot more acceptable there. People generally took me for who I was. Sometimes that turned into friendships, not always but it never really turned negative either. Being the smart kid is encouraged in college. The teachers aren’t “the enemy” at least not usually. No one is really resistant to that awesome process of learning shit. That isn’t to say we always enjoy the subject, but we’re also not teenagers in High School anymore at the peak of our instantaneous rebellion phase.
Well that covers school, but what about the real world? I won’t go so far as to say that nerds rule the world, I don’t think we do. But we do really well for ourselves out here. I’ve found ways to turn my nerdy nature to my advantage in business. For instance, I use to play around with Excel for fun, usually for D&D related purposes. I taught myself more things about Excel then most people learn in a semester long class about Microsoft Office or people who use it every day, but under utilize it because they don’t even think to push the boundaries of what the software can do. One of my nerdier aspects is that I’m very aware if not hyper aware of myself and where my position is in the terrain around me, especially socially. It’s made me very introspective. I use that trait regularly in customer service to examine people and situations I encounter. I can jump in and tackle a problem in the moment, but I’m also very good at stopping afterwards and looking back to see how the problem could have been avoided, or how I could have handled it better.
There’s a web & media campaign out there regarding bullying which has drawn increasing media attention lately. The It Gets Better Project it’s mostly about giving the victims of bullying hope for the future, that it gets better out in the real world. It’s a great message, and I approve, but having been one of those kids, I had parents and counselors and teachers say “it gets better” to me, and that didn’t do me a whole hell of a lot of good at the time. I gave me hope to keep struggling on, but it didn’t stop the bullying then, and it doesn’t now. I appreciate the movement and the effort, I just wonder if it isn’t attacking the problem from the wrong side. But then that’s probably another blog post.
So anyways, as an adult I’ve learned to fly my Nerd Flag high and proud. I’ve started going to conventions and I’m not embarrassed of my nerdy tattoos or nerdy hobbies. I’ve also come to realize that almost everyone has a little nerd in them about something, at least most passionate and successful people do. It’s not always about the things that most people would consider Nerdy, but the guy that can tell you all the stats of every member of his fantasy football league is nerding out about football. The GM of my property can talk for hours about architecture and construction methods, he’s a construction nerd. My beloved fiancée, doesn’t choose to embrace the nerd label, but she loves American history, she’s even played a drinking game based around naming the US Presidents. In the end, I love being a Nerd, even though it hasn’t always been an easy path to walk, I wouldn’t have it be any other way.