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Winning Money, Success, and Love on a Planet Full of Jocks and Charmers

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Some truthy things to say to nerds.

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Jul 22, 2015   [permalink]

About this bloggy thing: Revenge of the Jocks

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"NERDS!"

Living here in the 21st century, you may be blissfully unaware of how far nerds have come since the middle of the 20th, when the word itself was considered a biting slur, just above "fruit" and "wimp" and just below "dork" and "loser" in the Asshole's Dictionary. Socially speaking, being a nerd was a real handicap, like being deaf or obese or hilariously stupid. There was no way to hide it, no way to embrace it, no way to escape to a place where it didn't seem to matter. As the 1970s marched on into the 1980s, even homosexuals -- at the time, an equally despised minority -- had formed up an identity movement that earned them the sort of grudging acceptance denied to the likes of you and me.

But then came Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Huey Lewis and Elvis Costello, Madeline Albright and Tina Fey, to reassure the world that it was not only hip to be square, but that we could even become rich, famous, powerful and popular without compromising our nerdish ideals. That was important: just knowing such a thing was possible outside of lazy-summer daydreams. There was no march on Washington, no petition for redress of grievances, just a sort of gradual changing of the guard that put more and more of us in positions of influence.

On a less geopolitical level, as science fiction and comic books took over the movies, as computers took over people's jobs and homes and finally even their social lives, as smartphones and audiovisual gadgetry became the must-have accessories for people in every walk of life, suddenly that tangle of peculiar skills and knowledge in our heads had an outlet. We were the new gearheads -- the people who knew how to fix things, or set them up so they wouldn't break in the first place. We were the new economists, too, and the new astrologers. We often knew in advance what was going to work, what was going to sputter and flop, what was better capitalized or technically superior but nevertheless doomed, and why. All of a sudden, nerds had a kind of crystal ball, and ordinary people sometimes actually cared what we thought.

WIRED magazine and PC World took their rightful place alongside Sports Illustrated and Field & Stream, while Napster killed the record companies, Craigslist killed the newspapers, and the Netflix/YouTube/Amazon/Hulu complex cast a long shadow across the fortunes of TV. Finally, finally, the nerds had come of age, and were openly, somewhat fearfully welcomed to the great table of Western culture. Once our powers were known, people wanted us on their side!

But let's face it, Poindexter, we've been co-opted. The world is still run by those same C-student jocks who used to harass us in high school, and as far as they're concerned, we're the help. Look around: for every Mark Zuckerberg there are a dozen Donald Trumps; for every gawky H. Ross Perot there are a hundred Bushes and Clintons and Kennedys smoothly telling us how it's going to be. Chances are you yourself have a boss, teacher, parent, supervisor, customer, investor, partner, department head, CEO or Board of Directors looking down at you from some lofty perch, clucking softly at your strange ways and your even stranger refusal to conform to their standards of "normal" behavior. Or even acknowledge the concept of normality! In fact, they look down on you even when you do conform: that fat sack of shit from marketing can listen to the radio all day, quoting the band names and album names and year of release as each song rolls by, and somehow it's cool when he does it, but if you tried the same thing they'd call you autistic and suggest a stint on the therapist's couch.

No exaggeration: in mixed company the acceptance of nerds is like the acceptance of immigrants or cops or the homeless; it's narrow, contextual, vaguely condescending, and shot through with prejudices and untested (indeed, untestable) assumptions about our character and inner lives. At best we're presumed to be weak, clumsy, vaguely effeminate (or in the case of women, insufficiently feminate) Asperger's victims with no ability to sell, socialize, dress, mate, or hold our end up in any sort of competition. At worst, we're suspected of being crazy -- all our creative energy and cutting-edge insight recast as the glitching of a badly overclocked processor.

That's not to say the jocks, preppies, cheerleaders and yearbook committee can't form bonds of genuine affection with us. They can, and do. But would you rather be the in-crowd's token geek, or the prince of a different planet?

And yeah, some of the dirt is true: intelligence and creativity really are associated with higher levels of neuroticism, bipolarism, cutting our own ears off, and general emotional paralysis. More to the point: to play up our key strengths, we nerds have spent years feeding our brains while the C-students were chasing fashions and footballs and members of the opposite sex. Where we've installed mental apps for calculus and literature, Greek mythology and perhaps a foreign language or two, they've accreted a no-less-formidable playbook of body language and face charms, staged tantrums and heartstring-plucking social nuance that let them seize the initiative, control the agenda and generally outmaneuver us in almost any situation.

Make no mistake: they're better at this than you'll ever be, and if you try to beat them at their own game you will (a) lose, (b) look bad doing it, and (c) miss out on the chance to meet the world and its people on your own terms and come out smiling. Sooo...

Trust me, this blog is not about being phony.

It's not about winning or losing.

It's not about who's right or wrong, or better or worse.

It's not about conformist suppression of your own true self to fit in with the kids at the popular table.

That said, if you fall into too many of the stereotypes the cool kids have defined for you, then in a very real sense you stop being a person to them and become instead a sort of caricature, easily marginalized or dismissed. This is basic human nature, and you ignore it at your peril, because it affects your prospects in college, at work, on the dating scene, and even in established relationships with people who know and love you.

The key is presentation; being true to yourself doesn't mean you can't put your best foot forward or, indeed, learn a thing or two from the world of C-students. Results will be as varied as the human population itself, but being yourself -- the best possible version of yourself -- is one of the keys to lasting happiness. You may also find that an effort to make yourself more tolerable to other people also makes your life more enjoyable, period. In this sense, self-improvement really is its own reward.

Oh, maybe you don't need the advice in this blog. Maybe you're already cool enough, or you're in a situation where you're not expected to fit in with "normal" people, or you just don't care. If that's the case, please tell everyone you know about this blog anyway (in fact,tell them more than once) for the benefit of others. However, the mere fact that you clicked this link tells me not only that your game needs work, but that you're aware of the fact. So let's fix your broken future, hyah?

Fair warning: the text may get rather acerbic in places, but it's all in a tough-love spirit, because we really are in this together. Most of all, though, this blog is meant to be amusing. Good advice (or any advice, really) is hard to deliver and even harder to receive with a straight face, so we're not going to try for anything here but rude and silly, and if you take this blog (or yourself) too seriously you're missing the point!

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