What Being A Nerd Has Taught Me About Life
I am personally a mixture of a nerd, dweeb, dork, and geek. Yes I beset every part of that Venn diagram. I don’t measure up very well in social situations, I am definitely the wallflower of every party, and I loathe networking conferences and events where you are forced to socialize with people. Small talk is like kryptonite to me, and I dare you to wait for me to be the first one to strike up a conversation with you, believe me it is a battle that you will not win.
Being the “poindexter” of most social groups has always been my standing in social circles. The problem: I wasn’t even the stereotypical smart nerd. I averaged my way through High School. I was just dorky. I always have been, and imagine I always will be. I was on the entomology team in 9th grade for crying out loud! Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry about it. Trust. Me.
In my humble opinion, nerds are nerds because they take their knowledge about a subject, “nerdy” or not, beyond the surface and dig into the layers beneath:
Where normal people watch Game of Thrones on HBO, Nerds have read all of the books twice, spend hours debating the future of Westeros on message boards, and and have taught themselves High Valyrian.
Where normal people might spend their evenings watching the latest reality TV show, Nerds might spend their time creating and crafting an epic story for their next table-top adventure.
Where normal people might ditch out on a television show because there are subtitles and they feel like watching, not reading, Nerds might spend time exploring the world of anime and even scouring the local book stores for various comic book series.
Yup, that’s me.
So, if you are a fellow nerd you are most likely still with me. If you are not, you are probably scratching your head thinking: “this guy’s nuts,” . . . or just stopped reading a while ago. Either way, this post isn’t for you, but you’re welcome to keep reading if you like.
Here are my top-5 nerdy habits/hobbies. I am not offended by pointing fingers and laughter (honestly, I get all that regardless). I share this list with you because these are some things I am passionate about, or simply bring me joy. Also, these little nerdy nuggets of my life have taught me many life lessons. So, I’ll share those along with the list.
Without being in any particular order, here is my top-5-nerd-alert list:
Collecting Pokemon Cards
There was nothing quite like tearing open the blue, foil casing of a new deck of Pokemon cards. Bright colors, fascinating characters, and high hopes for the rarest holographic cards. As a kid, I was an avid collector of Pokemon cards (and only Pokemon cards). I had many 3-ringed binders stuffed with my massive collection. Some of my earliest memories were meeting up with my best friend in elementary. We would dump our cards out on the floor (in a very Halloween candy stash fashion), and sort through our cards, making trades, and becoming entranced at the newest addition to our collections.
Just recently I started collecting again. I certainly do not collect at the pace I had once set, partly due to my wife not fully embracing this passion, but if I find myself in any antique store, I am often keeping my eyes peeled for those electric blue backs and familiar character faces. My collection is modest as of now. All my cards in their entirety can fit in a single three-ring folder and are stored safely in a drawer of my office desk. Every once in awhile I’ll open up my little book of memories and reminisce on the the “good ol’ days.”
Life Lesson: Never let your inner child fade away completely. Fred Rogers said it best when he said, “The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” Too often we sacrifice the simplistic joys of our childhood so that we can “fit in” to the rest of the adult world. Why? What do you really gain? Simply collecting Pokemon cards again has reminded me that the opinions of others should never delude my desire to find joy in simple, innocent things.
Playing Dungeons and Dragons
I know there is a group of people lighting their torches, ready to run me out of town or burn me at the stake. How dare I indulge in fantasy (wizardry, goblins, sorcery and the like). Pitiful. And I call myself a pastor? Disgusting. Well, when you begin boycotting Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia, I’ll stop and consider your opinion. But, for now, I am going to continue playing and doing what brings me joy.
If you’re not completely in-the-know of all that Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) entails, there is no board; D&D is played in your imagination. Each person is a character that has certain powers and weaknesses. One player, the Dungeon Master, or DM, dreams up the adventures that the players will go on and creates the world, the backstory of its peoples, creatures, magical lore and legends. Yup, it’s the epitome of nerdome.
However, fantasy role-playing games return the power of storytelling to us. D&D sparks my imagination and kindles an interest in everything from geography to languages, history to poetry. It makes me want to create, to be a storyteller and a world builder. And to take a leap and imagine a better world.
Life Lesson: While movies, TV shows and video games offer immersive narratives and worlds, they don’t engage the imagination in the same way that D&D does. The game’s crude tools — its maps, sketches, dice, books, figurines — force you to fill in the gaps. You must bring your imagination to the table to complete the picture. Which leads me to this game’s most powerful magic. Stories not only connect us; they create hope. In D&D, there’s a rule. If you’re trying to do something and you roll a 20, no matter how impossible the odds, it happens. You can slay the troll with a single shot, kiss the girl, and even save the world.
This is the newest edition to my nerd-tactical-belt. I certainly would not consider myself an avid follower/consumer of the vast world of anime, but recently I have dipped my toes into it’s broad pool and have enjoyed it. In its most basic form, anime refers to animation. It’s cartoons for adults, basically. My first encounters with the anime genre came when I was a kid. I would watch shows like Pokemon and Dragon Ball (Z) and Samurai Jack (I grant him access to the anime dynasty). But, as I tried to fit into the “adult world,” I put these childish shows behind me.
But who was I kidding, really? I still love these pervasive stories that ignite wonder inside me. A lot of anime series and movies are visually stunning; curating background artwork that could be framed and hung in an art gallery. The music is often heart-warming and foot-tapping worthy. Many fans admit to watching anime purely for the music and it’s easy to see – or rather, hear – why. And storylines of many of these shows is thorough and respectable. It’s easy to create eye-candy these days that seem to take little attention to follow along; you can merely turn your brain off and go along for the ride. Not anime. Main character die, plots are turned on a dime, and the unexpected is the only thing expected from them.
Life Lesson: Be aware of the time stealers that are often adopted in life. Not many people would say that watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games truly enhances your life. These pastimes are not evil, just useless. Therefore, we have a choice: either learn how to stop wasting time with activities that contribute nothing positive in our life, or learn to make adjustments to these activities so they do add value to your life. It’s true, TV watching, even anime, should never be a top priority in my life, but I have seen value in choosing better content to consume. Anime is deep content. Sure, it’s often times unrealistic, and even goofy, but there are intricate story plots and profound character developments that often stretch my mind. The anime world is just that: an entire world. Ask for a recommendation and give it a try. You’re gonna be watching TV anyways.
Learning the Piano
Can playing the piano really be counted as a nerd attribute? Maybe not, but we all know of the High School stereotypes where the cool kids play sports and the dorks play instruments. This is just how the world works. . .or at least Hollywood’s depiction of the world. The reality is that I enjoy both. I watch the OKC Thunder play basketball any night they hit the court, I play various sports, and hit the gym literally every day. However, alongside that, I have begun learning to play the piano. And let me supplement that by stating I am not musically inclined. I sang a little in High School, but my instrument playing stopped in 3rd grade when I’m pretty sure my mom hid my recorder (you know, the “musical” whistle) from me. So, I am starting from square one with the piano. . .and I absolutely love it.
“There use to be a widespread belief that if you did not begin learning a musical instrument in your childhood or school years, you missed your chance,” says Roy Ernst, professor emeritus at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, “The field of music education didn’t offer many opportunities for adults to learn,” he says. But that thinking is beginning to fade as more and more people are beginning their musical journey at a much later stage of life, many much, much later than mine. There are so many benefits for playing an instrument or singing in a choir. A growing body of research is even showing it can enhance emotional well-being, brain health, cognition and hearing functions. All from music! I would like to claim that these are the reasons I began on this new journey, but I would be lying. I just like the sound of it..
Life Lesson: You probably already see where this life lesson is headed. Don’t let your stage of life stop you from trying something new or learning a new skill. Not only is it good for you: your brain chemistry changes, your learning speed increases, you stave off dementia, but there is a sense of accomplishment you have that cannot be replicated any other way. It is never too late! Luckily I am learning this nugget of knowledge at the youthful age of 25 (almost 26, yikes), but there are many of you who need to hear it again: it is never too late. As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Lean into that desire and go learn something, better yet go master something. Learning, curiosity, and creative thinking all go hand-in-hand.
Again, book reading is slowly emerging from the false stereotype that only the dorkiest of the dorks can be found with their nose in a book, but bare with me as I embrace this last “nerdish” habit. Many of you already know that I spend a considerable amount of my time reading and writing. It’s a pastime, a source of knowledge, a time filler, and a fun adventure all wrapped up. I love everything about books (and yes, I am referring to the ones you can hold in your hand and smell the ink as you flip through their pages). Books are little portals into whole other worlds, or into a person’s mind, or a look into a mirror. They often spark my imagination and critical thinking at the same time. And here is what I love most about books: there’s a reading genre for every literate person on the planet, and whether your tastes lie in classical literature, poetry, fashion magazines, biographies, religious texts, young adult books, self-help guides, street lit, or romance novels, there’s something out there to capture your curiosity and imagination.
I have always enjoyed reading. I can remember the first time I picked up Harry Potter (my first “large” book), and I can remember the first time I set it down after reading it. It was like I watched a good movie in slow motion. I remember buying The Hobbit before leaving on my honeymoon and I remember discovering I owned a signed copy of my favorite fantasy novel. Throughout my life I have been reading and I have created little milestone memories that are often associated with my current book. Reading has always been, and will continue to be, a defining element of who I am.
Life Lesson: Step away from your computer for a little while, crack open a book, and replenish your soul for a little while. There are too many fascinating things out there to learn, too many worlds to explore, and too many questions to be answered, for you not to try out reading. One of my favorite quotes about reading comes from an epic novel by George R.R. Martin. You probably have heard of the series: Game of Throne. Anyways, in the book, a character is quoted, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads lives only one.” There is your life lesson. Now, stop reading this and go pick up a book.
Okay, don’t really stop. Let me at least wrap up my thoughts.
When you boil it all down, being a “nerd” is fun. You stop worrying about what others think of you; instead you live against the “norms” of society and you begin just enjoying life and its simple pleasures. If ever you were mocked and made fun of for your “unusual” interests or hobbies, I am sorry. It’s not fair that a select group of individuals got to determine what is “good” and “acceptable” for the rest of us. You do not have to be afraid any longer. Be yourself.
“That's the wonderful thing with nerds: they're enthusiasts. Not having a life means you get to love things with a passion and nobody bothers you about it.”
― John Burnside, The Glister