I don’t know about you, but a lot of people see me as nerdy and geeky. Growing up, the labels intimidated and debilitated me. Athletes seemed to get more attention and respect. I associated doing well in science and math with being made fun of. Since I did well in those subjects I hid my ability and didn’t make a show of it. When I started college I took a couple science classes, but mostly chose humanities. I felt like a lot of people avoided science and math because they were socially less acceptable. It seemed like a lot of people who took math and science lacked social skills.
In junior year, after taking a year off from school, I finally decided I liked physics too much to keep avoiding it and decided to major in it. It’s not that I didn’t care what other people thought (I’m sure I posted on how much people who say “You shouldn’t care so much what other people think” misunderstand what and whom they are talking about), but that the challenge to my social life it would take was worth it. Anybody who believes that society respects science as much as any other field has no idea what they are talking about.
Anyway, for years studying science hurt my social life. I couldn’t talk to most people about what I did. A large number of conversations ended with “I could never understand physics. I haven’t touched it since high school.”
Once I got to business school I started to learn leadership and social skills I could have learned long before. Though I had stopped practicing physics and science and math in general I never stopped loving them. I never realized everyone connected two things that didn’t have to be connected: loving science and math doesn’t have to mean you don’t have social skills. I think most people expect it so they are prone to see it. Sadly, in my experience I find many people in science and math don’t learn social skills, contributing to the expectation. Likewise, people who do more popular things can make themselves as socially unacceptable.
But by adulthood, you have to take responsibility for the identity you want to present to the world. If you don’t learn how to do that, society will see you as socially inept, but from my perspective, you will have chosen that identity. Meanwhile, if you choose to learn social skills, you can practice whatever you want and people will see you as you project yourself. You can lead people to your identity, not have it forced on you.
In other words, for adults, nerdiness and geekiness are just elements of a style you can choose to convey or not.
That realization liberated me to express myself as I choose. It allows me to go full geek or full nerd when I feel like it, knowing when I choose to change the facet I show people, they’ll go along with the change. Once they know I have a PhD in physics I can’t completely remove that element from their identity of me, but that’s not such a big deal. Before they learn that about me, people who just met me sometimes think I’m a musician, artist, or businessman.
I wish I had learned that earlier. I could have done so many things I wanted to do without fear. I would have lived more of my life by my choice instead of out of fear. I would have had this freedom earlier.
EDIT: I found my post on people saying “You shouldn’t care so much what other people think”: “People who say “Why do you care what other people think” are hypocritical, insensitive, self-important, and antagonistic.”
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book