About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerd Q&A: Straight Talk

Here's a question that I personally answered a while ago, but after thinking about it, I figured there may be other people out there who want some straight talk.

Do you have any personal advice (not a gimmick or step-by-step program) for someone who is socially anxious?

Yes, actually. You know, I like step-by-step instructions, but they can be a little disconnected, and sometimes you just want to know what other people think, how they feel, and how they get through life.

So I’m going to share a few things that I’ve figured out over the years.

No one wants to look like a fool, but everyone does sometimes. Fairly often, actually. And it’s OK.

Have you ever had that situation where you are about to greet someone, but for whatever reason you can’t decide whether to say “hi” or “hello” and it comes out “hi-llo”? Happens to me at least once a month. When this happens I could dwell on it and maybe never talk to that guy again, but I have learned that he’s going to forget it within 20 seconds, so I’ve decided it’s not worth my time to keep that moment alive in my own mind.

Humans are fallible, goofy creatures. We are going to do embarrassing things. Our problem is that we want to deny that part of humanity and let ourselves get so caught up in worrying about doing the wrong thing that we shut down our instinctual ability to just react to stuff properly.

When I was much younger I used to think I would never have a girlfriend until I had a car and money for dates (and sparkling wit, and lots of really cool hair on my head). At some point though, I realized that other guys had no car and no money, and yet they had girlfriends. I still don’t know if I was making excuses so I didn’t have to deal with dating, or if I was just operating under this ridiculous set of requirements for having a girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong, a car and money are nice things, but the girl or boy who really likes you won’t care about them.

As I've gotten older I’ve expanded this realization to other aspects of social interaction. For example, if you think you have nothing to offer a conversation because you don’t have a thrilling life story, or that you’re not funny enough to make people laugh, guess what? The vast majority of people live very tame lives and are no more funny than you are, and they still meet people and make friends. What I realized is that when I say “I can’t” because of some set of prerequisites I’ve set for myself, I've just set up an artificial barrier to getting what I want.

Have you ever seen someone really dumb getting through life just fine? I’m not trying to make fun of anyone, just trying to point out that I’ve seen really stupid people who still get what they want. I think that the reason they succeed is that they don’t ask themselves “what if I do this wrong?” and they don't dwell on their failures. I think we could all learn a LOT from stupid people.

Fear is a huge motivator. Yeah, it’s wise to ask “what if I get this wrong?” when you’re building a nuclear reactor, but it really doesn’t matter when you’re just looking for some new friends, or even a date. There are billions of people on the planet. If you make a complete idiot of yourself, you can always find someone new to hang out with.

But you really won’t have to find someone new, if you like the people you’re with. Here’s a huge discovery I wish I had made earlier in life: what people think of you is nowhere near as important as you think it is. There are two reasons for this: other people won’t care about or remember 90% of the stuff you do, and you’re just as important as they are.

Think about that first part. How many embarrassing things can you remember other people doing? Try and make a list of ten embarrassing things that one person you know has done. It won’t be easy.

Now think about the second part. Do you ever worry you’ll say something that makes people think you’re weird? How about doing something silly that makes people laugh at you? Worrying about that makes no sense; the implication is that you need to suppress your own personality because other people might be offended by something you say. So what? You can’t control what other people think, so why worry about it? Unless you’re talking to a judge or someone similar who holds your fate in their hands, don’t worry about what they think. 

Your life, personality, interests, everything about you is just as important as that of other people. There are people who make it seem like football or fashion or politics are the most important things on the planet, but those are just their interests. You might be into literature or science or grammar, all of which are equally important (in the universal scheme of things). As long as you’re not shoving your interests onto people who don’t like them, like what you like and don’t worry about it.

I think I can boil that down to: people should respect you and you should respect them as equally important. More importantly, you should respect yourself.

You’re here, reading this, which means you got this far in life with nothing but what you know, and you haven’t irrevocably screwed anything up yet. If you discover a situation where you truly need something you don’t have, find a way to get it. Otherwise, move forward with what you do have. There will always be situations when you think “that could have gone better” but by then you can't change it, so let it go and move on to the next thing.

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