Major Nerds and Super Geeks: We Become Specialists in What We are Naturally Good At and Love to Do Anyway

In order to be cool these days, you have to embrace your inner dork.

By a college student’s junior year at a large university, there is no denying what he or she is majoring in.  Because by that point, there are certain undeniable quirks which have been weaved into the way they speak, how they spend their free time, or most importantly, who their friends are.  So when I chose the term “Major Nerds” as part of the title for this, it’s a play on words with a dual meaning like the classic TV show “Family Matters”.  It seemed to me that while in I was in college, a student became a nerd or a geek for whatever their college major was.

For me, the easiest ones to spot were the drama majors.  When a drama major walked into a room, they basically sang everything they said.  Their private conversations were never private; instead, everyone else in the room was an audience member for their traveling play production.  Of course they were also some of the most sincere and friendliest I knew in college.  Or were they just acting?  I guess I’ll never know.

I earned my degree from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.  So it’s no surprise that in addition to every typical degree you could think of, they had a few peculiar options as well.  In particular, I’m thinking about the Worship majors.  These were the students planning a career in leading worship music at large churches… I guess.  Because every time you saw them, they were carrying a guitar playing “Shout to the Lord”, somewhat successfully drawing in a crowd of people singing along.

And if they weren’t doing that, they were inviting people to their “Night of Praise”: As part of their graduation requirements, the Worship majors had to entice an audience to come to a worship service in which the Worship major ran the thing.  For me, it was the most random thing someone could major in at our college.  I just couldn’t understand why a person would be willing to limit or brand themselves with such a specific degree.

What if after a few years of leading worship at a church, they decide they’d rather work in a bank?  And during the job interview, the employer says to them, “So, I see you have a college degree in… worship?”  And too, it’s just a weird concept to me that a person has to learn to worship God or lead others in worshipping God.  It makes sense, but also, like I told my friend James Campbell, whom I recently lost contact with because he evidently “quit” facebook: “Is that really something that you have to be taught?  Isn’t that comparable to having to take a class on ‘how to make love’?”

Then again, I’m not the one who feels I was called by God to work in the ministry.  So of course I can’t relate.  As for me, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I was an English major.  To caricature us, I would say we were a strange hybrid: Decently liberal and very artistic on the inside, yet pretty conservative and sophisticated on the outside.  In other words, baby Literature professors in training.

Our heads were in the clouds, yet our feet were on the ground.  We were trained to dissect and diagram every situation into literary components; we were the Grammar Police to our dorm mates (see I am the Human Spell Check).  We were the only students who actually enjoyed writing papers.  In fact, I didn’t start out as an English major- I became one my junior year when I realized that if I enjoyed writing term papers, and all my friends came to me to proofread theirs, that maybe I should stop looking at some big dream of a career and just to what came easy to begin with.

And though those last two paragraphs about English majors were written in past tense, I can’t say that any of those characteristics about me have changed, simply because I graduated.  In fact, they’ve only increased in intensity.  In my office, I’m still the guy people come to when they need a letter written or an important e-mail proofread.  Obviously, I still enjoy writing- you know, hence the website and everything.

And really, that’s the way it works.  Most people end up majoring in whatever comes most natural for them anyway, for however they are wired.  Is it true that Finance and Accounting majors love working with numbers?  Sure, but it also comes easier for them then it would for me.  We all still like being challenged in our particular field.  When we can succeed in the difficult tasks of our specialty, it furthers us in becoming a locally recognized expert, equipped with knowledge and experience that impresses and possibly intimidates those who in different fields than we are.

I can tell you why the “k” in knife is silent and I can spell any word correctly without thinking about it, but I can’t do numbers.  I can’t do science.  Nor am I a computer whiz.  There are so many things I’m not good at and that I know little to nothing about.  But when it comes to the English language, literature, creative writing, and any kind of written communication in general, I’m your guy.  In other words, I was an English major nerd.  And always will be.

I use the word “nerd”, but I could say “expert”, or “go-to-guy”, or “whiz”, or even “buff”.  It’s all the same.  We all like to be good at something.  And when we can, we like to THE person for our niche.  Which often means we all have a bit of quirkiness attached to us.  Everyone’s at least a little weird.   Even the people we think who are the most normal.

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The Blog Sniper (or, The Classic Case of the Compliment Intertwined with Condescending Criticism)

Um… thanks?

I’m convinced there are certain people in the world who truly can not (or will not) simply compliment another person- they feel they are doing the person a favor by also incorporating some sort of condescending criticism which picks at a minor detail to negate the positive vibes of the compliment itself.  Sort of like the way certain people can not (or will not) truly apologize, by saying something lame like this: “Well if I did something to hurt your feelings I’m sorry…”  That kind of apology translates as “I’m sorry you’re such a baby and sorry that you’re trying to make me look like the bad guy.”

Just last week when I published What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101, one of the points I touched on was “Knowing How to Actually Compliment Someone”.  Then ironically yesterday a random stranger acted out exactly what I had just mocked a few days before.  Click here (healthnutshell: Ketchup Vs. Mustard) to read a post I wrote which contrasts the types of food that ketchup and mustard are generally paired with.

In case you didn’t click on the link and haven’t read the comment I’m referring to, here it is again: Bahaha… you make a good point, but I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily. XD This is good stuff to know, but I also feel that it is a little fanatical. Thanks for the information, though!”

Here’s a breakdown of that comment:

“Bahaha”- A condescending laugh which translates as “that’s ridiculous”.

“You make a good point.”- An honest compliment.

“But I doubt that by avoiding ketchup, you have succeeded in eating healthily.” – A correction of my quirky lifestyle.  Totally missing the point, since I didn’t write the post in a tone of absolutes: “Because ketchup, in most cases, is paired with unhealthy foods that are either processed or fried.” Throughout the post I downgrade ketchup, yes, but I never say I refuse to eat it or that I don’t ever eat it.  Nor did I say that I am trying to eat healthy by simply avoiding ketchup.  Instead, I said: “So my general rule of thumb is, I stay away from foods that are enhanced by ketchup.”

“XD”- A slang symbol meaning “big smile”, an attempt to lighten the mood back.

“This is good stuff to know…” Another compliment.

“But I also feel it is a little fanatical.” – A call to put me on the defense.  Really?  I’m a fanatic just because I made an observation that typically ketchup is a condiment for less healthy foods, namely processed and fried?

“Thanks for the information…”– A expression of gratefulness.

“…though.”- In other words, “Thanks for the info, despite how laughable most of it was.”

Looking through each line of the comment, it is interesting the way this reader used the pattern “negative, positive, negative, positive…”  In fact, this may be the most perfect example I’ve ever seen of the classic case of the compliment intertwined with criticism.  That takes talent.

I literally laughed out loud when I read the comment.  Because it’s so tacky.  I think, “Make up your mind, either insult me, or compliment me, but don’t do both at the same time.  Commit.”  I totally respect someone’s opinion if they truly disagree with mine and don’t have a subtle motive to undermine my efforts.  But they have to be cool about it.  Etiquette still exists.

Otherwise, like in this case, it just becomes a joke to me.

But it’s evident from that comment that the person probably makes a daily habit of correcting everyone else, likely with a sarcastic tone, in an subconscious effort to feel in control.  Similar to the case of Some People Like Being Offended and/or Taking Advantage…

Be excellent to each other.

This event also reminds me of an excerpt of Christian Lander’s book, Stuff White People Like.  He is explaining that some white people let a little bit of positive feedback go to their heads too easily and that it eventually can get out of hand.  Therefore, he gives this advice to prevent that from happening:

“Do not dole out your praise like pinata candy… it is best to tease them with little bits of praise, balanced with a few barbs: ‘I have to hand it to you for putting KRS-One on that party mix.  I mean, you went with a pretty well-known song, but still, good job'”.

It’s just funny that in the Internet world it’s somehow more acceptable to go around criticizing people for the sake of trying to sound smarter than someone else who was creative enough to invent.  But I guess with the wave of online writers come just as many online critics.  And my guess is that the critics aren’t themselves inventing any original content- just looking to start a sophisticated food fight about ketchup and mustard.

I say let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”.  And when possible, find ways to truly compliment people, not find perceived fault in their creativity.  There’s not enough of sincere complimenting going on in the world.  Especially when “compliments intertwined with condescending criticism” are so popular.

Sammy sings praises, not pious put-downs.