Celebrating a new definition of the term. By Kim Pham (Chair, Tech@NYU)
I’ve noticed quite recently that I only surround myself with extraordinarily nerdy people.
Perhaps this conjures up an image of a circle of poorly-dressed, skinny dudes staying up late to play Settlers. But that’s not the case.
(Erm, not always the case. But I’ll get to that.)
First, lets backtrack to the mid-2000s - when our young protagonist was first entering middle school. The term “nerd” absolutely terrified me. As an Asian female in a Bostonian high school that was 95% Italian and Irish, I stuck out like a sore thumb. While it was never a true pain point, I was extremely conscious of anything that made me different from my peers - perceived orreal.
Small anecdotes, recalled by my parents many years later, reinforced this realization. I dropped piano at a young age (despite having quite some talent) because I was terrified of being billed the “token Asian pianist.” I never wore my Mathletes shirt to class on the day of tournaments, even when all my teammates insisted I did - as I was team captain. I artfully crafted a persona - one that purposefully toned down my “Vietnamese-ness” (and thus, my nerdiness).
It took many, many years for me to realize that this concept of “nerdiness” that I so feared was simply a manifestation of passion. My younger self’s interpretation of a “nerd” was really just someone who thrived off of a hobby, interest, or lifestyle.
Looking back, I’m a little disappointed in myself for being so heavily influenced by the negative connotation of this term. It disheartens me that curiosity about a particular passion had carried such detrimental implications. I feel like maybe I wasted some of those years.
Fast forward to my 20s - I fucking dig nerds. It is wonderfully intoxicating to be near someone whose enthusiasm is contagious. I want to get drunk on others’ nerdiness.
I have nerdy friends with whom I discuss new products and talk tech, while dancing in a downtown nightclub. I have nerdy friends who can happily harp on and on about a particular longboard. I have nerdy friends who willingly traveled to a remote Belgian village just to try out a local craft beer. I have nerdy friends who eagerly discuss new boutique hotels opening up in town.
And sometimes, I get completely lost during these conversations. But I’m in love with that. I don’t need to completely understand what you’re crazy about - just as long as I know that you’re crazy about something.
I’ve found that this concept reaches far beyond my bubble (lol get it) of tech. One of NYC’s greatest strengths is its sheer diversity. With industries like fashion, media, and finance in our backyard and talent from all over the world here, we are blessed to be in the presence of such concentrated and collective nerdiness.
Because of this, I find myself waking up everyday excited to get out of bed and pursue my loves - in food, in technology, in people. I find myself consistently drawn to those who are motivated by a deep-rooted love - from classic French culinary techniques to tilt-shift photography to late-night Settlers of Catan. I find myself always in the company of these “nerds,” whose curiosity and stories fuel my own. I find myself gaining confidence in my own passions, and the potential beauty that can come from me being open and sharing that love.
I am happily and proudly embracing this new-found definition - one that is not stigmatized by a perceived lack of social skill and high school-style ostracizing.
This new definition of “nerd” is one that celebrates the mad, the inspired, the passionate.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
Are you proud to call yourself a nerd?
About the blogger: Kim Pham (@kim617) is the Chair of Tech@NYU, NYC's largest student designer and developer organization. She is also a founding partner at Dorm Room Fund. She is currently a senior at NYU and working at HowAboutWe.