What Makes a Nerd? Passion.

While at the park flying the other day, one of the swarm of kids who came up to me was super interested in looking at the drone and asking how it worked. This isn’t new: kids love the drones, though this kid was one of the hyper-enthusiastic bent rather than the more shy/reserved ones who watch from a distance. My wife asked him if he was going to be interested in being a nerd in the future.

Now, this kid was in 3rd grade. The correct answer to that answer is “No” — in third grade, nerd is a pejorative. So I was unsurprised to hear him say “No, I’m not going to be a nerd when I grow up.” His reaction was entirely in line with what I’d expect from anyone his age asked that question.

My lovely wife followed up with the typical question: “Ah, what do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a totally typical question that I will ask to the kids who are interested in my drones; typical answers vary, but I’ll often get “video game developer” or “computer programmer”; since sometimes they know I work for YouTube, “I want to work at Google/YouTube” isn’t all that uncommon. These days, these pursuits are all pretty mainstream (at least among the typical “white upper-middle class 3rd graders living in Cambridge, MA” who I typically run into with these answers). But I was a bit amused to hear his answer:

“A geologist.”

At this, Jess and I both started chuckling: Oh, I’m not going to be a nerd when I grow up, I’m going to be a geologist!

The kid looked at both of us laughing and was confused. “What’s so funny?”

I responded: “Well, to me, being nerd is largely about being passionate and excited about som…”

He interrupts: “Oh! Yes, then I’ll definitely be a nerd when I grow up.”

(The rest of the sentence was going to be “about something, especially technical pursuits or scientific pursuits”; though you can be a nerd about just about anything, to me it’s strongly associated with unique scientific explorations.)

The eagerness with which he was willing to commit to being passionate about his interests — interrupting me in order to do so — was charming. Given his overall attitude, it was no surprise to me, of course: this is someone in whom I could recognize a more bold version of myself. (Despite my attitude later in life, in third grade, I was somewhat reserved, having felt myself be crushed under the heels of terrible behavior of kids at that age.) He was excited and enthusiastic and passionate was a great word to describe his interest.

A nerd is passionate. Whether it’s about drones, or computers, or geology or sewing; whether it’s about family history or library science or chemistry: passion is what makes the difference. Whether you’re in third grade or 30 years old: Find your passion. Find your way to be a nerd.

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