Unleash Your Inner Geek

Six ways to embrace what you love, let more of your authentic self into the world, and maybe — just maybe — open unexpected doors of opportunity.

Neil Shurley
Sep 19 · 10 min read

Deep inside, we’re all geeks.

Now I’m not trying to say that everybody loves Star Wars and comic books and computers (although, come on, admit it — these days we all kind of do). But there are things that you know too much about and that you love so much it’s almost embarrassing and that if given the choice you would spend entirely too much time and money supporting it. Something that resonates deep inside you. Something about which you totally geek out.

For me, it’s Star Trek. In fact, I’d say that I am all the way over at the nerd end of the dial — I like to research and think and read about Star Trek probably more than I actually even like watching it. (We could probably have an extensive discussion about geek vs nerd and what are the differences and what are the similarities and which is better, but I think we could all tend to agree that geeks are preferable. A geek at least has an active social life.)

But the thing you geek out about might not have anything to do with more “traditional” geek interests. You could be a knitting geek, or political geek, or dog geek, or Mediterranean cooking geek — it doesn’t matter. The point here is that you have at least one topic you are passionate about, one thing you are a geek about, and that’s what I want you to embrace. And unleash.

Because letting out your inner geek means letting more of yourself — your inner self, your real self — into the world. And that’s what it’s all about, whether you’re trying to create your own personal “brand” or find more ways to connect with others or just hoping to be a little bit happier. If you can let your geek flag fly, even just a little, I guarantee that at some point the right people will see it and salute. Okay, weird metaphor, but you get it, right?

So here are SIX WAYS to unleash your inner geek — whatever that geekiness may be.

1. SHOW YOUR FLAIR

Just out of college I worked at a chain restaurant (not TGI Fridays but it was owned and influenced by TGI Fridays). And that experience caused me to me have flashbacks while watching a scene in the movie Office Space, when Jennifer Aniston’s boss lectures her about “flair.”

Manager: it’s up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or… well, like Brian, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.

Jennifer Aniston: Okay. So you… you want me to wear more?

Manager: Look…People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, okay? They come to Chotchkie’s for the atmosphere and the attitude. Okay? That’s what the flair’s about. It’s about fun.

The scene skewers, of course, the corporate mandate to enforce a sense of “fun” by enforcing “individual expression.” When I wore an apron that had to have a few pieces of “flair” I went crazy with it. I already owned too many pinback buttons — with images of Dr Who and Star Wars and Blade Runner and Natalie Wood and and and — well, why not wear just about all of them in public?

When I retired from restaurant service and entered a cubicle-based work environment, I also retired my many pins. Except the small lapel pins. Because you know what? Lapel pins fit perfectly on your suit jacket lapel. Who knew?

“Why yes. Ms. Manager, that is Spider-Man on my lapel.”

So here’s what I learned about that. My flair-covered apron? Background scenery. Wallpaper. No one noticed the “Laugh Til Your Guts Bleed” pin amidst the jillions of other pins on my apron — not to mention the pins on all the other aprons on all the other servers. The endless barrage of flair served as a visual assault on customers, a brain-numbing barrage of FUN. When images are plastered everywhere, the individuals seldom stand out.

But that Spidey lapel pin? Oh yeah.

Just the other day, a grocery store clerk commented on the small Avengers logo pinned to my lapel. “I love that!” she said. “I see people all day with characters on T-shirts but your little pin really stands out.” And that put a giant smile on my face. Win-win.

Yes that conversation actually happened.

So, what’s the lesson? Find something, a token of your geekdom, and display it. Have it with you. It can make other people happy while also making yourself happy.

2. FIND YOUR COMMUNITY

I grew up in a small town in Iowa. Small. Remote. Plenty of access to cattle feedlots, but convention venues? Not so much. So when I read about Star Trek conventions happening in big metropolitan areas, I could only imagine how much fun they were, and how it would feel to hang out in a hotel ballroom full of like-minded individuals. I could almost grasp the community I read about, but I never got to experience it.

Today there are more ways than ever to connect with a community of fellow geeks. Comic-cons are ubiquitous, even in more modest sized cities, as are internet-organized MeetUp groups based around just about every interest under the sun. Want to meet fellow Dr Who scarf knitters? They’re out there.

But even if you’re in a tiny town where nothing in your geek domain exists — or you just can’t quite bring yourself to leave the house, because really who wants to go through all the trouble of putting on pants? — you can find your tribe online. Social media is, in many ways, a cesspool of toxicity. But it’s also super fun and an easy way to connect with like-minded folks (sometimes to the detriment of democracy but I digress).

Seek out people on social media who share your interests. It seems so simple and obvious to say, but maybe you need that nudge to look for an internet message board about that niche music you love, or join a Facebook group dedicated to sharing Swedish pastry recipes, or, as I did, find a few fellow Star Trek fans on Twitter. Read what they say, occasionally make appropriate comments, engage in conversation, ask questions, and eventually you might just discover a whole new community.

3. BE AUTHENTIC

Fake it til you make it. If you’re climbing the corporate ladder then, sure, convince your boss you’ve got that skill and eventually you might actually attain the skill. But for your geek interests, don’t pretend you know more than you do. One of the joys of finding a community is getting the chance to learn more about your favorite thing.

I know you’ve read about the importance of creating your own unique brand. To me, though, the idea of branding yourself just sounds painful. And fake. And the worst thing you can do is try passing yourself off as something you’re not in hopes of gaining followers or influence or some other arbitrary forced goal. The truth is, you can’t force it. Which is why you need to just be yourself. That’s your brand. You.

So let your secret self out. Talk about your geek interest. Those little details, those quirky interests are what make you YOU. So what better way to “brand” yourself as an individual than by expressing your individuality? You are a well rounded human and that one geek interest might be the exact thing that makes you stand out from the pack.

A few years ago we had billboards in town advertising a bank. The message centered on individuality, how the people who work at the bank make all the difference, make that bank unique. So each billboard displayed a photo of an individual along with that person’s name, bank job, and outside interest. One gentleman’s description included his title “Chief Loan Officer” and then “Golfer.” Ummmmmmmm, really? Was that supposed to pique my interest in him as an individual? Wow! The guy who handles money outflows at the bank also likes to golf! What a rebel!

I have no idea which bank it was. Not surprisingly, his message did not click with me. Now if it had said “Chief Loan Officer” and then “Beany Baby Collector” I would have been intrigued. But golfer? So trite. Surely that guy had something more interesting he could share about himself. (Or, I guess, maybe not. I mean, he was a banker after all.)

Also, you’re not a one trick pony. You likely have more than one thing you can geek out about, or at least a wide variety of things you appreciate. My love of donuts is practically my brand and helped me find a little tribe of donut lovers — including an author who ended up thanking me in one of her books, because we bonded over our mutual love of donuts.

Anyway, let people know about your inner geek. You don’t have to plaster it everywhere and talk about it to the exclusivity of everything else. You can be the world’s greatest patent attorney, but if you also spend many weekends at a local karaoke place, let people know. They’ll remember you.

4. EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

Remember when your mom forced you to write a thank you note to Aunt Gladys for that stupid Chinese checkers board she gave you for Christmas and it was all you could do to just write the words “thank you” let alone actually muster up some false enthusiasm for the crappy gift? Okay, maybe that was just me. But mom had the right idea. It’s so important to express your gratitude.

But more than thanking folks for gifts, I encourage you to thank creators for things you enjoy. Read a good book lately? Find the author on Twitter or contact them via their website to send a short thank you. Find the perfect recipe on a website? Say thanks in the comments. Negativity makes a lot more noise and can stick under a creator’s skin for along time, so a little note of gratitude can mean more now than you can ever know. People love to reach out to make complaints — they’re not as quick to say thank you.

I may have mentioned that I love Star Trek. And thanks to the wonders of social media, I connected with the author of a Star Trek novel. At one point I dared him to have Spock say the word “booger” in an upcoming novel. I even told him I’d give him a dollar if he did. Guess what? A year later I had to PayPal him a dollar. But it was totally worth it. And now I have caused the word “booger” to be part of Star Trek history. I made a mark on my favorite franchise by being the geek I am. It’s a dubious mark, but still…

5. USE YOUR LEVERAGE

Like you, I have many interests. I love theatre. I like to watch shows, be in shows, write about shows. It’s no secret and I talk about it. So it was a pleasant surprise when an online theatre publication reached out to me asking if I would write for them. I put my geek interest out there, and the world came to me.

My interest in Star Trek has also brought me writing opportunities. But the passive sit-back-and-wait-for-the-world-to-come-knocking is unusual and is definitely not the norm. Most of the time you have to make your own magic.

One of the beauties of the internet is the perpetual need for content. So if you have a bit of expertise or passion for a subject, you can probably find somewhere to write about it. Pitch an idea to an online magazine you read. That’s how I ended up writing for a niche publication dedicated to movie music.

But again, sometimes you have to, as I said, make your own magic. If you can’t find an outlet, create one. It costs nothing to start a blog, to start an email newsletter, even to create a printed zine. Instructions and tips are out there, just a few search terms away. Start talking about the things you love, share your passion with the world. And once you’ve got your written thoughts in the world, you can point people to them. Written about a novel you loved? Send a note to the author, pointing them to your piece.

You never know what connections are waiting to open up when you put yourself out there.

6. SHARE AND ENJOY

It’s not all about you. That’s one of life’s hardest lessons. No one cares, they’re too busy thinking of themselves. I think we all know now, even though we didn’t know it at the time, that no one is looking at you when you walk down the high school halls.

So why not put yourself aside and share the work of others? No one wants to see an endless stream of self-promotion, so why not take time to help promote things you love? So if you read a book or visit a website or learn a fact, share it. Tell others about the good things you’ve discovered about your geek interest. You’ll connect with other geeks and maybe bring new people into your arena.

It’s also a great way to connect with creators. Because you know what an author or illustrator or master gardener likes to see? People talking about their work. People sharing their work. Share links to blogs you enjoy. Retweet insightful or funny comments from people you like. Tell people at your local coffee shop about the book you just read. The more you share, the more others will want to share with you. And that can make everybody a little happier.

Share your story with me on Twitter: @thatneilguy

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Neil Shurley

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Writer. Actor. Musician. Nerd. Thinks too much about Star Trek, Doctor Who, ukuleles, coffee, and donuts. Not necessarily in that order. neilshurley.com

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