Scott H Young

Why You Should Be a Geek


GeekBoy.png

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing an unusual motivational speech. It wasn’t in a seminar, but in a computer science class. The speaker wasn’t Tony Robbins, but a professor Michael Zapp. Zapp interrupted a lecture on heap-sorting to share a valuable life lesson: the virtue of being a geek.

Geeks are people who care too much about something. You can have music geeks, accounting geeks and Perl geeks. Zapp’s ten-minute riff was simple, but important:

  1. Find something you care about way too much. (i.e. become a geek)
  2. Become really good at the source of your geekyness.
  3. Build a business (or career) off your geekdom.

Most the people I know, who see themselves as geeks, try to move away from that label. Now here was someone saying that instead of downplaying your geekdom, you should be embracing it.

The Virtues of Geekdom

What is a geek? Although there are many ideas attached to this word, I believe there are two that are important:

  1. Geeks are people who care way too much about something.
  2. Geeks are people who care about something that other people don’t care about.

Being a geek is more than having a passion. It’s about having an unusual passion. When you see a rabid Yankee’s fan, you don’t usually call him a baseball geek. Baseball is a socially acceptable form of fanaticism. If too many people share the passion, it becomes less geeky.

True, there are some geeks that travel in large numbers. Star Trek conventions may be full of geeks who share the same passion. What I’d like to focus on isn’t just the typical definition of a socially-inept fan. Instead I’d like to focus on geeks as being people who have unusual passions.

“Do What Your Passionate About…” Advice Revisited

I’m a believer that your career should be something you’re passionate about. If you’re going to spend the majority of your waking hours for 35 years, it had better be worth it. Just having a paycheck isn’t a justification for hating your job.

Unfortunately, sometimes this advice isn’t realistic. You may be passionate about basketball, but sheer effort alone won’t get you to the NBA. The competition is too high and the amount of positions is too limited. If you were passionate about accounting, finding a well-paying, meaningful career would be far easier for you.

I think if you look at the advice from the lens of geekyness instead of just passion, you get a better understanding. To be a geek you not only have to care about something, you have to care about it way more than almost any other person. You aren’t just passionate, you’re passionate about something most people don’t care about.

From the geek perspective, basketball is hard to be geeky about. You may love it. But do you love it more than the millions of other people who dream about being the next LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Your passion may be genuine, but it isn’t very unusual.

Drop Your Boring Passions

Last week Cal Newport interviewed career coach Marty Nemko on his blog. Nemko’s advice was that you should drop your boring passions:

Forget passion unless it’s a rare one. Too many other people will be passionate about it, eviscerating your chances of “making a name for yourself.” Don’t be a lemming. Make a name for yourself in some pursuit that top people rarely pursue.

I’ve made a little graph to explain the difference between being a geek and being passionate:

GeekGraph.png

Things you’re passionate about, but aren’t geeky, should be left as hobbies. Areas you aren’t passionate about should be ignored entirely. Your focus should be placed on the overlap where your passions deviate from the norm. Where you love something that bore other people.

Passions Aren’t in Short Supply

I’m passionate about lots of things. I’m interested in writing, computer programing, graphic design, indie games, nutrition, psychology and philosophy. I’m sure that if I spent my entire life working in just one of those fields, I would enjoy it. My passions aren’t limited to one profession.

I’m sure you’re probably the same way. There are many things that interest you. There are probably a million more things that would interest you, if you spent enough time looking for them.

With so many interests, why focus on turning the boring ones into a career? Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on the areas where you can be a geek? Where you can become the best in the world?

Obviously there is more than just passion and geekyness. There is also market forces, local opportunities and demographic changes that make a difference for what to do with your life. But I think focusing on becoming a geek is a good place to start.

What are your unusual passions?


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12 Responses to “Why You Should Be a Geek”

  1. Andy says:

    I also have many interests and hobbies, and the problem is trying to do them all. I have recently cut back on the things I am currently doing, which has been helpful. I don’t know if the advice is great for me though. I always like learning new things and don’t see myself completely absorbed by one thing for the rest of my life on which to build a career. There isn’t that one passion for me. I need to find a way to be successful but still satisfy my desires for variety.

  2. etavitom says:

    What a truly unique and inspiring post. Thank you very much for the profound wisdom!

  3. Michael Kwan says:

    I guess you could say that I’m a gadget and/or cell phone geek. It just sort of happened as a result of my freelance writing and getting involved with Mobile Magazine. It’s work-related, sure, but I love playing with new gadgets, cell phones, MP3 players, and so on.

  4. Snigel says:

    Although I agree with most of what you have said, there is one question I feel undermines the whole article if it is not addressed. Can you direct your passions? I know what I am passionate about and I would have very great difficulties switching to something else. What I am questioning here are things like “[f]orget passion unless it’s a rare one” and “[t]hings you’re passionate about, but aren’t geeky, should be left as hobbies”. I would not be able to forget or leave things out just because I thought it would be a good career move to do so.

    On the other hand, focus is something different. Your notion of focusing on a passion and turn it into a career is probably workable and I share you views on passion and careers in general. The problem is that most passions have nothing to do with careers and I think it is very hard indeed to switch passions.

  5. I was just thinking about the time when anyone who owned a computer was considered a geek. Now everyone has one. If there’s anyone reading this who thinks computers used to be geeky, and are now cool, what changed that made them cool? Is it just that “everyone’s doing it?”

  6. Brian says:

    My hobby is trying to run this project Every1 Dreams found at http://every1dreams.blogspot.com. I am trying to collect dreams and share them with other and ultimately help people to make these dreams come true!

    Geek power.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Snigel,

    I don’t think you have too much control in “directing” your passions. But I do believe you can find new ones. Even if you have a passion that isn’t viable for a career, it doesn’t mean you can’t find other passions.

    Some passions start as interests, which you can become more involved in once you build skill. I wouldn’t be nearly as keen about writing if I hadn’t built my writing skills.

    -Scott

  8. Mohammed says:

    Very nice perspectiveand a clear differentiation on a subject which appears to be very simple but its very important in reality.

    Yeah, its nice to be a geek!!

    regards
    Mohammed Abdul muqeet

  9. [...] Young not only defines what it means to be a geek, but he also explains why you should be a geek. It’s not only important to be passionate, but you need to be passionate about something a [...]

  10. [...] weeks ago I wrote about the virtue of being a geek. I explained that it wasn’t enough to be good at something, or be passionate about it. What [...]

  11. ShreeVidya says:

    a very interest area I have come across. Makes us to think. Great!

  12. ShreeVidya says:

    sry, wrongly typed
    a very interesting area I have come across.Makes us to think.Great!

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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