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Growing from following: Confession from a nerd

Growing from following: Confession from a nerd

While nerdiness has become the new cool of our era, being a nerd is rather lonely. Nerdy people have a difficult time finding people who share their esoteric interests, especially ones that belong to an unfashionable subset of nerd culture. While I won’t call myself a super nerd like Sheldon Cooper, there are times I feel like an outcast in my friend groups when it comes to my need to discuss some thoughtful topics. That’s why I appreciate social media so much, where I can reach out to like-minded nerds. Despite its potential toxicity, social media is a gold mine of enlightenment: I get exposed to great ideas almost free of charge.

But with my limited knowledge and a sea of information, I rely on who I call “intellectual influencers” to ease into difficult topics. Just like beauty influencers who do makeup tutorials and shape makeup trends, intellectual influencers explain current affairs like politics, culture, etc. in an understandable way and drive people’s opinions. High-profile public intellectuals like Jordan Peterson are examples of intellectual influencers, but the source of influence can come from anyone I encounter on social media. For me, not only intellectual influencers save my nerdy soul, following them helps me grow as a person. One sentence is enough to nicely sum up my lesson: 

“Intellectual influencers are to outgrow”

While adding the word “intellectual” might make the whole thing sound so serious, as a follower, I find my relationship with intellectual influencers is no different from ones between fans and artists, in the sense that they all involve idolization. I often get confused watching my friends get into a sort of fanatic fit when talking about their favorite Kpop idols. Their mouths scream, their eyes spark, they obsess over what their idols say, eat or wear. 

But on second thought, my behaviors toward my intellectual idols are exactly the same, maybe even more fanatic. My narrow mind gets excited easily by ideas: when an influencer says something I find enlightening, I dance around the room, I grasp heartily, like a believer before her God. I can spend my whole day seeking their opinions, taking their words to my heart, even on topics outside of their expertise. (Yes! That’s Halo effect in manifestation!). 

However, I think what makes the relationship with intellectual influencers enlightening is the tension in the sheer act of following them. I follow influencers because I admire their wisdom and knowledge and that’s what I desire for myself. Most of the time, their views change my mind for the better, but they are not perfect. As humans like me, they are similarly clouded by emotions, ideologies and bias. Or they are simply not as perfect as I think. After the initial idolization, the realization kicks in gradually: they don’t always talk interesting things, there are points I don’t agree with them or in sad cases, they believe in conspiracy theories. 

Coming to terms with this truth is a bitter experience, as we tend to put who we admire on a pedestal. But that’s something I find mind-opening in the relationship between me and my intellectual influencers, as the value they inspire in me, a ceaseless desire for knowledge, which eventually leads me to outgrow them. Their opinions carry less and less weight and I stop seeing them as an authority. 

You may find my story trivial and melodramatic, I think so too. After all, I am not as rational as a nerd should be. A delicate nerd in pursuit of knowledge champions the truth over everything else. I easily get emotions in the way of my judgments. But that’s when I know I still have much to learn and grow.


Writer: Tra Mi Nguyen

Editor: Phoebe Elliott

Visuals by: Mara Forster

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