Right about now, I’m probably having lunch with some former business associates. Within the first ten minutes, I likely will have a) spilled something on myself; b) spilled something on someone else; c) accidentally insulted someone or d) fallen down. Whatever the specifics, the point is that my social ineptitude will have been on full display, like Celine Dion’s Canadian-ness under a million Vegas spotlights.
For me, this is the chicken and the egg question all over again: is it my social ineptitude what makes me a nerd or is it my nerdiness that makes me socially inept? For the record, there are millions of nerdy people out there with fine social skills and the capacity for small talk. After all, Bill Gates wouldn’t be bathing in million dollar bills every night if he didn’t have the ability to schmooze and not fall down in public places.
There does, however, seem to be a fairly significant section of the nerd population suffering from the same debilitating shyness and soul-crushing insecurity that makes social interaction somewhat painful for me and my kind. It’s sometimes funny, too, but mostly for the people watching…and judging.
The workplace is where I feel I’ve done some of my finest self-humiliation. The office is my canvas. And my frequent lathers of shame? Those are my paints. With these tools, I have created some fine masterworks, including:
* Accidentally getting locked in an employer’s bathroom at the annual holiday party.
* Forgetting that on a hot day, wine is not soda and drinking myself into a stupor that ended with me falling headfirst into my employer’s bathtub.
* Choking on a fork during a business dinner.
* Misspeaking my own name when I introduced myself to a board member – and having to fake an entire new identity for the hour-long conversation that followed.
Knowing my limitations – for example, the fact that I can’t speak to anyone in authority without developing a twitch and/or talking complete and utter nonsense, sometimes in a made-up language – has helped make up for these inadequacies over the years. Like a blind person whose sense of smell gets better, I have tried to compensate by developing other talents such as good spelling, card tricks and masterful feats of strength.
All this is just to say that we are not alone in our social ineptitudes and missteps. To all those who may have accidentally insulted their bosses; traumatically walked around with their flies unzipped or blouses overly unbuttoned; starting humming in the middle of a board meeting; spontaneously cried on the way to the copier; or started discussing “Battlestar Galactica” with a whole mess of people who really didn’t care, take solace in the knowledge that there are millions of us falling on the big sword of social ass-backwardness each and every day. Which is good because there’s safety in numbers.
Also, if you can drag a Toyota with your teeth, you'll totally get promoted.