A self-help book just for nerds? From that Web Soup guy? When the ARC of comedian Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) (Berkley Books) showed up at the Tor.com offices, I was more than a little cynical. Years of exposure to the Something Awful forums and being a life-long New Yorker have given me a powerful snark response. Yet, secretly, I was intrigued. Let’s be honest here. While this isn’t the usual kind of book we review on Tor.com, if you’re reading this blog, chances are, you are a nerd. Or a geek. Whatever label you prefer, unless you shun labels, man. (Then you are probably a filthy hipster. Sorry.) And it goes without saying that if you write for Tor.com, you are most certainly a nerd.
Chris Hardwick is more than just internet-popular; he is a professional nerd. And he is everywhere this year. Being a talking head on G4 and E! Hosting that odd Walking Dead post-show on AMC. He has a hit podcast. He moderates panels at Comic-Con and SXSW. He’s a contributing writer for Wired. He’s got over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.
But this isn’t a book about self-promotion, it’s life advice.
Could this guy, with his flippant references to Han Solo, his carefully mussed hair and celebrity name-drops really be One of Us?
Because I admittedly have a problem with procrastination, The Nerdist Way sat on my shelf for about two months. I picked it up last week, thinking I’d skim through it and see if it was appropriate for review on this site. I was familiar with Hardwick through his above-mentioned achievements, but I wasn’t sucked in by The Nerdist Way until I read about his failures. Example: after hosting MTV’s mid-90s dating show Singled Out, he wasn’t getting much work, he had a drinking problem, and he was about forty pounds overweight. While working as an intern on The Daily Show in 2002, Jon Stewart interviewed Hardwick’s old Singled Out co-host Jenny McCarthy and made an off-hand joke about how Hardwick now ran coffee orders for the Daily Show crew. On-air. Think about how humiliating it would be to get called out as a washed-up loser, by name, on your favorite national television show. And “that the worst part was, [Stewart] was right.” Most rock bottoms don’t come with a celebrity guest star.
After reading that embarrassing tidbit, I returned to the beginning of the book and really started to read. Hardwick maintains that Nerds (with a capital N) are naturally gifted with many key components of successful, driven personalities while simultaneously sabotaging themselves with less positive Nerd traits. Do you find yourself playing Xbox or mindlessly surfing the web for ten hours a day? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time beating yourself up or being paralyzed by Why Botherdom? Why not channel that single-mindedness into something that’s actually good for you? Think of your life as a game to be designed—and won—by you. Hardwick even suggests going so far as to “RPG your life” and create your own Character Tome. Clear your head of noise and honestly assess your traits, list your weak areas and time-wasters, come up with specific goals. Write it all down and use a points system to track progress.
I found the section about organizing your mind surprisingly helpful. Yes, I even made a Character Tome. I’m a compulsive list-maker so it appealed to that part of my brain while making me feel like I wasn’t just procrasturbating. (My new favorite term for any activity that offers you short-term joy while sacrificing your focus on more satisfying but difficult long-term goals. Like obsessively refreshing Twitter when you could be writing a novel. Ahem.) Methodically writing down fears, anxieties, and coping mechanisms sounds awful, but Hardwick is so open and self-deprecating about his own issues, it makes the task less daunting. No one will ever publish your Character Tome, after all.
Hardwick is quick to point out that he is not trying to be a life coach, a therapist, or personal trainer. He’s just trying to help you “get paid and laid” through sharing his experiences and what he’s learned from them.
The troll in me was ready to jump all over any kind of “getting laid” advice Hardwick could offer Nerds. You see, Nerds, by default, are male. Yeah, I know I’m not the target audience for this book, but with 1.5 million Twitter followers, would it have killed the author to be a bit more inclusive? This disparity is very noticeable in the beginning chapters when Nerds are defined. Old chestnuts about chubby basement-dwelling neckbeards abound. To be fair, Hardwick himself was just such a Nerd. More concerning was the stereotype about d-bag jocks and the vapid women who will sleep with the muscular, stupid guys while failing to see the nice, sensitive, smart and clearly superior Nerd. Here’s a tip: most self-identified Nice Guys are actually d-bags in disguise, guilty of whining about how unfair the universe is because no one will make teh secks with them as they creepily fail to see women as actual, you know, people with feelings and thoughts and stuff. If there’s a Nerdist Sutra in the works, I probably won’t read it.
Thankfully the section devoted to bodily improvement was just that—quit shoveling Cool Ranch Doritos in your maw and get off your lazy ass, people. Exercise is one of the things I’m actually pretty consistent about, so while I wasn’t helped by the illustrated workout regimes, the motivation tips from Hardwick’s personal trainer could work for anyone. Hardwick, a giant Doctor Who fan, saves the last section for time management, mostly through apps. I’m not the most tech-savvy of people, but I imagine more experienced Nerds would be familiar with these resources. I definitely found some new blogs and comedians to check out.
Self-improvement is a voluntary endeavor. But you don’t have to go it alone. Hardwick has absorbed a lot of other, more popular self-help books on his road to becoming a physically fit and passionate professional Nerd. It’s all a bit West Coast to me, but Hardwick easily won me over with his genuine voice. He legitimately cares about what he’s teaching. What you find in The Nerdist Way is a bunch of sensible advice distilled into a humourous and conversational read.
Will I keep writing in my Character Tome? Yeah, I think I will.
Will I keep snarking on that cover photo? N-E-R-D? Seriously? Haters gonna hate.
Share your good habits in the comments, Highly-Effective Nerds. For more words of wisdom from Chris Hardwick, visit nerdist.com