Those of us cursed with social awkwardness are all too familiar with its its cringe-worthy symptoms: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, fidgeting, stuttering and the inability to carry out mundane tasks like ordering food at a restaurant without questioning your every move. It can be downright puzzling to watch how others seamlessly and gracefully gallivant through the world while appearing at ease and oozing charisma in pretty much any situation. “How do they make it look so easy?” wonders the typical awkward person. “Life would be so much easier if I had the gift of social graces. Maybe I’d be able to get that cute girl’s number. Or maybe I’d be able to order at Starbucks without sweating. Maybe I could actually be, like, a normally functioning human. Woe is me, forever and ever.”
Hey, awkward person, snap out of that melancholy, because you’ve got it all wrong here. Contrary to how awkward people see themselves and how “socially gifted” people often view them as clumsy, spazzy, withdrawn or ill-equipped as leaders, socially awkward individuals actually have some cool advantages.
Due to the fact that maneuvering within social situations and accomplishing rudimentary tasks doesn’t come easily to awkward people, that’s exactly where they gain their power. The hallmark of the awkward person’s struggle is that they must exert more effort in searching for novel strategies to get along in the world, and the fruits of this labor ends up making the awkward person pretty epic and outstanding.
Take Mark Zuckerberg’s character in “The Social Network.” Right from the opening scene when his girlfriend is breaking up with him, he is presented as a pretentious know-it-all with a lack of understanding of how amiable person-to-person interactions work. Even the screenplay notes, “he has trouble making eye contact and sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s talking to you or to himself.” With how little Zuckerberg knows of proper social interactions, it would seem that all odds of success would be against him.
How would anyone with these characteristics be able to make it in business, let alone become such a successful tech CEO and co-founder of possibly the most impactful social platform of contemporary society? Don’t you have to be likable and contain at least a morsel of charisma to do that? Most would immediately say he was doomed, but it turns out that his awkwardness catapulted him into success.
According to a study by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Oxford University, awkward people are prone to hyper-systemizing, which allows for excellent attention to detail and recognition of patterns. Though awkward people may often overlook social cues, their minds certainly aren’t dormant in situations where they’re expected to be socially adept; they’re just thinking about other things they find to be far more interesting.
They’ll notice something in the environment, like how light bounces off of an object or an idea that someone mentions briefly, and rather than dismissing it, they’ll run full force with it. They’ll zone out, pay sharp attention to it, deconstruct it, postulate explanations for it and maybe even speed home later to hop on their laptop and do further research. In other words, they thrive in tunnel vision. A seemingly small, fleeting observation piques their interest, and it becomes a priority to thoroughly understand it, inside and out. A thrill comes from noticing patterns, making links and, essentially, deconstructing a system.
Socially awkward people’s alternative thinking styles and unique ways of approaching the world are huge assets. On topics that other people would overlook, awkward people dive in head first, discovering innovative answers to big questions and novel ways of doing things. They’re looking at the world differently. They’re asking questions. They’re being curious. They’re finding solutions. They’re inventing Facebook.
So now you see how Mark Zuckerberg innately harbored the elements of a genius. In social contexts, his keenness on details came off as an annoyance, but it served him exceptionally well in the subjects he was passionate about. And ultimately, it made him stand out above the rest to become the tycoon he’s known as today.
And he’s not the only visionary who was initially fueled by quirks of social awkwardness. Woody Allen didn’t like people when he was younger and is known to be quite neurotic, but these qualities led him to such delight in privately screenwriting and coming up with stories that he began putting out a new film every year. Matthew Hussey, a well-known life and love coach, found such detriment in his social anxiety as a child that it pushed him into becoming the successful personal growth expert he is today.
Social awkwardness, while initially a frustration, often requires just a bit of simmering and then, before you know it, it sparks action that brings out your inner greatness. Rather than being a source of lethargy, holding people back and keeping them stunted, awkwardness is often just like gasoline, thrusting people forward.
And not to mention, being awkward calls for your life to be a great story—think Forrest Gump, Charlie from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. If their personalities and perspectives had been just like everyone else’s, their life tales would have been hella boring.
If you want to do something no one has ever done, you have to be someone no one has ever been. You have to think differently. You have to be different.
Being awkward is a huge blessing in disguise.