The word “awkward” is practically synonymous with the word “teenager” — every adolescent undergoes a difficult physical and emotional transformation as he or she transitions from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately, that awkward quotient screws some of us over more than others; all teen angst is not created equal.
If you were one of those particularly, and painfully, awkward teens, you may not realize how those years of acne, uncomfortable dates and general mortification helped shape you into the cool adult you are now. Here are all the reasons to be grateful for your awkward phase … and to the awkward teenage-you for enduring it:
1. Your quirkiness, which once made you a social calamity, is now the source of your success.
The same qualities that made you feel like a freak during middle school could be what make you valuable in the real world. Alexandra Robbins, author of “The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth,” calls this phenomenon “The Quirk Theory.” Your ability to think outside the box might not have been appreciated by your peers during adolescence, when conformity reigns supreme. But in the adult world, that creativity makes you a valuable employee. That’s why revenge is best enjoyed at a twenty-year high school reunion.
2. You learned to be kind.
There’s nothing like a horrible high school experience to make you more sympathetic to human pain, and more sensitive to other peoples’ mortification. You’ve been there.
3. Late-blooming helped you think more creativity. Albert Einstein said so.
Albert Einstein was a late-bloomer, and he believed his slow maturation was the reason he discovered general relativity. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of the scientist, titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” Einstein is quoted as saying, “The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up.” The famously eccentric genius was a slow speaker, a rebel and a nuisance to his teachers — but his slow, awkward growth ultimately equipped him with enough brainpower to unravel so many mysteries of time and space.
4. You learned to laugh at yourself.
Being a huge geek is humbling. You trip and fall a lot and get used to spilling things on your shirt. And, if you’re lucky, you learn to laugh at your daily gaffes. Teen awkwardness is hellacious, but it’s not eternal.
5. Your nonconformity now makes you seem more confident.
Your affinity for velcro shoes might have gotten you a lame-o reputation in junior high, but sporting unexpected kicks can actually command respect in the real world, according to a study by Harvard Business School professors. They coined the term “The Red Sneaker Effect” to explain why adults who actively refuse to conform to the crowd are seen as having “higher status” than the rest of the flock. They argue that people who flagrantly ignore certain dress code standards, e.g. people who wear red sneakers with their business suits, appear unconcerned about the “social cost” of dressing inappropriately, suggesting high levels of both confidence and influence. This could also be called “The Mark Zuckerberg Gray Hoodie Effect.”
6. Your geekiness might have helped you avoid juvenile delinquency.
A 2009 publication from Sweden’s Orebro University found that the same shyness that made you a high school wallflower also made you less likely to to engage in risky behavior, like alcohol use and “one-night stands.”
7. You learned to let your freak flag fly.
The same study from Orebro found that shy adolescents coped with their social inhibitions by “making themselves decidedly noticeable to others.” While this may start as a way to scare off your eighth grade nemesis, it also can result in some pretty cool self-discovery … and some pretty cool style choices.
8. If you were a shy kid, it could just mean you were growing into a seriously smart adult.
Quiet people have been shown to be better at thoroughly taking in new information and working with accuracy. According to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, quiet personalities are more likely to be National Merit Scholarship finalists and hold Phi Beta Kappa keys. So, if you were too embarrassed to speak up in Geometry class or wanted to hide every time you saw your ninth-grade crush, you may eventually be compensated for your woes in sheer brainpower.
9. Your non-eventful dating life in high school primed you for a better romantic future.
Remember when all the kids were playing Spin The Bottle while you hid your head in a book? Turns out you were just biding your time until you became a budding Casanova. According to a University of Texas at Austin study, people who have their first sexual experience at a later-than-average age end up having higher levels of education, higher income and, yup, more satisfying romantic relationships.
10. You found amazing friends and allies who were just as kooky as you!
Turns out, being “popular” was never that important. What mattered was the friends you made along your fabulously awkward way!
Teenage you went through a lot. At the time, adolescence simply felt like one big, cruel practical joke played by Mother Nature. But in retrospect, the sum of those awkward-as-hell first kisses and miserable junior high school dances is an adult you who is smarter, more confident and knows that fitting in is a waste of time. Stay weird!