When I was in middle school, I was a proud member of the chess club, which was run by my mother, who was also my English teacher.
I’ll give you some time to giggle.
Our handful of members ranged from age 12 to 15 or so–it was open to grades 7-12, but most of the high schoolers were too cool for us. We were stereotypical nerds, a cadre complete with the smelly kid, the kid who talked to himself, and the kid with taped glasses; I was the only girl. Everyone else avoided us.
Except one guy.
Matt Gan was a tall, strapping lad in a motorcycle jacket with a blonde goatee and heavy brow. He must’ve been 18 in 9th grade (he was 22 and still enrolled when I graduated). He was constantly being suspended for fighting, smoking on campus, or cussing out teachers. Matt was a textbook bad boy, yet he played chess with us lowly nerds/geeks/dorks every week. He never went to tournaments with us because he was too old, but he came to our meetings on the regular.
The thing about Matt was that he won by intimidation. He could have easily won by logic and intelligence; he had both but chose not to use them.
His most effective tactic was to stand up and yell, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” as loud as he could. He could plan far enough ahead to see an impending checkmate, and he plotted his jibe accordingly. For us early adolescents, that kind of attack cut right to the center of our vulnerable hearts, making even the best player doubt themselves and falter, giving Matt the win.
It seems childish and stupid, but it worked.
For a while.
After a few months of getting shouted at and losing their nerve, the nerds did something amazing–they grew spines. Instead of letting Matt rattle their cage with what amounted to emotional abuse, they tuned him out. He’d try over and over to make the same routine work, but once we decided it wouldn’t affect us anymore, it didn’t.
We even started doing it back to him. When someone saw him about to make an inspired move, they would leap up and shout, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” in a squeaky voice and plop back down, giggling. It became a game in itself to see who could beat Matt the most times despite his intimidation attempts.
We started winning.
And he stopped doing it.
You know what, though? Matt was right. They are all gonna laugh at you.
Haters, detractors, nay-sayers, and distracters are going to try to knock you down and make you second-guess and doubt yourself. Whether at work, at school, or at home, there’s always going to be someone trying to intimidate you in the hopes that you’ll falter and quit.
But so what?
The point of life isn’t to avoid being laughed at. It’s to do something so amazing that it causes that reaction in the first place. To be so brilliant that you force haters to resort to childish, stupid tactics just to make themselves feel important.
And when they do, the best response is to laugh right back and carry on being awesome.
I originally published this post in 2012, and it was removed from the archives in 2014. It’s been refreshed and reshared here for your enjoyment.