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 age 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 and in 9th grade (he was 22 and still enrolled when I graduated). He was constantly being suspended for fighting, smoking on campus, or cussing teachers. Matt was a textbook bad boy – clearly not a dude who gave a fuck about anything. And yet he played chess with us lowly nerds, geeks, and dorks every week. He never went to our tournaments 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. When he played, 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 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.
And he stopped doing it.
You know what, though – Matt was right. They are all gonna laugh at you. There’s going to be haters, detractors, nay-sayers, and distracters who try to knock you down, make you second-guess and doubt yourself. Whether they show up at work, at school, or at home, there’s always going to be someone laughing at you in the hopes that you’ll falter and quit being awesome.
But so what?
The trick of life isn’t to avoid being laughed at. It’s to do something so big and amazing that it causes that reaction in the first place – to be so brilliant that you force the haters to resort to childish, stupid tactics just to make themselves feel important and better than you. The best thing you can do is laugh right back and be even more awesome.