Only the Lonely

Maybe your time at university is a recent memory, a distant memory, or just about to begin.  If this academic year is the start of your adventure, then maybe you’re going because you really, really want to, or because your parents want you to, or because you have a career goal plan.  Maybe you’re going because an education can be its own reward.  The prospectus will positively shout at you – this is going to be the best three years of your life!

In reality those years will more likely be the best of times and the worst of times.  There’s a possibility that you may walk around a busy, bustling campus and feel very alone indeed.  Of course, loneliness doesn’t just strike at university.  It can happen anywhere –  school, college, work, relationships, marriage;  but university will concentrate that feeling, so that at no other point in your life will you realise quite so keenly that the world values the Extrovert – the people-person, the life and soul of the party.   And perhaps, at no other point in your life, will it be quite so difficult to ‘hang on’ to your sense of self.  University can seem like a haven for the extrovert, and society needs extroverts, no question, but spare a thought for the quieter, more invisible kid on the campus block.

This is for the Introvert; the watcher from the sidelines.  The shy, the nervous, the timid, the bashful.  The non-drinker, non-clubber, non-party go-er.  The games player – the home lover.  The peer, who’s not so comfortable with peer pressure.  The please-don’t-pick-me-to-speak-in-a-workshop worrier.  The what-shall-I-do-between-lectures loner.  The students trapped alone in their rooms.  The friend-less, in search of a friend.  The anxiety sufferer.  The stammerer.  The Nerd.  The one who doesn’t fit in – standing alone in the Freshers’ Week frenzy;  a deer caught in the headlights, wondering where am I ?  who am I ?   – why do I feel like the aliens just landed?

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, who didn’t know what a Nerd is, but the sentiment stands all the same.


If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs, intent on getting ‘wasted’.
If you can trust yourself to just say No,
when the pre-drink drinks start to flow.
If you have the courage to stand your ground,
when the ‘soft drugs’ are passed around,
or know, that leaving the room is not a sin,
when your closest neighbour vomits into the bin.

If you find your fellow students
already have their clique,
brushing past you after lectures,
when you attempt to speak.
If you lack the talent for casual conversation,
and are frequently stuck for something to say,
when they gather to talk in the communal kitchen,
about last night’s party and who got ‘laid’.
If you’re reading The Nerdist Way*  to the letter,
but things don’t seem to get any better.

If you go back to start your second year,
and feel the old, familiar fear,
but force your heart and nerve and sinew
to find the courage to continue.
If you feel your triumphs all turn to disaster,
that life is something you just can’t master,
that others know how to play this game,
and if only you were somehow different,
and had the courage to do the same.

Then don’t lose heart  –   and keep your virtue,
walk with the ‘cool’ – but keep the common touch.
Don’t let the superficial things hurt you,
social media counts,  but not too much.
Fill every unforgiving minute,
with sixty seconds of value and self-worth,
and know, that one day in the future,
your voice will be heard.

(The original ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling is worth checking out, if you don’t already know it.)

*The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick.   An unusually entertaining, ‘in your face’, self-help book by the successful American comic, actor, writer, musician, and proprietor of  The Nerdist Podcast.   You can find out more about Chris Hardwick by checking out Charlie’s article on the Playblast Podcast Chris Hardwick Live – London Review, which also includes photographic evidence of when Charlie met Chris after the show.

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