Find Your Archetype

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Let’s take a moment to do a thought experiment.

Look in the mirror. Now back to me. Now back to the mirror.  Now back to me.1

Tell me what the first thing that comes to mind that describes who you see. Don’t think about it, just one word off the top of your head that describes the type of person you see in the mirror.

Keep that word in mind. We’ll be coming back to it in a little while.

Now tell me: what image comes to mind as soon as you hear the word “nerd”?

Probably something like this:

… only, y’know, without the hot chick.


What about “geek”? Something along the same lines, no? Not exactly something to set hearts to racing and loins on fire, now is it?

Nerds, meet your God...

Mr. Wheaton disagrees with you, sir.

A little infuriating, isn’t it? In this day and age, when geek culture is in it’s ascendency, the general concept of “geek” or “nerd” is sold to the public as one of social awkwardness, a personality that seems to have been compiled from a checklist of Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms, slovenly habits, poorly-fitting clothes and a complete and utter lack of sex appeal. You say you’re a geek  – or worse, look like one and people immediately flash to these negative impressions built up for years via popular culture.

That’s stereotyping for you; wrapping up a wide and various culture within a few stock ideas of how we look and act.

Clearly, if you want to have any success in dating, you’ll have to hide the fact that you’re a geek, right? The stereotype of the geek is just too much to overcome.


In fact, it’s time to make stereotypes work for you.

Wait, What?

Let’s be honest: no matter how much we’re taught that stereotyping others is wrong, we all do it. We’re taught that we’re supposed to evaluate everybody on the content of their character and who they are as a person rather than proceed with preconceived notions based on outward appearances. And yet, that’s exactly what we do anyway. We make snap-judgments about people within a few seconds of seeing them and those initial judgements color how we respond at first. That guy in the stained hoodie and shredded jeans with the ratty beard and unkept hair may well be a Nobel-winning physicist, but if you saw him hanging around a street corner, your brain immediately snaps to “homeless man.”

Unless you live in Austin, anyway.

The fact of the matter is, humans are built for pattern recognition. We associate certain trends or looks with particular behaviors. It’s part of how we survived long enough to develop civilization, and those instincts are still with us. Our initial attraction to people is often built on those outward looks; it’s part of how we filter out the world. You can’t tell from a glance whether that cute girl hanging out on the couch at your friend’s party is a Rhodes scholar or if she’s as dumb as a post, but we’ll backfill the justification for our attraction later as we get to know them.

We may want people to judge us based on who we are inside, but that can take time – time we don’t always have or, frankly, want to spend on people we may or may not want to get to know. And so we go with our gut, basing our initial impressions on outward characteristics.And thus: stereotypes.

We do it to ourselves, too. Let’s face it: we’re pack animals; we willingly segregate ourselves into certain “types” and adopt the uniform of that type as part of how we demonstrate our association with the group. By doing so, we adopt it as part of our identity and we take on the aspects of that association… including the gut-reactions that people have to that type, for good or for ill. To a certain extent, we choose the stereotypes we fit into.

Stereotyping doesn’t have to be bad, though; in fact, you can make stereotyping work in your favor if you know how.

Still, stereotype has become a loaded word with negative connotations. So don’t think of it as stereotyping yourself’.

Think of it as finding your archetype.

Who Are You?

Let’s get back to that thought experiment.

I want you to describe yourself in one or two words. I want to know who you are and who you want to be, distilled down to your very essence via a word or two off the top of your head. Think about those words. What are they? Writer? Parent? Player? Artist? Musician? Joker? Biker? Goth? Business man? Hold onto that thought for a moment. We’ll come back to it.2

For now, let’s talk about archetypes.

Archetypes are symbols, the prime model of concepts, personas or people. When we think of “rock star”  we have a very distinct image that represents the concept. Similarly, when we think “movie star”, we have an instinctive idea of what one looks like and acts like. We associate particular looks and behaviors with archetypes; those archetypes in turn have emotional responses associated with them as well. By harnessing the power of the archetype, we can directly influence how people see us and react to us.The more you resemble the archetype, the more that people will associate you with that archetype. By modeling yourself towards that archetype you influence how others see you… and how they respond to you.

So let’s get back to the words you used to describe yourself. Think about it for a moment – is that who you are, or at least who you want to be? Even if you’re not there yet, is it something you’re striving towards? That model of who you want to be: that’s your archetype.

So now that we have an idea of who you are, let’s start the process of modeling your look on the outside to match that of your archetype – who you are on the inside.

Find Your Celebrity Patronus

Part of harnessing the power of an archetype is knowing how it presents in the real world in the most attractive way possible. After all, when you think “writer” – to pull a random example –  you could go in many different ways. On the one hand, you have John Steinbeck:

Turn on your droolers, girls….

On the other, you have Allen Ginsberg:

Er… not as much.

It can be a little daunting at first to try to build a style based around invoking a particular archetype; after all, you may have an idea of what an “artist” looks like, but how are you going to present that in a way that will invoke positive emotional associations rather than coming off as a pretentious asshole? How are you supposed to build a style when your own sense of style is, well… perhaps a bit limited?

Fortunately, we have Hollywood and the cult of celebrity to help us out when it comes to knowing how to present archetypes in the best possible light. It’s time to dip into the world of cinema and television and start examining the roles that best model what we hope to be. In short: you need your celebrity spirit animal.

You see, Hollywood deals in archetypes on a daily basis. When we think of lawyers, we think of Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. We think of the Mafia and we immediately flash to The Godfather. The power of the Hollywood archetype can’t be ignored; the Godfather literally changed how the Mob conducted itself. Life literally changed to imitate art. It’s thanks to those archetypes that we can choose from roles that express the way wish to be seen and incorporate that style into our lives.

When you’re thinking about how to model your style, you have built in examples of what works. You merely have to find the one that synchs best with your idea of who you are.

For example: just off the top of my head, we have The Businessman:

Sharp suits, piercing gaze, sensitive soul

The Biker:

The bad boy with a golden soul


Rock gods:

Live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse


Indie Rockers:

Not to be confused with hipsters… note the lack of ironic mustaches

Hell, even the cool college professor you wish you had:

I identify with this man far too much

Complete with Byronic self-destructive streak!


Yes, most of us don’t look like celebrities. That’s not the point. The point is that by looking at the attractive ways your archetype is portrayed, you have a base from which you can build your style. As you grow more comfortable with the style and how to portray it, you can start bringing your own touches into it and making it more unique to who you are.

Avoid Incongruity

Let’s get back to that thought experiment from the beginning: your immediate gut description of the person you see in the mirror. Now, how does that correspond with your archetype?

Odds are good that it doesn’t. In fact, there may well be a striking difference between your archetype and how you’re presenting yourself. Your look is incongruous to who you want to be.

I’ve talked before about incongruity: when there’s a significant clash between who you are and how you’re trying to come across. Incongruity makes people uncomfortable – it disrupts the expectations that our brain has tried to put together… and not in a good way. It makes you think “What’s wrong with this picture?” rather than “this person is attractive!”

Changing your style – especially when making a radical change to how you normally present yourself – is a difficult process and it’s fraught with a great deal of trial and error. Some looks simply won’t be a good fit.

Sometimes it’s a matter of body size or shape; when you’re built with broad shoulders and a heavy frame, you’re not going to be able to pull off the tight-tees-skinny-jeans-Chuck Taylors look of an indie rocker… but you could find other rockers to build from. Similarly, if you’re tall and skinny, you’re going to have a harder time pulling off “tough guy” looks; you can wear as much Tap Out gear as you want, but nobody will buy you as a fighter.

Sometimes though, it’s a matter of personality. If you’re the introverted type, flamboyant or flashy styles just aren’t going to synch well. If you’re of a more conservative bent, trying to mold yourself into David Bowie is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and awkward – and that, in turn, will be telegraphed to the people around you. This doesn’t mean that only certain personality types can build on certain archetypes;  you just have to learn which archetype is the best fit for you. Remember: Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson are both archetypal Writers.

Be Your Best Self

Now I know a number of you are thinking that I’m telling you that you have to change who you are in order to be attractive – that you have to hide – or even give up –  your geek or nerd identity. In fact, I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m the guy who got Storm Shadow’s tattoo on his forearm; my geek cred is literally part of me.

But hey, let’s talk about geek identity.

I’m sure you can guess what these guys all have in common:

L to R from top: Samuel L. Jackson, Dolph Ludgren, Vin Diesel, and Tom Morello

They’re all huge fuckin’ geeks. Samuel L. Jackson’s a giant comics nerd while Dolph Ludgren attended MIT on a Fullbright scholarship, speaks 5 languages, earned a 3rd dan black belt in karate and is the only man to impregnate Grace Jones and live. Meanwhile Vin Diesel founded his own video game company and is the man who got Dame Judy Dench to play Dungeons and Dragons while Tom Morello, former lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, is writing a new comic series from Dark Horse.

As I’ve said before: you have to know the stereotypes to defy the stereotypes. When you’re changing your style to reflect your archetype, you aren’t hiding your geekiness by pretending to be something you’re not: you’re subverting the idea of who a geek is. You’re using other people’s stereotypes to your advantage while broadening the definition of who you are.

And if it means it also helps you get laid… well, who’s gonna complain?


  1. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself []
  2. I know a few of you have picked “loser” “dweeb” or “pathetic”; I refer you back to this post about labels and how they become self-reinforcing. You can be a loser or a dweeb… or you can take responsibility for your life, spend the time and effort and make yourself incredible. []

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  • latebloomer

    Vin Diesil was never hot to me until now.

  • Sophia

    Just remember to not emulate the "psychopath" part of Patrick Bateman when you're looking to embody him…

    • Nate

      But… but… Huey Lewis and the News' album "Sports" was such an influential album!

    • Matt

      Was gonna say I thought that was Bruce Wayne, but, you know, the psychopath warning may still apply.

  • Describe yourself: Engineer

    What do you want to be: Game Designer

    What's the best Hollywood of your desired archetype: Er…?

    Joke aside, I do agree with trying to make yourself look the way you want everyone else to look at you. First impression means a lot to everyone, so it's important you get that one right.

    By the way, between the photo of John Steinbeck and Allen Ginsberg, I found Allen's portrait to be more interesting, and certainly a guy I'd like to converse to more than John. He looks like a passionate, devoted person to his works of art, and seems like a person I'd learn a lot from than John. I guess it's because I work in a field where unshaved beards aren't uncommon, and frequently signify the devotion they put into their profession. Obviously I'm coming from a guy perspective, but I can see how woman can see different.

    P.S. speaking of dress-up, I'm very cold-blooded. I always wear three layers except on summer. For poor souls like me, what assortment of archetypes have fashionable (and warm!) winter jackets?

  • James

    Using only the pictures as examples, I try to go for something between the 'biker' look and the 'college professor' look. Would it be better to pick one and stick?

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Honestly, pick one and stick to it, at least at first. Trying to mix styles, especially two really disparate ones is only going to come across as weird if you're not REALLY experienced in being fashion forward.

    • PizzaSHARK!

      Who said you can't have a college professor look AND look like a biker at the same time?

  • Tibbs

    Describe myself: Hotty McAwesome
    Style: business casual
    Celeb Spirit Animal: Ryan Goslin

  • NoelKreiss

    Oh man, not until now have i realized that i can't describe anything good about myself with just one word. It's always either going to be fat, or asian. And i don't know who my Celebrity Spirit Animal is!! I'M DOOOOMED! HELP!

  • desmedt

    is that the famous austin crossdressing hobo that the spill crew brings up from time to time?

    guy’s got swag.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Yup, that’s Leslie, the Queen of Austin. Richest homeless man in the world. Even has his own line of magnetic dress-up dolls.

      (Worth noting: Austin has several cross-dressing hobos. That’s the sort of city we have.)

  • Jim

    So who do you emulate if your interests and behaviours are dissonant? I like abstract subjects like philosophy but I also study martial arts seriously. I'm introverted and socially awkward but often behave like a clown in public.

    • As the article said, pick one for now till you are comfortable with it, then branch out later.

  • Great article. It is important to “Be” more than that guy who just picks his clothes out of the hamper for the day. I think the core of this article is to avoid incongruity. Humans are, as he said, tribe animals. Look around, you see all kinds of tribes all over the place. But there is more to belonging to a tribe than just the look. There are mannerisms, a knowledge base, and often simply who you know. You can’t just dress like an indie rocker and pull off that archetype if you don’t know or care anything about music. The incongruity will be glaring as soon as you open your mouth. So, if you want to invoke a particular archetype, you really need to LIVE the part. That is why it is best to find an archetype that fits who you really are. Just a part of who you are that you may have been neglecting. Find that part of you – whether it be business-person, music lover, football fan, physicist, etcetera – nurture it, learn what it is like to “Be” one of those people (remember, they are nerds to, in a way). Make sure to acquire the knowledge and skills that are associated with this newly cultivated aspect of yourself. If you think you are a physicist, then you better learn the math. Now watch various people in that archetype, pay attention to how the media portrays that archetype (because that is what people will expect), pick which version you think will be the most popular, and then go for that. It is not faking who you are, because you are invoking a part of who you really are. All you are doing is carefully choosing how you will portray that aspect of yourself to the outside world.

    I, myself, chose the college professor archetype years ago, because I eventually want to either be a college professor or work in academia in some way. Now there are many different styles within that archetype. One of which is the physics professor who looks as if he picked his clothes out of the hamper each day. I had one of these. Not many people went to his office hours. Though he was actually kind of good looking, he hid that behind all the sloppy dressing and non-shaving. I initially chose the hip English/Literature professor look. I had the long hair, the wire-rim glasses, and everything. The girls loved it. But I would rather smack the Bronte sisters across the face than read another one of their fantasies about poor girls hooking up with rich guys while pretending that they reflect any aspect of real life whatsoever. I couldn’t get along with female English students who somehow believed that if you can find three people who have speculated the same thing about how some fantasy novel applies to real life then it must be true. The study of English Literature invented the concept of “Truthy-ness” long before Stephen Cobert was ever born. So, anyway, I cut my hair.

    Now I just go with a somewhat casual look, depending on where I am hanging out. In this category, everything seems to mostly depend on how much money you spent on the clothes and accessories. It is sad but true that even decent, caring women are still attracted to expensive clothes. I can’t afford expensive clothes right now so it’s not working so well these days. Plus, I have always had an issue with wearing expensive clothes and looking like one of those preppies who used to tease me in school. But it works. So I have to get over that ingrained notion and get comfortable with the idea of wearing $200 jeans and a pressed, long-sleeve, oxford shirt, that I don’t tuck in. I may never look like David Duchovny, but I can dress like him. And, more importantly, I can pull of the professor persona because I truly want to be one. I can write a better thesis than most of the ones I have read. I can teach a class. I can tutor students and improve their grades by two letters. Point being, I could walk the walk and talk the talk long before I tried to wear the clothes.

    The lesson I take from Vin Diesel and crew above is that it is possible to belong to more than one tribe. Also, that it is possible and legitimate to present yourself as being a member of the most popular tribe you can muster, while still also belonging to the nerd tribe. That goes back to Dr. N’s article about labels. Don’t let one label utterly define you.

  • Stephen Cary

    Dr. Nerdlove, you have written a wonderful expansion on Socrates' line, "The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be." But your essay is much more specific and contemporary, so thanks.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Yes, I will just sit here and pretend that was entirely intentional…

  • Sahrial

    … Lol'd when I reached the pic pf Duchovny. He's probably one of my favorite actors and my sole and unrepentant man-crush, and I happen to be wearing almost an identical shirt and jeans while reading this. Apparently I've been trying to rock the "Cool College Professor" ever since I swore off my t-shirts halfway through my first year of college. Of course, he pulls it off much better than I do, but… y'know, he's friggin Mulder. Still, wish I could see his shoes. I have a hard time with shoes. As much of a size thing as a style thing. 15wide-16 Mens depending on the make. Generally have to go with whatever I can find at Nordstrom Rack, which is quite unreliable.

    Anyways, great article, Doc. Between this, the How-to-dress-yourself article, and the hair article, you just might yet save the Nerdom's image.

  • Astral

    I think Colson Whitehead is a great example of a successful archetype blend in practice and in style. Acclaimed writer who writes about zombies, among many other topics + dreads, sometimes glasses, suits, leather jackets…So much sexier than Steinbeck!!

  • Zorku

    The word I came up with was "me" but I knew that wasn't descriptive. Strained for a minute and came up with "white" then "asian" and then rejected asian because I don't look like one and that word came from thinking about my race.

    I'm not attached to anything I do, except maybe thinking rationally but only because I can't grasp how I'd use an alternative for my primary way of thinking.

    If I think harder than I have here I write fairly well (hard to stop just picturing that as "I'm literate,") and I have some art talent but aside from internet posts I don't ever do these things.

    Celebrities get me nowhere. I don't identify with any of them. Hell, when I like one of them it's entirely for ways that they're different from me.

    I kicked away the over sized clothes a good while back and I try to look decent (good would be a bit of a leap in my head,) but when I try to describe it I only come up with a blank. Nots are easy- not a cowboy, not a hipster, not a punk rocker, not a librarian, not a teacher, not a biker, not a hippie, not a- well that's probably enough, I don't think I can really dial in on anything by process of infinite elimination.

    So… contrarian argument asshole?

    So for a long time I've actually used "Jack of all trades" (short of playing any musical instruments,) to describe myself but I've got no idea how to expand on it. In high school I ran faster that anyone except to people in track and I didn't have the stamina of the jocks, I actually remembered what the teachers were saying whether I was alert and focuses on it or bored and scribbling on paper, I did all of the classes on the fundamentals of art but never knew what to use it for, I figured out all of the cultures high school presents to kids (the whole 9/11 thing happened during high school for me so that part of the map went ignored right until the end of public education,) and a good deal of the time I actually saw how you could use the math we had been taught to solve problems better than the ways people actually did (but learned quickly that it was futile to try and explain this unless they actually got stuck- "you can do this better" doesn't excite peers, at least as little kids.)

    -Well actually if I didn't have anything I could probably slap that into an OKCupid profile without having to smooth it out so much. Only serious issue is that I don't see any selling points in it. But nonetheless I've still got no idea how to fit it into an archetype.

    Individually are these even things 'things' I can 'be?' Every one of them was just "I'm kind of like this but not really." That's not being something- but I do try to be these things from time to time, just without ever coming away from it with an identity.

  • adobo

    There are no male Asian archetypes here (which is another beef I have with the newly popularized Geek culture – just like Hollywood, it's white-centric but I'm not putting that on DNL's shoulders… it's a pervasive American cultural legacy.) There are a bunch of us regular guys who happen to be Asian but aren't Grant Imahara.

    • Mel_

      There's an Asian guy in the "indie rocker" picture. And I'm not sure how any of these archetypes exclude Asian guys. Are you saying that Asian men can't be businessmen, bikers, rock gods, or cool college professors? I think the ideal is to recognize that people of all races can fit into all sorts of archetypes, not to have an archetype specific to your race… which encourages exoticizing and othering.

      (If what you're actually criticizing is the fact that most of the pictures are of white guys–there's only one black guy there too, I'll point out!–I'll agree it'd be nice to see more varied photos and I think DNL's mentioned it's something he's working on.)

      • Dr_NerdLove

        Asian men might have an issue trying to pull off the biker look, but only because there are no predominantly Asian outlaw motorcycle clubs a la the Bandidos or the Hells Angels.(Japanese Bosokuzu are too far outside the cultural meme to really work as a sexy stereotype here)That doesn't mean there aren't ways to make it work, but the Harley-riding archetype will be harder.

    • 2nihon

      Freddie Wong?

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  • Forest

    One thing that I think this article should have mentioned is that sometimes, being weird can work in your favor. It seemed to me to be about how you can embody a popular style by looking at the mainstream and picking and choosing from it. It's also very much focused on mainstream conceptions of masculinity.

    In my experience, the best way to look fly and be really, truly, comfortable with who you are, might be to skip over the celebrity archetype step, or at least take it with a massive boulder of salt. The beefy, hypermasculinized men mentioned here, Vin Diesel, etc, are not really attractive to a lot of women, and more importantly ** They are not attractive to me. ** I suppose I've developed a sense of style, and I often get compliments on the way I dress, but I wasn't trying to emulate celebrities. I was trying to emulate some guys I used to work with who I thought were hot, or at least dressed nice, a girl I had a crush on, and some punk ass queer kids of indeterminate gender I saw doing awesome political organizing and activism that I could really get behind. Hell, at one point I thought it would be cool to wear a tight fitting suit like I was a superhero or I was on Star Trek or something.

    It sounds even to me like I'm gonna end up dressing, like, gay, or something, and yeah, about a third of my wardrobe came from the women's racks in the thrift store, and I wear my hair in a bun, but with the way I act, you'd never think of it that way, and girls like me. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, its great to be weird, and you don't always have to conform to expectations that people have for your gender. Pick someone you like to base your style on, not someone you think that women might be attracted to.

  • Gil

    The true definition of geek (nerd, dork, etc) is social awkwardness/incompetence. In other words, they mostly have some for autism/aspergers. Saying some jock actually likes to do something that sounds nerdy doesn't somehow make them a geek. Doubly so, considering comparing playing video games today versus in the early days when pixels were as big as lego pieces and a16-color graphics was the most you could hope for. Rather a true geek (well not the truest circus geek) does something low-risk (like playing video games) but does it obsessively at the exclusion of other activities. Hence jocks do play video games and the such-like but not at exclusion of outdoor and social activities.

    • Robert

      Or we can adjust the true definition of geek (nerd, dork, etc) so that it isn't defined by something inherently bad but allows for the possibility of actually being a socially cool guy. The dabblers in geek culture get to wear the name tag, while the "true" geeks now have a better public image. Sounds like a great win-win scenario. I wonder if society has done this already …

      • Gil

        I've seen cool dudes admit to playing games like World of Warcraft to women and it doesn't turn them off because they know cool guys don't play it obsessively like a real geek. As said, terms like nerd, dork, geek, square, otaku, etc., refer to social incompetence not playing video games or reading comic books per se any more than a nerd who drives a sports car is suddenly cool.

  • He / she still looks like he’s twenty five. Amazing.

  • Look in the mirror & say the first thing that comes to mind?
    Honestly, whenever I do this, my mind is blank. Besides stating the obvious (Caucasian male, late 20's, etc.) when I look at myself in the mirror, I don't really think anything of it. The same can be said of trying to think of two words that describe me. I've got nothing.
    I feel like an empty canvas. I feel devoid of any concrete identity, and thus don't feel like I can relate to any other concrete identity or archetype to model myself after. It also makes it harder to relate to other people in general. I'm the quintessential real-life NPC. I'm just sort of "there".
    I mean, I do have things that I'm somewhat interested in, and enjoy doing. But nothing really defines me as ME. I like dinosaurs; that doesn't make me a paleontologist. I'd be bored to tears with that kind of deep involvement in the subject. I just sort of like it for the surface-level "cool" factor of it.
    The same can be said of most of my interests; my investment in them is almost always very basic. Which brings up another point that I think relates to the concept of identity; passion.
    You hear constantly that people are drawn to individuals who display a passion for something. I don't feel any strength of emotion towards anything that could be described as having an actual passion for it. Nothing inspires passion in me. Nothing really excites me.
    I'm not walking around being depressed or pissy at the whole world or anything. I just fail to see anything in my life that brings up a passionate response in me. I know I don't have a lot of experiences under my belt to draw from, which could be a part of the issue. But the problem is, I don't feel passionate enough about anything new to want to push myself to try it.
    Now that I think of it, I'm pretty sure most of what I'm interested in is only a part of my life because it incidentally found its way into my life through some passive means. That show I enjoy, I just happened to stumble across it one day. That hobby I like, I actually sort of picked it up by accident. Or maybe I like something because it was a part of my childhood, and it draws upon feelings of nostalgia from that period in my life. Which isn't to say that my childhood was good (it decidedly wasn't), it's just that that particular interest was a better PART of that time, and so it stuck.
    I don't see anything about that which would inspire passion. And without a firm grip on one's passions, they can't have a firm grip on their identity. Which means I don't know how to model myself to others. I don't know where I fit, because I don't know who I am. How do I solve this problem?