Dear Hometown Zero,

This is a really rich letter, Hometown, and the lights it sparked in my brain are, no doubt, also lighting up other readers' brains, too. Your series of quandaries are common and relatable. You're absolutely not the only one to fall down this foxhole.

First, I want to kick down some of your misconceptions. When was the last time you heard someone fascinating attribute their success to their days on the child-beauty-pageant circuit or their prowess at underaged beer pong? Never, right? Getting picked on is horrible and unfair, but sooner or later you have to spin that torment into character. And forget the cliché that "chicks dig scars" — what we actually dig is character. (The line got left on the cutting-room floor of Fight Club, by the way.) Outcasts run the world!

And then you hit us with this: "...anything I'm capable of doing will be utterly worthless to anyone else." As long as you live in a world where NASCAR is popular and Oreo Cakesters are a thing, I doubt that you have "absolutely nothing" to contribute. Suffice it to say, Hometown, that I see many seeds of coolness in you. You already figured out what's wrong; you just need a nudge in some direction. So here's your nudge. The same rules of inertia that are making you miserable now can also be applied to improving things. Make one tiny change at a time, and good things will snowball. Opportunities don't just happen; they have to be engineered, brick by brick.

For starters, tweak your perspective. I understand that it sucks that you're living in your childhood home and that you're unemployed. But that also means you've got low overhead costs and time on your hands. Believe it or not, that's not a bad start.

From here, it's just about taking action. If motivation is a problem, choose something that you care a lot about, and fuck external praise. Have you always wanted to take a robotics class? Great! Solder it up, and don't worry about grades. Do you want to be around people? Rad, apply as a part-time bartender at TGI Friday's and try to figure out how to make Pizza Shooters sound appealing. Pick one small thing that sounds fun, jump in, and don't think twice about others' judgments. Stop defining yourself by failures, and you'll open more space for growth.

During all of this, you could probably use the backing of a good therapist. He or she can be an ally, and can help you rewrite your mental narrative. Pull yourself out of the margins and things will get infinitely easier. Still not convinced? Take it from an inspirational nerd. Just look at how happy he is.