I have never been good at math. While I breezed through English classes, reading comprehension, etc., I have ALWAYS struggled with mathematics, failing or barely passing my classes. In high school, the highest level I ever completed was Basic Algebra (or Algebra 1).
As an adult, I’ve found that I’m surprisingly adept at quickly adding & subtracting, multiplying and dividing in my head. But still, when it comes to algebra and higher…something doesn’t compute (I used to know someone who was quite skilled at math tell me once that it’s usually the people who understand more advanced equations, etc, that have a harder time with doing small equations in their head. Which would explain why I could quickly multipl without paper and a pencil – and fail all my math classes – and she would have more trouble with that, but yet exceed in every single advanced mathematics course she took). I don’t understand, I try to understand, I just feel like whoever is teaching this to me is contradicting what they said prior (which is, of course, ridiculous, since, unlike almost every other subject, the rules of math AREN’T up to interpretation or opinion. What’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong. That’s it.)
Side Note: Something that just occurred to me as I was writing this – Maybe it speaks volumes about my personality. That I’m bad at following rules. That I always want to tweak things to suit me, to compromise, to work around things and adjust, and here is this unyielding, steadfast entity, and as a result, I don’t. Despite the fact that this mindset DOES seem to benefit me in regards to my creative problem solving both in work and in life, it causes problems as well, has made me more and more resistant to compromise as I get older, and it’s definitely not a trait I’m proud of, so it deserves consideration: I’m sure there is a way to still think out of the box creatively and instinctively while still following necessary guidelines that are in place.
But regardless, as an adult, I actually TRIED to do well in math. When I was younger, I got frustrated after awhile and just stopped trying and started half-assing the work (so I could more quickly do something enjoyable or something I felt I actually felt I had a fair shot at - another negative personality trait, which unlike the previous one, shows no positive outcomes that I can see; I’m a complete instant gratification junkie. Which is probably the most immature of all my less than favorable qualities, but that’s a post for another time, as I could certainly go on a whole ‘nother rant about THAT one). But, a year ago, when I took my first math class in college (and my first math class AT ALL in 8 years) I tried my damndest. I went to math lab to work quietly and get help from tutors every day I had a class (2-3 times a week). I took extensive notes. Most nights, I would take my homework and my headphones, and go straight to a late night or all night coffee shop immediately after class, so I could work on the assignments while all the info was still fresh in my head, so I could more easily retain it by putting it to work (as well as going somewhere without any distractions, which would be much harder to do at home). I compared my work to the answers in the back, and if I didn’t come up with the right one, I tried to see where I went wrong. I asked questions A LOT. And by the time I turned in my homework packet every couple weeks, and even while taking the tests, I always felt I had a decent grasp of the material. But my test scores told a different story, and I failed most of them.
Needless to say, I didn’t pass the class.
I was so upset. Normally when I failed or did extremely poorly in school related endeavors, it was because I didn’t try as hard as I could have (I have so many “does not work up to full potential” report cards when I was a kid that I could wallpaper my bedroom with them). And, on the flip side, if I tried extremely hard in a class that I found difficult, the extra work would usually pay off, and I would at least get a passing grade.
Here’s the weird thing though: I REALLY enjoyed taking a math class. I didn’t enjoy the failing portion, obviously, but I’ve found myself, in the following months, MISSING IT. Missing the assignments, missing the work. Something about sitting at a table and just being given a sheet full of problems to solve. (Maybe that falls in line with the whole “desire for instant gratification” thing. I love solving problems. I love fixing things and building things and having my idea/know how/work be the final piece of whatever unfinished puzzle might be at hand).
No, seriously. I miss having math homework. (cue Twilight Zone music.)
Since I’ve been out of school for the last, um, year or so (?) now, I find myself kinda jealous when I see a couple of my friends posting stuff on Instagram of their sheet of equations that they are stuck working on. (Ashley, if you are reading this, I’m talking to you. Your picture of your homework over a month ago is what prompted this post more than anything, which is pretty sad on my part.)
Since school has been sort of up in the air the last few months, part of me considered just checking out a Basic Algebra textbook from the library, and try to study, teach myself, work on things. But I already have forgotten what little I DID properly learn in that class (to be fair, I consider myself a pretty intelligent person, but my retention skills in ALL subjects are pretty weak. I remember stupid minute details about things that aren’t important – perhaps remembering with my emotions and less with my brain – but ask me to tell you how a book I read a month ago ends, and I will most likely be hard-pressed to tell you), and as far as Math is concerned, I need guidance if I’m going to do it right.
I’m sure part of it is that I don’t want Basic Algebra, a subject that 15 year olds regularly master, to make me it’s bitch. I like a challenge, and my ego isn’t great about me doing badly (or outright FAILING) at something, especially when I made a genuine effort . My ego also doesn’t like being told I CAN’T do something. So I’m sure the fact that this is a subject that I have been struggling with for a decade is not sitting with me all that well.
When I talk about resuming school, and bring up math again and again, I usually get asked why I don’t just focus on design-related courses for now(since that’s the field I would ultimately like to be working in), and deal with the general ed stuff later once I’m in the swing of things. But I want that damn math credit. I’m more than willing to start back up with my weakest subject, because, quite frankly, for someone that worked so hard to support themselves and be an adult at a young age, I’ve given myself way too many outs and allowances in the last 2-3 years. I used to be someone who walked to two jobs in opposite directions because I didn’t have a car, worked two part times jobs, totaling 50 hours a week because I needed the money, who got shit done and didn’t think twice about it, because, well, it had to be done. No one else was going to do it for me. I didn’t have a boyfriend, or a particularly strong relationship with my family at the time. But then somewhere along the line, I decided I deserved to be young and have fun (which is fine), but kinda regressed, and never got back to the 19 year old me that worked a lot harder. I’ve dealt with a lot worse shit at a much younger age, and handled it much better than I have MUCH less important bullshit at 25, 26, 27… Needless to say, I used to be prouder of myself.
So I welcome the challenge. I welcome the hard work. I feel like I NEED the opportunity to work hard to make myself feel better about myself. And, unlike writing a paper for English, or creating an art piece for a design class, there is no “gilding the lily” in Math. When you are done with your sheet of problems, you are done. Whats more, you KNOW you are done. There is something very satisfying about that.
And if I AM able to take a math class this summer, and you hear me crying and whining about how much I hate it later on, remind me I wrote this, ok? ;)