“You must love the math.”

A reflection after finishing the Math 10 sequence at UCSD — my least favorite sequence, despite the interesting professors who bring it to life.

It’s the first day of class, and in walks the math professor, Dr. Stevens. We exchange the usual pleasantries (and by we, I mean her and a hundred blank stares), and with students either scribbling everything down or taking it as a free pass to zone out, she offers advice her own professor gave years ago:

“You must love the math. Call everyday, and treat math as if a lovely lady to woo.”

Ten weeks later I ended up with a C+. It would take another quarter before I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that it was not enough to call. If I was going to have a memorable and meaningful conversation with math, my mind had to be in it. Opening the textbook and drilling the homework problems would not be enough, and neither would all the office hours in the world if I mentally checked out the moment I left the room.

Which begs the question — why was I so loathe to put my mind into math in the first place? Was it because I found it boring? In a sense. I mean, I wasn’t dreaming about integrals and differentiation at night. But more so because it came with the threat of failure. Math was my weakest subject back in high school, right behind Spanish. I even flunked it in eighth grade, but the teacher took pity on me and gave me a D- instead (which, surprise surprise, didn’t feel any better). Quite the drop from a person who used to sweat over anything less than an A.

Perhaps the most frustrating realization was that all this took a lot more work and effort than if I had just done it “right” the first time — that is, seeking to understand why a problem is so, rather than plugging and chugging an answer and calling it a day.

Love for math can’t be forced. And relying on validation from good grades as an indicator of self-worth comes with its own set of problems. But knowing when to quit and when to push forward is essential to learning and deciding priorities in life, and this is a time when I quit too early.

 

Still not a fan of integrals.

Author: Wes

Writer, runner, student.

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