Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering Math

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover is yourself.  ~Alan Alda

If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.  ~Author Unknown

In recent years, I’ve gone through a lot of personal changes.  Some good, some bad – all of them learning experiences.  I guess you could say I’ve been on a quest to find myself.  Sounds a bit cliché but, I suspect, not uncommon for people like me – staring at the business end of forty.

I think my journey really began with the passing of my dad.  Unexpected death of a loved one has a way of putting things into perspective.  It makes you reevaluate your life, take stock in what you’re doing and what you want to be doing.  The harsh reality that this sort of thing could happen in my family with such cruel swiftness was eye-opening  – like someone doused me in ice water.  I began to take stock of my life.

What I found was that while I was happy, I wasn’t fulfilled.  Something was missing in my life.  I also quickly realized that the fault was entirely my own.  I’d created this bubble around myself – my comfort zone.  I didn’t wander out of this zone for any reason, for anyone.   But in creating this buffer between me and the outside world, I stunted my ability to grow.

Herein lies my problem.  I needed a challenge in my life – something outside my comfort zone.  I thought about changing jobs, maybe going to work for a bigger firm but I decided wouldn’t solve anything.  Bigger isn’t always better and it wouldn’t really be that much of a change to go somewhere else, doing the exact same work.  That would sort of defeat the purpose.  I struggled with this dilemma for a while, got good and pissy about it, made everyone’s life hell until out of the blue, I was struck by an odd notion.  I wanted to go back to school.  Alrighty then.

The prospect of entering a classroom after all these years was a bit overwhelming but I was convinced that it was exactly what I wanted to do.  Not because I wanted a new job – I liked my job – but because I wanted to expand my horizons, take on a new challenge that was more than just a one time deal, and learn.  I set about this with the same ardency that I do anything I am truly determined to accomplish.  The first thing I learned – I was going to have to take a placement test.  That little bit of news sent chills of fear down my back.  Well, only one part of the exam really scared the shit out of me.  The math portion.   I hate math and math hates me.  Years ago we mutually agreed to steer clear of one another.  It was better that way – for both our sakes.

I almost walked away from the idea at that point but once I accepted that I was going to have to conquer my fear and loathing of math, the rest was pretty much smooth sailing. Of course, determination to achieve something doesn’t mean you will get there on the first try.  Failure helps you succeed, right?  I bombed the math portion of that test and was relegated down to remedial math – not the lowest level, but pretty darn close.  It was humbling but I sucked it up and soon found that math, at least lower level math, wasn’t all that scary.  I had to study, do my homework and faithfully go to class but passing was within my reach.  And I did pass. Every single one of those remedial math classes – with an A.

Then came the true test.  College Algebra.  Pshaw, you say?  Piece of cake?  For some, yes.  For me, it was probably the scariest, most intimidating thing I’ve done in a very long time.  But after three semesters of back to back math classes, I knew I was as ready as I’d ever be for this challenge.  It was no easy task.  I spent hours and hours doing homework, pestering the tutors in the Math Lab, and studying.  Repetition, I discovered, is the key to mastering math at any level.  I didn’t get an A in College Algebra.  I knew after the first exam that it was going to be an uphill battle but I did manage to pull out a B.  Which in any other class would have sent me into a complete meltdown because I get A’s.  The higher the A the better.  I am a firm believer in the idea that every point counts.  I would never be satisfied with a 90 just because it’s all the same on a transcript.  I want every point possible.  But this was College Algebra and to finish with a B was absolutely the greatest feeling in the world.  Which is saying a lot because I was also awarded a Scholar Award in History for the same semester.  A great honor, one which I am extraordinarily proud, but I am even prouder that I made it through four successful semesters of math.

I am no longer afraid of math.  I know and understand what it takes to not just get by, but to do well in the subject.  That’s not to say that I’m going to change my major and suddenly embrace Mathematics.  If I have a say in it, I will never step foot in a math class again.  But the sense of accomplishment that I feel knowing that I swallowed my fear, looked straight into the eyes of the dragon and sliced it’s head right off is priceless to me.

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