4 Lessons I’ve Learned As a Math Major That Apply To Everything In Life

College Life Life Personal STEM

Happy Sunday everyone! Spring is officially 13 days away and midterm season is upon us, which for me means waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night after having tried to solve an impossible math problem in my sleep (woe is me!). If you know me well then you know I have a complicated relationship with my major; I love math, but it doesn’t come easy to me. These past three years have been a mental and emotional challenge that have tested my patience and dedication, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. I’ve learned so many lessons in the classroom that are applicable in the real world and not just on paper. There’s four in particular that have been of great value and that I find myself constantly repeating as mantras, so I thought I’d share!

It’s Not About Being Perfect, It’s About Being Present

I’ve walked out of office hours with more questions than answers, I’ve gone into exam rooms knowing fully well that I could’ve studied longer, and I’d be lying if I said I never walked into a lecture hall dreading the next 75 minutes just because I was not grasping the material we’d already been taught. I’ve convinced myself however that the fact that I’m struggling and feeling discouraged is not enough of an excuse to not try (it’s also kind of counterintuitive to skip, don’t you think?) When you’re going through rough moments or are not able to perform as well as you’d like to, sometimes it’s enough to just show up. Don’t beat yourself up over minor setbacks; instead, pick yourself up and keep trying. Just like you can’t beat a personal record every time you go on a run or_____, the effort in the attempt speaks volumes. Applaud yourself for just being okay when that’s all you can do.

There’s More Than One Way To Get the Right Answer

This one’s pretty self-explanatory; there’s more than one way to read and contextualize a problem, so there’s more than one way to arrive at a solution. Notice that I said a solution and not the solution because even the solutions themselves will vary, but the problem is solved regardless. Okay, all of that sounds redundant, but the point I’m trying to make is that in life the destination itself is arbitrary because what really matters is the journey. It’s the process of figuring out a strategy and attacking the obstacle that builds character and equips you with the tools you need for future cases. Don’t get hung up on a single solutions that you think is right when there are so many more ways to reach your destination, even if they may be more elaborate or less typical. Your technique will be what works best for you and its what makes your answer unique, so don’t you dare for one second think you can “cheat” on your test.

It’s Okay To Stand Out

In over ninety percent of my math classes I’ve had moments where I looked around the room and realized I was the only Latina, and sometimes even the only girl in the room. I’ve also had moments where I felt like I was the dumbest person in class because I raised my hand every 10 minutes with a question, and I knew everyone was looking at me as I struggled to grasp the professor’s answer. With time, however, I’ve learned to not care what others think. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be the only one probing for a deeper explanation, or to be the only one in the Courant math building wearing a crop top. I’ve embraced the fact that people doubt me because I don’t look like the typical math major at NYU, but that’s exactly what distinguished me from the crowd.

Outside of academia, it’s okay to stand out. Actually, scratch that: it’s not just okay, it’s courageous. It makes you memorable. So look for that one defining quality that sets you apart from the rest and celebrate it, because you were not meant to be like the rest.

The Journey Will be Boring Sometimes- Deal With It

So we talked about the journey earlier, but let’s face it: in order to get from point A to point B, there’s a lot of tediously repetitive tasks that are less exciting than the destination, but are required nonetheless. Succeeding in math requires lots (and lots and lots and lots) of practice, and in most cases this includes writing proofs and definitions a hundred times until you can do it without looking at your notes. Is this boring? Yes, it’s so monotonous that it can put me to sleep, but without this practice I cannot succeed in my classes nor be a mathematician. You can’t give up on a goal just because the tasks required to reach it don’t capture your interest. Every brush stroke is necessary to paint the big picture you want to live, so if it’s boring focus your mindset on the end goal.

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