Wednesday, December 5, 2007

You're a stupid girl

Let me let you in on a secret: I'm bad at math. It's the real reason I don't take cabs, why I don't order delivery. I can't do basic math without counting on my fingers and I need a calculator for higher numbers. I'm lucky I can determine the tip at a restaurant, but that's because I've memorized how to do so. Math is my kryptonite.

My new boss is metrics man. He loves it and he rocks at it. He's into doing projections, models, all this stuff that I can't even name. I wouldn't have taken this job had I known that I would be responsible for coming up with metrics. It's not my strength. He knows that I'm a noob so he's patiently showing me how to do this.

For the past week now, he'll call me over to work on a spreadsheet. I'll be sitting at his desk, my face hot, holding back tears while he's coming up with shit that makes my head spin. All I'm thinking about while he's showing me his model is that I can barely add and subtract. I have flashbacks of summer school, tutoring sessions that ended in failure, aptitude tests that confirmed my mathematical incompetence. This process has unearthed a level of insecurity that I haven't felt in years. It has unearthed old shit that says, "You're only smart if you're good at math. You're not good at math, ergo you are stupid." It has unearthed an intense shame and deep rooted fear that I'm not smart at all. The real secret is not only do I feel stupid for being bad at math, I'm afraid that everyone else thinks I'm stupid too. Forget my strengths, ignore that I'm smart in many other areas, because the only thing that counts, the only measure of my intelligence is my mathematical abilities and without any, I'm nothing but a beautiful dumb girl. These are harsh, unforgiving and unloving messages that I tell myself.

I want to quit my job, give up and give into the belief that I can't conquer this, that it's best to leave now before being fired, because to be fired will confirm my belief that I am being judged, that I am stupid. The other part of me wants to head over to Barnes & Noble, pick up "Math for Dummies," and work harder than I have ever worked to nail this shit and show myself that I can do it (and that I am smart).

It wouldn't be without precedent: In college, I challenged myself and took algebra II, physics (yes), statistics (uh huh), micro and macro economics and got nothing lower than a B. While I do think there's a difference between working on equation after equation and acing tests compared to working out real-world scenarios, I have proven that with a lot of hard work, I can do it.

So I can't give up, right? I can do it!

Wait. Doesn't all of this reinforce my belief that I can only be considered smart if I'm good at math? There's no room here for me to struggle at it and still consider myself intelligent. It's a zero sum game I've created.

I didn't expect this job to challenge me in so many ways.

1 comment:

Rational Answers said...

There is no denying that math has contributed significantly to the advancement of the human condition. But, the inability to do math does not indicate a lack of intelligence any more than do the inabilities to dance, play a musical instrument or learn a new language.

Intelligence is essentially the capacity to convert information into knowledge. Different people have different affinities for different flavors of information. Math is simply one such flavor.

While you may never develop a taste for math, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, you are not allergic to it. As such, you do not absolutely have to avoid contact with it, especially if it entails deviating from your preferred course of action. Doing so allows your fear of math to make you into something other than what you are otherwise inclined to become.