I used to hear one question a lot when I was a kid.
Whether an adult was asking me, or another kid my age, it was always the same:
What are you going to be when you grow up?
In second grade, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. My friend wanted to be a fireman. Another friend wanted to be a professional skateboarder.
By high school, I was still thinking doctor, or maybe veterinarian. One of my friends planned to be an engineer, another wanted to teach, and one planned to go to the Air Force Academy and become a fighter pilot (he just retired from the Air Force a few years ago).
In my senior year in high school I ran into Algebra 2. More specifically, factoring polynomials. FOIL method. Up to that point, math had made sense. Plug the numbers into the formulas, and get your answer. X equals 11, Y equals 9. Pythagorean Theorem? Piece of cake. Word problems? Easy.
But, polynomials made no sense. The magic of the FOIL method didn’t help. First, Outside, Inside, Last? Solving for multiple variables that cancel each other out in some mysterious way? Arriving at an answer that looks as cryptic as the original question? What does a polynomial look like if you draw one? When will we ever use this in real life? I’d say it was all Greek to me, but I didn’t know Greek either, or Latin.
I hadn’t even reached Calculus (the math all the other brainiacs were taking in their senior year), and I’d hit a wall.
I could see the handwriting on the chalkboard (teachers used to write on them before whiteboards were invented). To become a doctor would require a science degree of some kind. That science degree would require a ton of math well beyond polynomials…maybe even Calculus. What comes after Calculus?! And, what about Latin? Doctors all seemed to use Latin. How would I learn that? It wasn’t even offered at my high school. And, what about getting into medical school? Did I have eight years to give up? How would I pay for all of it? This was going to be hard!
We each have a strategic thinking instinct. The ability to prioritize, make deductions, create connections, and map out a direction. Or, multiple directions.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we either ignore our strategic thinking capability, or we use it to map out why something is impossible. We visualize all the obstacles while ignoring the path around, over, or through them. We neatly stack all the obstacles into an impenetrable wall, rather than a series of hurdles to be taken one-at-a-time.
My doctor plans went down in flames…but, I was the one pointing the metaphorical plane into the ground.
Could I have found a way to understand polynomials? Yes. Could I have dealt with Calculus? Yes. What about Latin? Yes. What about getting into medical school? Yes. Did I have what it took to become a doctor? Probably (we will never know).
Did I allow myself to realize any of this at the time? No. I was too busy jumping toward another goal that had fewer obstacles, or so I thought. One that didn’t require Calculus. One that I could get my head around, and see more clearly.
I now understand something I didn’t back when I was a high school senior. I’m not sure I understood it by the time I was a college senior either. Our biggest obstacle, the one that matters more than any of the obstacles we can see, the obstacle that trumps all others, is staring back at us in the mirror. Find your way around, over, or through yourself, and you are well on your way to overcoming almost any other obstacle in your path…maybe even polynomials.
Want the answer to the crazy equation? This might (or might not) be it