Am I Really Bad at Math?

I’ve talked a little bit on social media about applying for my PhD and, well, the results are in: I didn’t get into any of the PhD programs I applied for. And I’m like weirdly okay with it?

Obviously, I’m bummed and it’s hard to hear that all the hard work I put in applying and studying for the GRE didn’t get me anywhere. But on the other hand, it’s making me think a lot about what I want to do with my future. Do I want to do social media forever? Do I really want to go back to school or do I just miss using my brain in challenging and unexpected ways?

A little background on my personality: I’m a big nerd. I’ve always loved school and been an excellent student. To this day, I read academic articles on JSTOR for fun. I love in-class (and out-of-class tbh) debates and constructing arguments in my head. I’ve always been a humanities person, but then I worked in medical technology for a couple of years and had my mind blow. I actually liked this stuff: math, logic, computer science, etc. And it’s sort of sent my head spinning ever since.

I wonder if any other women are having this existential crisis: am I not good at things or have I just spent my whole life thinking I’m not good at things when I actually am?

In high school and college, I always crushed it in English class, but felt completely disconnected from my math classes. I always assumed I was just bad at math and thought it was boring. When I dated a physics major in college, I could keep up but I just wasn’t that interested in the things he was learning.

But then I worked in healthcare technology and had a job that required me to solve problems all day long. Was the assignment logic wrong? Was it a server issue? What is the most efficient way for them to strategize their upgrade? At first, I wanted to die it was so boring and I thought there was no way I would enjoy it. But by the time I left, I felt a part of brain lighting up when I worked that felt really good. This was the same part of my brain that lit up when I had to re-learn math for the GRE. I got up at 6am every day to do math because I actually enjoyed learning it.

I think working in technology helped me develop patience for my own non-understanding. I used to get immediately frustrated if something didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t want to ask questions in school because I was afraid it would make me look dumb and so much of my high school identity was wrapped up in being an overachiever. But now I don’t care if I’m the dumbest person in the room. I want to understand the concept at hand, even if I’m asking the most basic questions.

I also think I have the confidence to learn new things that I didn’t have when I was younger. Young life, especially in the United States, is wrapped up in finding what makes you exceptional. It’s how you win awards, and get praise, and, ultimately, get into college. I was so determined to get into a great school that is was no wonder I didn’t want to waste my time with things that other people were naturally better than me at. I leaned into what came easily and what I could be the best at quickly. But now I don’t care about being the best. What matters to me on a daily basis is whether or not I’m challenged.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. I love the job I have right now. I get a thrill finding great content and talking long-term strategy for social media. But at the same time, I feel like something is missing. That I could be doing so much more with my brain. I feel like I’ve pigeonholed myself into being an ‘arts’ person and there’s an entire side of myself that I’ve written off all these years. It feels like an existential crisis, but it also feels like an opportunity to reclaim part of myself that I’ve lost.

So, I want to learn math, dammit! I want to read scholarship again. I want challenge my brain and lean into things I don’t know and see where it takes me. I want to know if I really hate certain topics or if I’ve been conditioned by the patriarchy to belittle myself and my intellect. Time and time again I learn things that I thought were impossible for me to learn and I realize the world is my oyster. I just have to do it.

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