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What I thought I would like

I had one of those flash backs yesterday... the ones where you imagine the self you were in high school looking at where you are now. I was talking with one of my co-workers about some complicated math... and I thought, wow, 16 year old me would think I was so cool right now. But mostly I feel like I have no idea what's going on. Everyone else seems to think I'm bright, but all I can see are the things I don't understand. And I feel like I don't give enough of myself to any one thing to be really good at it. But I don't know what I want to be good at. I like being competent at a lot of different things. But then sometimes I feel like I'm a hopeless hack, and all of a sudden everyone will look at me and realize how talentless I really am.

Maybe it's all about skipping algebra. I never really should have graduated from high school you know. I thought I took algebra in Germany, when I came back to my 28 kid's in each grade small private school in Virginia I told them I had. So they put me in geometry. And then I took Algebra2 my first year in high school. Boy was I confused. Until then I'd always been one of the best mathematicians in the class, if not the best. Math was relaxing. Math was like ... paint by number. Like a coloring book. I made it through, but it was one of the hardest things I'd done. Plus everyone else was a sophomore... and I was a freshman. After that it got like popping california rolls again, but there was that fear that I'd get caught out, for not actually knowing something.

I took a lot of math in college. It was relaxing. It made me feel smart. Math classes are easy. You string the theorems together, you string the formula together, it's all there in neat little packages. Practically a form of escapism. Then I hit the real world. It seems like half the folks around me have PhD's in math. They don't, they have PhD's in physics, particle physics, fluid dynamics, and, well, mathematics. And 40 years of post college experience. I feel like I've skipped algebra again, but it's way way worse. There are good days though, when I think, damn, that was smart. You learned a lot about autoregressive models today. But then there are a lot of days when I just have a headache and want to read netnews all day. Bleh. I get depressed when I think about how much more I would know if I could go back and invest all the time I've wasted reading about stem cell advances and politics into learning about Green's Function and Bessel functions. :-/ But then, if I'd done that my brain would have already exploded. :-)