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To my horror, the clock read 8:15 pm. I only had fifteen minutes to complete the problem set that my math tutor assigned the previous week. I rolled my eyes and began scrambling to finish the difficult math problems that made no sense to me. Five minutes before the lesson, I gave up on the homework and attempted to contemplate a reasonable excuse explaining why I was unprepared like I was the last week… and the week before that.
Contrary to what you may think, I love math. I started working with Dr. Chernov, my tutor, because math at school became too easy, but I was suddenly catapulted from a puddle to an entire ocean. I struggled to find answers to the complicated questions Dr. Chernov gave me.
Dr. Chernov was brilliant and wasn’t afraid to challenge popular opinion. He discovered his own teaching methods because he wasn’t willing to conform to popular but harmful teaching styles. Instead of giving me formulas to memorize, he taught me how to derive them. He taught me mental math, so I could rediscover my mathematical imagination and use creativity to solve problems. He never valued the mere answer but sought efficient methods for solving problems and articulate explanations. His explanations of math concepts were masterpieces with sturdy foundations and intricate details. My mediocre performance left me feeling inadequate, and I realized that I based much of my self-worth on my mathematical prowess. I used procrastination to avoid confronting the possibility of not being enough. What if I tried my best and failed?
When the lesson started, I struggled to answer the problems since I hadn’t done them. Dr. Chernov then showed me simple solutions despite his disappointment. I felt stupid. I let him down again. Shame danced around my mind to a cacophony only I could hear. Through my nerves, I managed to ask, “Do you think I am naturally good at math like your other students?”
Dr. Chernov didn’t flinch. I didn’t know how to interpret his neutral countenance. After a heavy pause, he merely told me not to compare myself to others. Although his advice was important, I was devastated and left without an answer. I affirmed the suspicion that clawed its way into my thoughts: I wasn’t good enough. Dr. Chernov began to make the argument that innate talent could wither if not nurtured, but I didn’t listen because self-doubt seized control of my mind, draining away the joy math previously brought me. Finally, Dr. Chernov told me, “Seeking the validation of others is a dangerous, unproductive way of living. You must strive to be content with yourself.”
Suddenly, the poison in my thoughts evaporated. I remembered the reason why I respected Dr. Chernov. He did not derive satisfaction from the validation of others. He did not strive to make people like him. He did not change his teaching methods to please others.
Motivation began to pump through my veins. I could not control whether I was naturally gifted, but I could control how much effort I gave. By then, I was exhausted. The lesson was over after all.
“Thank you!” I told Dr. Chernov with a smile.
“Make sure you practice,” Dr. Chernov reminded me.
I nodded in agreement as my eyelids grew heavier.
“You don’t want to squander your natural talent for mathematics,” said Dr. Chernov.
My face lit up, but I was more proud of the fact that I could take his comment with a grain of salt as my self-worth began to assemble.
For the next lesson, I prepared until I was content with myself and my work.