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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Learning to Love Math - #NaBloPoMo 18

I know, I know. You already think you don't want to read this post, just because of the title alone. I thought about doing something more click-bait-like, such as "How to Work in Finance When You Hate Math" or "Math Sucks, But I Made it Work For Me" or "She Changed Her Attitude on Math, and You Won't Believe What Happened Next!"

I had the idea for this post back on October 23, and it's been sitting in my inbox for a long time, which is not the way I usually work. If I have an idea, I usually have to act on it quickly, because so many of my thoughts hit me in a fully-formed way. But this time, I've been stumbling. This isn't the post I'd originally imagined, because I've decided that I need to change my attitude on math, an attitude that has been very poor for far too long.

I don't remember having too much difficulty with math when I was in elementary school, except when I needed to memorize my multiplication facts and had a really hard time with 7 x 8. But by the time I entered algebra in 8th grade, I really struggled. I never cut myself any slack for the fact that I was doing this a year early and in the advanced class. I just assumed that I should be able to do it, and because I'd never really struggled too much with school work prior to this point, it was a really hard adjustment when I couldn't. I sought out extra help, and I studied hard, but I just was never as good at math as the other subjects. I was a solid B student in the advanced classes all throughout high school, even into AP Calculus. It killed me that I could have had a higher grade point average if I'd taken the lower level classes and gotten an A in those, probably with a lot less effort too, but I stuck with it. Being in those advanced classes was a big part of my self-image.

You would think that someone wouldn't major in Economics when math is a challenge, but I did it anyway. My college had a strong liberal arts focus, but I needed something practical. I was terrified to graduate and not be able to find a job (kind of like the current plot line for Drew, if there are any Parenthood fans out there). I struggled through Statistics--twice--in undergrad and while getting my MBA. Somehow, while pregnant with Max, taking my last course of my MBA program, I managed to get an A in Fixed Income, the area of finance in which I now work. It was a great capstone moment for me, but I was so caught up in life at the time, that it didn't change how I felt.

What has finally gotten me to change my attitude is my ten year old daughter. October 23, when I realized I needed to write this post, was two days after parent-teacher conferences, where I once again discussed my fear of Hannah developing an "I hate math" complex. She doesn't seem to struggle with math the way I did, but will admit that it's not her favorite. Her teachers told me how well she's doing with it, and that they didn't feel any pushback from her, but I still fear that it's coming.

So since then, I've been making more of an effort to explain what I *like* about math to her. I like when I have a complicated issue that is best described by comparing one result with another. I like when I can solve something by backing into it and figuring out the formulas. I like when I can bridge the gap between the portfolio managers I work with and our clients or prospects. I like that I'm strong enough with jargon to toss it around capably and effectively. I like when I can intuitively know an answer is wrong, be able to explain why that is, and help to determine the correct solution. I like that I've found a way to be part of my industry without having to pretend I'm something else.

I'm not ready to walk around with this "I (heart) math" tote bag just yet. But I'm getting closer.
Spied on a fellow Green Line commuter.

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