I originally wrote this post on LinkedIn during my sophomore year in college.
I just want to clarify that I have never liked math. Actually, I still don’t. I remember sitting in my classes wondering when will I ever need this? I always knew I wanted to study hospitality. When was algebra going to come in handy?
I spent my class time hating that I had to learn it. A few years and many classes later, I realized that I actually use it EVERYDAY. And that it has been the most important thing I have learned in my life so far. Here’s how:
Think about the math you did in elementary school. Unless you were in the advanced classes, it was usually something like ‘take this number, take the other number, and what do you get?’. It was very this and that equals this.
Now think about the problems in Algebra- long gone is basic arithmetic. Heck, we didn’t even use numbers anymore, all 26 letters were now fair game, too! Even the problems were different. Instead of looking for the answer, they already gave it to you. You were given a few numbers to work with and had to calculate how to get to the answer. It was almost like working backwards…
…which is something you do almost every day! If you don’t know what I mean, here are a few examples:
– want to get an A on your exam (Answer), you need to review what you know (given variable) and figure out what else to study (what you need to calculate)
– want that promotion (answers), you need to evaluate what you’re doing (the given variable) and how to get there (what you need to calculate)
See Algebra isn’t about numbers and letters – it’s about goal setting.
When you were in elementary school, you were mostly focused on learning consequences. Like if you cover your face with tape during art class, you would get sent to the principal’s office (true story). Similarly, the math then was very consequence based too, where you would take a few numbers, put them together, and see what you get.
In high school however, the math changed. You now had an answer that you were trying to obtain by figuring out the missing variable, given what you already have. At the same time, you started setting long-term goals: where to go to college, what clubs to join, how to get good grades since they actually counted for your transcript. Instead of learning things as “If I do this, then this will happen” you starting thinking “I want to do this, how do I get there?”.
See, what Algebra did was get you thinking of things like a puzzle. It helped you approach situations from a “how do I get there?” perspective instead of just a “What happens if…”. But most of all, it taught you how to figure out the ‘missing variable’ to achieve the goals you’ve already set for yourself. And this, I think, is the most important lessons of them all.
(I still don’t like math, though.)