In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Land of Confusion.”
I often tell people I am not good at math.
Now, the last time I received a poor grade in a math class was elementary school. I high school, I tutored a girl in grammar and algebra. Physics was always my favorite science because it was so problem-based.
I truly have no problem with math. I can’t multiply large numbers in my head and couldn’t even begin to solve a variable equation today but I was never bad at math. Over time, I just decided math was not for me because it didn’t seem to fit with the other areas I excelled in. I began to say that I was bad at math because it was easier than trying to fit into all the different roles.
I made small choices that, over time, led me to no longer doing or enjoying numbers. I took an extra art class senior year of high school rather than an extra math class. I delved into hobbies like yoga, photography and jewelry making in my free time rather than studying all night. I took the SAT only once, forgoing a math tutor, as I was satisfied enough with my score at the time. All tiny choices that led me to where I am with numbers today, which is somewhere between being old friends and neighbors who wave politely but are too shy to ask for extra butter.
As I sat in a stadium of 60,000-something people on Sunday, garbed in a smothering black gown, silk stoles and dangling ropes (all that pomp), I wondered where I might be if some of my tiny choices had been different. Or perhaps if I had allowed myself to be good at both math and literature. I wondered what other columns of students I could be sitting in: I could be a nurse, I thought–or social work, I could really do that. What about dentistry? I do love teeth. My reason for asking these questions wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my major. I am not unhappy. I am starting a job in June. All things considered, I’ve been mildly successful the past four years. So why all the wondering?
I sat there, sweating, looking at 11,000 college graduates and I just couldn’t help but think about choices. Each and every one of us made a choice to follow a certain path–not quite knowing where it would lead. Sure your degree doesn’t define your path after school but it certainly defines your path in school. So at minimum, I was looking at 11,000 people who made a choice to follow a path for some given period of time–how many of them were sitting there regretting their choices? How many of them were sitting there still trying to figure out if they’d regret their choices? How many of them will come to regret it a few years from now?
The thing about choices is, especially for me, there will always be the option to regret them. In the past three weeks, I’ve had to make a few major decisions. Decisions that would affect my financial situations, my future, my relationships, my career and my happiness. I called friends, I made pro-con lists, I even flipped a coin.
Normally, I try to trust my gut but recently my gut has been too busy churning with nervousness to send me clairvoyant messages. As of late, I can’t make any choices knowing 100% I didn’t, in some small capacity, make the wrong choice. The reason for this is my ability to see both sides of an equation (eh, eh, math? maybe?). If this were the Matrix and I was Neo, when given the choice of the blue or red pill two unique and detailed lifetimes would flash before my eyes. I would imagine the stories, dreams, dates, kids, funerals associated with both. I would imagine two very complete, potentially satisfying but different lives. This is our nature as humans–to overanalyze and plan things, to imagine what might be. In the wake of a big decision we often think about all the potential consequences of our choice or what we might be missing out on. We should work on that.
In meditation, people talk about the power of acknowledging thoughts without giving into them. It is almost impossible to stop these thoughts, these almost-regrets, from creeping into your mind. Instead, just let them come and then let them go. If I learned anything in the past few weeks, it was the rewarding nature of allowing a thought to leave you. Rather than dwell on potentials, what-ifs and maybes, I’ve continued to make small, every day choices that help me enjoy the larger situation more. The option to regret things will always be there. For now, it is best to just live.
“I spend so much time thinking about all the answers to the problem … that I forget what the problem actually was.”