Growing up most of us probably have been categorized as a “math” or a “not math” type of person. I grew up believing that I was a “not math” type of person. I still was able to do well at math in high school, but it required me more effort to understand the material and I would often have to take private lessons with my math teacher to understand the concepts and do well in the class.
When I went to university to study Economics, which is a math-heavy program, I encountered even more difficulties with math. I passed the first college math just fine, I took the first and second statistics and passed them too. But I finally hit the wall when I tried taking Econometrics last year.
Econometrics is essentially a study of Economics plus Mathematics and Statistics. In my German university they load Econometrics with further calculus and matrices in addition to all the statistics and programming needed to do Econometrics. I just couldn’t understand the math, so I failed the exam. And since the exam was 100% of the class grade, I would have to retake the exam to pass the class.
A few weeks later I had a retake exam for Econometrics. I had about a week to prepare for it. I studied hard and tried to understand all the concepts. But I still failed the retake. That was the first time I actually hit a wall at something. I had one last try left at Econometrics and I wasn’t sure I could even do it! I didn’t have the “math brain” after all.
But the good news was that I could only retake Econometrics not the next but the following semester, so the exam would be only in a year. This gave me an opportunity to take a break from the so that I could really double down on it the following semester.
When the time came, I resolved to have a positive mindset. Instead of thinking that I “didn’t have a math brain” and therefore I would never ever be able to pass Econometrics, I chose to have a growth mindset.
Yes, I wasn’t particularly talented at math. That was true. But if I changed my study strategy, if I asked for help, and if I studied both hard and smart, then I could actually pass that exam. So I choose to have a mindset that with time and hard work, I could master Econometrics, even if it took me a little bit longer.
There have actually been studies done that prove that the human brain doesn’t just stop developing once we reach adulthood. The human brain is still malleable throughout life. We can become smarter by exercising our brains, just like training a muscle.
So I studied hard and smart the entire semester for Econometrics. I also had an opportunity to pick the brains of two Econometrics tutors once a week for two hours. This offer was for all students, but only a few chose to take advantage of it. So since there were only a few people asking questions every week, I pretty much had the help of at least one tutor at a time for the entire two hours!
To be completely honest, going to that class to ask questions for two hours sometimes felt like stepping on my pride every time I went there. I had to admit my inadequacy of not being able to understand Econometrics by myself. And every time I raised my hand to ask another question, I had to remind myself that while it maybe makes me feel uncomfortable at the moment to admit that I needed help, it is still best for my understanding.
So that’s what I did for the entire semester. Asking tutors to explain the problems to me really helped me to understand Econometrics. I even started to like it!
I reviewed everything before the exam and took it for the third time, my last try. And I was very happy to find out that I passed the exam! YAY!
So the main takeaway from this experience is the importance of having a growth mindset. If I didn’t believe that I could master Econometrics, then I wouldn’t even bother taking the class again the following year. But humans can train their brains, just like muscles, and stretch their limits. There are no “math” or “not math” people. There are just people who understand math quickly and those who take a little bit longer.
And the second big thing I learned was the importance of asking for help. It’s so easy to pretend like you are self-sufficient and independent and you don’t need others to help you. It actually requires humility to ask for help. And if I didn’t force myself to step on my pride and ask for help every single week of that semester, I wouldn’t have passed the exam.
So I want to leave you with this: what are the limiting beliefs you have about yourself? Is it being a “not math” type of person or maybe not being able to speak in public? Whatever it is, with enough effort, time, and help from others, you can definitely improve in that area and maybe even master it. It might require you more time than someone who is just naturally talented at it, but don’t let that stop you and limit you in your life!