Life Lessons, UnComfort Zone

Remember When Barbie Said, “Math Class is Tough”? Yeah, That.

Comeuppance is the only way I can think to describe it.

Or maybe realllly rusty.

But no matter how I look at it, re-encountering the math in my Model Thinking course has been sobering.  I’ve never been so grateful for the video replay feature in my life.

Remember when Teen Talk Barbie was released in 1992 and one of her 270 randomly available sentences was “Math class is tough”?  Remember the uproar?  How dare they perpetuate the girls-can’t-count [read: girls don’t count] stereotype? I’d always been strong in math, always took a kind of personal offense to any assumption that this wasn’t or couldn’t be an area in which I might excel. Not only was I good at math, I liked math.

So imagine my surprise when I could not get my head around the mathematics in these first few lectures. The course description warned some calculus might help, but that solid algebra would be sufficient. I figured: no problem – got that.  And maybe I do, but it has clearly been in cold storage, if not a musty basement, for some years and things are a tad…sluggish.

It’s an uncomfortable parallel to muscular fitness: my once exceptionally limber body isn’t; my once sufficiently limber math chops aren’t. Yet. I am determined to regain my strength. Yesterday I made three humiliating tries on one fairly straightforward problem in the little pop quizzes between lectures. My notebook is full of the scribbling, charts and diagrams it takes me to get to the right answers. I am definitely “showing my work” — and hellbent on limbering up again, mathematically speaking.

As aggravating as it is, the rust is strangely gratifying. It’s giving me a reason to push, making me break a sweat, allowing me to experience a sense of accomplishment when I finally get it.

Humbling aside, the reframe is striking. What to do with my self-image of someone who is good at math when I’m struggling with the stuff? Am I someone who used to be good at math? Someone who might be good at math again, eventually? Do I even need a math identity?


It’s all such an interesting convergence of my recent musings on mindset and the power of words to describe ourselves and how we move through life. I remind myself of my admonition to the kids, it’s okay if it’s hard. That’s how you know you’re accomplishing anything. 

I should listen to myself more often. Struggle : skill :: lemons : lemonade.

Life Lesson #14: It’s okay if it’s hard.


12 thoughts on “Remember When Barbie Said, “Math Class is Tough”? Yeah, That.

  1. My experience of advancing years: EVERYTHING is harder. And not just a little bit, either. Things I used to sail through now feel like major roadblocks. I wonder to myself: is that how life has always been for most people? And I think probably it is, and I was just oblivious and lucky for a long time.


    1. I think you are right – which is actually a wonderful insight into human nature and a reminder that a little patience, all around, is most warranted!


  2. I, too, love math, and if I’m right I think we shared classes with Mr. Horowitz and Mrs. Fidler at GHS. And it is harder now – frustrating as that is to recognize. I’d like to know more about your class and why you decided to take it. I think about engaging in music lessons again to exercise that part of my brain, but I have not considered taking a math class. Something to ponder! Thanks, Lynn!


    1. Ah, GHS math!! How fun to connect….

      The class I am taking is offered through Coursera, taught by a professor at University of Michigan. I was drawn to it because I thought it would expand my thinking and offer a theoretical underpinning to things I believe I learned and saw “in the real world”. I wish now that I had had some of this theory sooner as I’ve really enjoyed thinking about how it applies to all sorts of events (personal, political, communal).

      The math was an unforeseen consequence of the adventure – a little twist that, while more challenging than I had thought to anticipate, gives the course an added impact. 🙂


  3. I’m catching up on things I’ve missed. You might want want to listen to this piece. I never was a Math geek. My mother said “I was never good at Math” when I got my first D in Geometry. That was my permission not to work hard. My teacher was not very forgiving, or creative. I’m trying to look at numbers differently than counting. This reinforces some of that thinking.


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