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The Life Lessons Of Almost Failing Math!

One thing that’s usually safe to assume about us engineers is that we are pretty good at Math! The last thing you’d want is to get something wrong and end up with a bridge collapsing or safety controls not working correctly, right? I mean, that kinda stuff could literally be life or death!

After the 4 years of my degree and experience at university level courses, my knowledge on the subject was pretty strong to say the least. In fact, our course covers so much math at such a high level that it was once the case that the university gave math degrees out along with the engineering to recognize that.

However, this high level of math competency was not something I always had, and in fact I was once on the verge of flunking out because of it!

Back when I was starting the senior cycle of secondary school (Grades 11 and 12 for you north American folk), I was failing math HARD. Not only was I having a hard time with the new topics we were covering, but older stuff I should have known was tripping me up too!

It was bad, man. Real Bad.

So bad in fact that my results were threatening my future life choices and the options I would have available to me should this trend continue!

At the time, I was very much enjoying other subjects like physics and applied mathematics – two subjects renowned as being very “engineering” – and was doing quite well in them. Although the math elements of them were sometimes causing issue, the theory and understanding of topics was something I had no problem dealing with!

I was enjoying them so much that I found myself taking on extra work and discussing advanced topics with my teachers. It wasn’t unusual for a couple of us to stay back after class and discuss things not even covered in the course, a privilege only granted to those doing well!

So bad in fact that my results were threatening my future life choices

A couple of months into the year talks of the future started to become a regular occurrence. Deciding what courses to choose and where to do them were almost daily topics within our year and many of my teachers had recommended engineering to me as a very legitimate option going forward.

Being honest, it was already on my mind. Coming from an engineering household it was something that I had seen myself heading towards and now that I had a small taste of the subject matter, that desire was at an all time high.

The only issue was my god damn math. Truth be told, the lack of results couldn’t be blamed on anyone but me. Not only was I already in a class full of focused students who wanted to be there, but it was led by a teacher who had won multiple teaching awards in math. And it was these lack of results that was going to be my downfall!

Every Engineering course in Ireland has a minimum requirement of a C grade at the higher level exams. Without this grade, you are totally ineligible for any of the courses in the country; and as it stood, I was very short of the mark!

Being the focused individual I am, I was already aware how much more I’d have to pull out of the bag. Both my teachers and myself knew I was capable of more, but I just couldn’t string it together.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I wasn’t working hard. I was asking questions when I didn’t understand, searching for mistakes and meticulously checking everything I was doing, but I still kept getting it wrong.

It just seemed that every time I was sitting down to do something I either got the wrong answer or totally lost in the details. It seemed that every attempt I was making was resulting in failure.

It was made even worse by the fact that I was working so hard at it. 75% of my time was spent on math, which was only one of my 9 examination subjects, yet I STILL couldn’t figure it all out! Something needed to change!

It seemed that every attempt I was making was resulting in failure.

In hindsight, what I did next was actually quite smart and as much as I’d love to say it was intentional, I totally lucked into it!

The first thing I did was go to my teacher and ask for advice on where to find the easiest topics and questions possible. I mean, 2+2 kind of stuff. After getting some direction and attacking them with everything I had, I started to slowly increase the difficulty, focusing only on getting the basics right. I didn’t care if questions took me 20 times longer then they should, I just meticulously reviewed every single step I took.

Once I had that down, I made it a little more difficult. Then a little more. Then more. I kept going at it like this until I finally figured out what my problem was – Focus!

Before, I was so damn determined to get each and every question right, and in such a rush to get to the root of my problem, that I was just making silly mistakes. Sure I had the determination and drive to get the problem fixed, but I wasn’t focused on what I was doing. This lead to silly mistake, after silly mistake, after silly mistake!

I kept going at it like this until I finally figured out what my problem was – Focus!

In three weeks I went from getting questions like this totally and utterly wrong



to killing stuff like this



And then going on to destroy engineering and fully grasp equations like this!



The moral of the story is simple – Dedication might be important, but dedication for the sake of it isn’t worth much! Sometimes we need to take a step back and asses the problem to really be sure that the efforts of our dedication are focused where they need to be!

So yes, dedication is important, possibly the most important, but make sure that dedication is focused where it should be!