Throughout our lives, we are told certain narratives like “strangers can be dangerous,” or “work hard and save your money to get ahead.” Some of these are true, but sometimes the narratives are damaging. We can internalize the things we are told, even as children, and unconsciously carry those forward.
As strange as it feels now, looking back, there was a time I enjoyed math. I enjoyed the certainty in it. But at one point in my elementary school education, I was told that I was not good at math. That I should not need to ask these questions and I should know the answer (paraphrasing, of course). This was the sentiment, the narrative, that was given to me from an authority figure I trusted. And, I accepted it.
I carried that narrative forward with me. I was self-conscious and wouldn’t ask questions because I was told that the questions I was asking were not reasonable. And, while the questions I had throughout the rest of my education could have been seen as reasonable, this was no longer my narrative, and math was just not my strong suit. I needed to just get through it and move on.
I was not conscious of this as I worked through the rest of elementary and high school. It, at this point, was just a fact that I was bad at math. This is something that I have carried through university and beyond, as well. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to try—don’t ask me. I laughed at my old teachers who would say “you won’t be carrying a calculator around with you” because, of course, now almost everyone does.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized where this narrative began. Where I started to believe that I was not good at math, that I simply did not have the mind for it. It was through this conversation with my mom that I realized when it was. She’d recognized the change from that point and had tried to work me through that mindset, but I had believed that narrative.
It is time to change that narrative—far too many years later. I don’t want to continue to believe the words that were carelessly thrown at me, planted in me. I don’t want to limit myself because someone no longer wanted to answer my questions. My perfectly valid questions, because even though I no longer remember what those questions were, they were presented in school, to the teacher, about a concept we were learning. No student should have their question dismissed or feel like they should already know that.
While I came to realize the moment when things changed and felt saddened by this, I didn’t know what could be done to challenge it. But when I find myself not wanting to take courses that interest me because they have a math element, Astronomy, for example, I think that is the point where things need to change. Maybe my skills were not up to that level (I guarantee they were not) but there were other courses available that I could have taken to “catch up”.
I would encourage you to revisit your narratives. The things you believe to be true for yourself. Were these always true? Where did the narrative come from? Challenge these narratives and do not let them limit you, or stop you, from going after what you want. Accept that you may need to start further back than you want, but start.