Illustration by Harley Turso
By Maheen Ahmed
Harsh whispers filled the quiet corners of my mind as I walked out of the classroom, cursing underneath my breath.
I failed. I definitely failed.
It was the first test given in a math course taught by Professor Minxie Zhang.
Starting from a young age I had feared math. I believed that I just could not do it, though despite that fact, during my first semester at Cape Cod Community College (4Cs) I experienced a burst of confidence and put myself into a college algebra taught by Zhang.
I failed the first test.
I had hoped for a C at least but was not too surprised by the F I received. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to even do the math, let alone study it.
I decided then to check out the Math Learning Center and soon found myself there every day. I made sure that I was always a chapter ahead so that when Zhang was teaching, he would just be filling in the missing pieces.
Before I knew it, I started to enjoy the math that I was being assigned.
Zhang’s beloved phrase is, “math is a logical language”. The first time I heard that I scoffed and shook my head. Now I mumble the phrase to myself like my own personal mantra.
If you want not only to learn math but also come to appreciate the subject, you take it with Zhang. His lectures are well worth it.
I remember the first-time math started making sense and it amazed me. I was now understanding why things worked in a way that I never had before.
My test scores went up dramatically, first a 73, then an 86, and finally a 95. I could not do this without the help of a few things: the Math Learning Center, my guitar, and an unhealthy amount of M&M’s.
I am now in my second semester at 4Cs and enrolled in Precalculus, making sure that the Professor teaching was Zhang.
Despite taking an intersession course over the winter break I still made time to study math so that once class started Zhang was simply filling in all the missing pieces that I couldn’t on my own. This meant that I was understanding nearly everything extremely early on.
February 15th, 2019: the first math test of the semester.
I made sure to study, spending hours at the math lab and even more at home.
Things were going smoothly as I began the exam until suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere time started to pick up speed. Minutes turned into seconds then seconds into milliseconds. My heart raced as I rushed through the last couple of problems.
I know the material, I can explain it. Zhang helped me to understand it, by making me look at the problems as if all they took to solve were a little common sense.
However, during the test, I blanked out. My nerves took over my mind and I couldn’t stop thinking that I failed the first exam in college algebra, what if the same happens next time?
When I got home, I picked up my guitar, my fingers dancing along the fretboard. I was matching words to my notes when suddenly I realized one fundamental rule that I should have recognized earlier:
Our world is built on failure. Without failure, there would be no innovation. Hitting a wrong note doesn’t ruin the song. The song just changes.
Our failures set the way for innovation. By failing, we are forced to look at things from another angle and try again. Not only does failing lead to innovation, but it also judges character. It’s far easier to give up than it is to improve.
Don’t let yourself give up. Surrendering to failure is stopping yourself from achieving what is just beyond your reach.