Doing something hard

When on the journey to becoming someone I have never been, I have to do hard things I’ve never done.  I consider earning a PhD to be in this catagory.  In the iconic words of my father:

A PhD proves that you can do something really hard for a really long time.”

So, as I work 12+ hours days everyday of the week I’d like to say, “I’ve never worked this hard before!”  But I can’t honestly say this. In my previous career I was frequently working more hours and sleeping less.  However, after a year and a half of graduate school, I claim sitting on your butt and thinking can be just as difficult as the most hectic job.

Mathematics is a lesson in frustration.  For you see, mathematicians live for those little (and big) “ah ha!” moments.  This is the proverbial red pill of mathematics.  If you struggle through the confusion, then you can see beautiful logic unfold before you.   Then, the higher up in mathematics you get- the longer the periods of confusion are.  Then you start to relish the challenge more than the completed problem, then you are on your way to becoming a mathematician.  We repeatedly throw ourselves against the things we don’t understand.  We actually feel angry when the professor sets problems which are too easy.  Can you believe that?  We are angry that the problems aren’t complicated enough!  This is how dedicated we are to the idea of hard work.  Later in our careers we go looking for really awful problems and we develop beautiful sayings like:

The problems worthy of attack are the ones that fight you back.

So the next time you are disapointed with your job, just imagine throwing yourself repeatedly agianst a blackboard all day.  And if that image strikes your fancy- you are (or ought to be) a mathematician.

About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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1 Response to Doing something hard

  1. Reference Librarian says:

    I believe your “beautiful saying” is from a Grook by Piet Hein. The original grook is:

    Problems worthy
    of attack
    prove their worth
    by hitting back.

    The interesting thing about all the Grooks is that they are translations from the original Danish.

    Here’s another Grook for PhD students:

    T. T. T.

    Put up in a place
    where it’s easy to see
    the cryptic admonishment
    T. T. T.

    When you feel how depressingly
    slowly you climb,
    it’s well to remember that
    Things Take Time.

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