Gone with Galileo: My Least Favorite Mistake

Curie, not Antoinette.

Curie, not Antoinette.

I might be low on a lot of things, but mistakes in life isn’t one of them.

I’m a very impulsive person, so trust me when I say that I’ve made a ton. Some have taught me lessons. Some have given me stories and laughs that will last me a lifetime. And some still make me cringe and actually bring me to tears every time I think of them.

Being in what I like to refer to as the anti-Xanax phase of my life, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to do some soul searching and Jane Fonda-esque revisiting of my past. And I’ve realized what the biggest mistake of my life (to date) has been – giving up on math and science. Don’t get me wrong, it was a close second to my insistence on cuffing my jeans in the 9th grade and making sure that everyone knew that I had started the trend but, alas, math and science won out.

I was a straight-A student until the end of middle school and high school. At that time, my creative abilities started to overshadow my propensity for math and science and it became clear that my innate abilities lay in the arts. So I overinvested in those and gave up on math and science and, honestly, myself. It started with Geometry, reared its ugly head in Algebra II, and let me know that it really meant business in Chemistry.

Somehow, I was able to charm my teachers and get through high school math and science struggling and doing fine, but not really trying. I was even allowed to take Geology aka “rocks for jocks” instead of Physics my senior year. After all, I was going to pursue a career in the arts (which I’d made clear to my teachers), so it’s not like I really needed to bother to have full comprehension of these concepts. The only math I cared about was the 10% that goes to my agent and 15% that goes to my manager. In college, aside from basic core classes I was able to steer away from any course that counted equations or derivatives as part of the curriculum.

And I was in fact right. In my adult life today, I have no practical or impractical knowledge for any advanced math or science. But that doesn’t matter. It’s taken me thirty years to get here – and when I say “here,” I mean a place of regret. Maybe it’s living in LA, where vapid thoughts are held in as much esteem as the Fulbright Scholarship, but lacking that kind of knowledge makes me feel empty. I’m actually interested in these concepts now and I know absolutely nothing about them. In my spare time, I try to re-learn some of the basic math and science concepts that I’ve forgotten since my glory days, hoping to to understand as much as I can and lay a foundation for more advanced concepts.

I was recently lamenting this mistake to my best friend whilst spiraling into depression at a velocity that Newton himself would be hard-pressed to calculate:

“If I had applied myself more and hadn’t given up, maybe my life would be totally different. Maybe I would’ve gone down a different career path. Maybe I would be doing something that’s actually making a difference.” *takes a swig of wine*

Her insight was helpful and she told me that I might have found Physics interesting for about two days and then would’ve been begging to drop the class. My brain is more romantic then scientific and having the opportunity to learn about these things as an adult gives me the freedom and time to understand concepts I wouldn’t have had in school. And that is why she’s my best friend. She was absolutely right.

It wasn’t like I really thought that if I had aced Chemistry and Physics, I might’ve become a theoretical physicist. No, I’ll leave that to the guys on The Big Bang Theory. This is just the most blatant example I have of me giving up. I didn’t give up on math and science. I gave up on myself. I feel like there has to be a  Hallmark Channel movie in here somewhere…. there are too many questions churning around in my mind right now. If I had been a boy, would my teachers have encouraged me more instead of letting me get away with charming them? Because I’m a girl, should they have pushed me harder?

I’m trying to hone in on the importance of these realizations in adulthood and be grateful that I still have time to correct my mistake and will hopefully help my children avoid this particular pitfall one day.

No matter what it is, giving up is just not worth it. The worst mistake you can make is not betting on yourself, not allowing yourself to explore and develop all your skills. Let the mistakes you remember later on be minor fun ones where the only thing you lose is money for bail or a few days in bed, not your own potential.

Image credit: Bettmann/CORBIS

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