Once upon a time, I wanted to be a surgeon. Then Algebra happened to me…or I let it happen to me.
Below is a snippet from my Womanity book that I keep writing away on.
Do your Algebra homework…
I think my sophomore algebra teacher, who we will call Mr. Popolopolous, hated math as much as I did. Whenever he taught us new concepts he was confused and annoyed.
Or maybe the drugs he took while participating in the flower child movement of the 70’s permanently severed one too many brain synapses.
All I know is when your teacher stares at the whiteboard in confusion after writing on it for 15 minutes and then mumbles something about how hard it is to make the letters turn into numbers after 28 lines of ‘working it out’, confidence is not instilled.
At this point, he would usually throw down his marker and ask if anyone had questions. Someone always did, but it was never about math. Mr. Popolopolous had the gift of gab and his preferred topics were far from algebra. Legalizing drug use, philosophical discussions about relationships, and political agendas topped the list of things you could ask a question about to derail the whole class.
Every day we left class with assignments to do and no idea how to do them.
11:07 – 11:52 in the morning were the worst 45 minutes of my day during sophomore year.
Some algebra classes I napped, others I wrote notes to friends, and others I actually asked how to do the assignments. After being told to stay after school for help, I stopped asking. Mr. Popolopolous scared me and the last thing I wanted to do was be alone in the portable located across the football field where no one could hear me scream if it came to that. His extreme interest in the female variety of students was not a secret. None of the girls in my class ever asked a question after experiencing first hand or seeing the lean over, close talking, and eye-to-chest connection which always accompanied personal help.
Instead of getting help from another teacher, talking to my Vice Principal, or telling my parents, I let the assignments pile up.
Mr. Popolopolous seemed to hate marking as much as I hated doing assignments, so turning in all the assignments at once on the day of the monthly test was allowed. Once a month I was up until 3 or 4 in the morning pounding out a month’s worth of algebra assignments so I could take the test in an effort to pass the worst class on the planet.
And this was before Google.
All I had to guide me were the answers in the back of the book and some poorly written instructions at the beginning of each assignment. By the time 3 am rolled around, I was writing strange numbers and letters down, putting things on graphs, and haphazardly writing the correct answer at the end of the many lines which were supposed to show how I solved the problem to arrive at the number.
Writing ‘Y=4 because page 297 says so’ just doesn’t cut it.
I passed Algebra because Mr. Popolopolous gave partial marks. Or he partially marked; I will never be completely certain.
When I was 15, I dreamt of going to Med School. I wanted to be a surgeon who went to remote parts of the world to save lives and have small villages of people celebrate me and my nimble, life saving hands.
To get into Med School, you have to have amazing marks, especially in Math and Science.
Mr. Popolopolous gave me a C- my Sophmore year.
Partial marks at their finest.
In all honesty, Mr. Popolopolous scared me to death. I made sure I was on time for class, but never early. His extreme interest in giving personal, after school help to female students was obvious and odd to everyone, yet no one did anything about it; myself included.
Parent/Teacher night snuck up on me and I fervently prayed that my parents would be too busy to go or forget because I didn’t manage to get my Algebra assignments done in time and I knew it would come up when they got home. I knew despite my awesome standing in Spanish, kick butt English essays, and Chemistry know how; Algebra was going to be the topic of conversation later that evening.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about it, I just didn’t know how.
Waves of heat and panic flashed over my body the fall night my parents were visiting all my teachers. I remember pleading with Jesus for them not to go to the portable across the football field to hear of my miserable failings in Algebra.
“Jesus, make them late. Help them not to go see the creepy man who scares me to death. I don’t know what to say about not doing homework. I don’t want to be a loser in their eyes and the last thing I want is to be forced to stay after school for help with the very scary man. Save me from Algebra hell!”
I was right. The topic du jour when they arrived home was my lack of commitment to Algebra.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t tell them the real reason why.
I just started turning in partially done assignments and took the path away from my dream of med school.
It is ok to be afraid.
It is not ok to sit in your fear, to let it keep you from going where your heart and passion demands you go. When you sit in fear opportunities pass you by and you let them.
Everyone is afraid at times; fear isn’t what matters. What matters is what you do with it when it comes.
That Wednesday night, I sat with my head in my hand sobbing and not saying anything. My parents thought it was about my failure to turn in my assignments and I didn’t correct them. I was drowning in fear and didn’t reach out for help. Had I merely said, “Mom. I am afraid of my teacher, he creeps me out and I am afraid to be alone with him so I don’t know how to get help. I want to be a doctor with my whole heart and now it is slipping away because of this stupid class. I am so scared. I don’t know what to do.” she would have stormed the school to make a way for me. She would have championed my dream and never let me settle.
I didn’t let my parents help. Rather, I let them believe a lie because it was easier in the moment. Once you agree with a lie, you shape your life to live in such a way to make it the truth.
Open your mouth and let the words tumble out. How they come out, whether it be in fits and spurts or drowning in tears, doesn’t matter.
What matters is that the words come out.
Instead of trading your dreams for fear, trade up for bravery. Do it afraid and never give up on what you want to do with your whole heart. You are worth fighting for even if it is the scariest thing you have ever done.
Don’t settle and live in fear. Reach out and tell someone, even if it seems stupid because, I promise, it isn’t.
You and your dreams matter; don’t let fear get in the way of what you’re called to do with your life.