What my daughter ‘the imposter’ and the pointlessness of maths taught me about purpose
At 11.30pm last week I found my 10-year-old-daughter awake in bed sobbing into her pillow. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she couldn’t sleep because she felt like an imposter.
I finally discovered that the reason she was anxious was because she’d been enrolled in the maths extension class at school, but had discovered that all the other kids in the maths extension class knew more than she did. She was also worried that the other kids didn’t think that she deserved to be there.
She also could not see why she should do maths extension because it wasn’t something she thought would be useful in her life as an adult. The obvious solution was to quit.
Essentially there were two issues she was wrestling with: Imposter syndrome and the fact that she couldn’t see any practical use for maths
My daughter had gone from the top of the class to the bottom, and she wasn’t enjoying the experience.
Banishing the imposter feeling
I sat with her and we talked.
We talked about how, even if one day she was the smartest person in the world at one thing, there would be other people that were smarter than her at other things, and why that was OK.
We talked about how there would always be taller people than her in the world, and there would always be shorter people than her in the world. And that being at the top or the bottom of any particular group doesn’t matter.
In fact it might be a good thing to be at the bottom because there is a life lesson that states that if you find that you’re the smartest person in the room, you should find another room because you will only learn and grow if you surround yourself with people who know more than you.
We talked about how it isn’t about knowing all the answers. The real secret is being prepared to be in a room where you don’t know the answers, and the goal is to apply yourself to challenges so that you grow.
The purpose of maths
As for why she should do maths? This was actually the all-important purpose question.
We discussed what she wanted to do when she grows up and how, even if she became a world famous pop star, she’d need to look after her bank accounts and invest her money.
She replied that said she would hire an accountant.
I eventually got her over the line by telling her that she would still need to understand what her accountants and financial advisors were suggesting. Not only that, her career aspirations might change over time and there were many different areas where maths is useful and many ways it might help her later on in life.
In the end though, I gave her the choice to continue or quit.
It’s a big decision to leave in the hands of a ten-year-old, but the motivation that’s needed to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones has to come from within. The one proviso was that we talked to her teacher about it first.
What the teacher said
Her teacher explained that it wasn’t good to go through life as the smartest person in the room because then we would struggle to cope with challenges later on in life. If we haven’t learned to be OK with that, then things were going to be tough.
Her teacher explained to her that she was indeed smart enough to be in maths extension, it was just that she was being exposed to challenges that she had never encountered before – which is the whole purpose of maths extension.
Her teacher promised to support her and help her adapt to this new environment; to take on the challenges and grow as a result.
The moment my daughter understood that she had the capability to apply herself, and that it was OK to not know all the answers (that the end result would be learning from the experience) she relaxed and decided to continue with maths extension.
She even seemed excited by the prospect.
Had I tried to force her to stay in maths extension, I’d never have seen the excitement and determination she now has for maths extension
The moral of the story
When people understand why they are doing something, they are prepared to face many challenges.
As Nietzsche says: “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any how”.
Understanding ‘why’ gives us the courage to face the challenges that lead to growth.
Motivation has to come from within. By connecting with our purpose – personally or as a business – we have the potential to become the best version of ourselves as we face the challenges we need to experience the joy of achieving our goals.
If you’ve made it this far in my blog, I think you’ll find the short e-guide I put together interesting and helpful. 🙂
Click here to download: “How to inspire your employees and get them excited by your company vision”.