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“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” ― Gena Showalter

For most things in life, I completely agree with Gena Showalter’s statement that you may be defeated, you may not have won the day, but only in giving up do you truly fail. The notion of failure tends to have negative connotations associated with it; however, when we view failure as a sign we are trying something, then failure becomes a marker of learning…which leads me back around to Gena Showalter’s statement that the only significant failure is when we fail to keep trying is the moment when we truly lose.

The dramatic entrance and clarification aside, during my first career choice, being a professional student, I encountered many, many barriers where Gena Showalter’s statement rang true. My first encounter occurred in my choice of major, I entered university with the mindset I wanted to find the most challenging subject I could find to major in…which for me was physics.

My story, my road to physics, is through failure and not deciding to quit. My failure occurred during a quiz where I was asked to find the speed of an object falling down a frictionless slide, without any numerical values, and no other information provided (see this diagram below).

While staring at this problem, baffled, I noticed everyone around me vigorously sprawling calculations and notes as if the entire volumes of the library were being scribbled on their paper. I knew then, I had no idea what I was doing in this physics class, and I quit the moment the class got out.

The fire ignited in me was tremendous, and I dedicated the next 10 years of my life to learning this subject. From that humble beginning to coding MCNP walks in a national laboratory for x-ray imaging techniques, physics became the lens from which I viewed (and still view) the world around me. The part that is hidden, the part we often don’t see is the hours of hard work, the hours of struggling, searching for some sort of insight, and hours of conversations with peers, colleagues, and professionals to gleam every possible insight to learning.

Through this journey, I found myself in graduate school in Applied Math (essentially physics) but more mathy. It was during this time that my truth became evident, that I met the first time in my life where I truly failed, I quit. The reason: Abstract Algebra.

Although there were contributing factors to my failure, like I do not understand how to write proofs and I received a lack of support from professors, I failed. I failed to comprehend this math. I failed to have the desire to put in the work like I did for physics.

After encountering another moment like that moment on the quiz in physics mentioned above, I failed to light the fire to try, I quit.


Thirteen years later, I decided to pick up Abstract Algebra again thanks to so many incredible resources now available online. In addition, the burnout had faded while my belief in me had grown. With a tentative step forward, I am back trying to make sense of this landscape. Taking each minor victory in stride and using the change in mindset that this isn’t a barrier, but an incredible opportunity to learn.

The new road is fraught with the same challenges as before, the difference is perspective and a renewed inner fire to light the way. Abstract Algebra didn’t win this war, it just won the first round, proving Gena Showalter’s statement true once again.

Abstract Algebra kicked my ass, that’s my truth. I acknowledge it now and I look forward to being able to return the favor someday soon.

Published by mathkaveli

I'm a math geek.

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