I just want to get this out there. I get the feeling that these sentiments will have been echoed by lots and lots and lots of people in not-too-different positions, and I guess that’s okay. It’s my blog, I can put whatever the heck I want.
Where do I begin? Life is not a competition. So maybe there’s only going to be so many dream jobs or positions out there. But in the end the person’s desires we all really need to deal with are our own.
Inevitably, I’m becoming nervous about this International Mathematical Olympiad that I get to compete in in just four days. Time goes by too fast, and no matter how well (or badly) I prepare, I don’t know for sure if I’ll do well. If the leader votes go the wrong way, I could be badly screwed by a disorienting functional equation at 2 and a tough synthetic geo at 5, the key problems for my approximate level. Even if I get lots of combinatorics problems, I still might simply fail to come up with the right trick (such as, you know, considering the invariant of how many points there are on each side of the line…) Such things happen. Or my stomach could just decide to spontaneously combust or something. It’s all possible. Okay, maybe not the last item, but sometimes my stomachaches feel like that. Zarquon forbid that happen on contest day.
There are bigger, more tangible things at stake here: most obviously, scholarships, and quite a few at that. And if you even consider the number of people who could have, but haven’t, made it through selection into this spot, the stakes are even higher. There are only six spots per country, and this makes selection a zero-sum game, if you think making the actual spot is the only valuable thing here.
But to me, far more important than that are the passion and enjoyment at the core of everything we’re going through. At the end of thoughts like these that I have to make myself remember that I am here because I love math. Because I love seeing the connections, discovering the clever tricks, finding the elusive underlying patterns that make everything fit together. Not because I think a gold medal would look cool on my shelf or give some admissions officer a good impression. I’m in this for myself.
It’s easy to forget that, until I suddenly can’t tell myself why I should force my intuition around exotic functional equations that all look the same instead of spending all night earning Kongregate badges for no reason.
If I, or whoever else, do really well, it means I worked hard, practiced efficiently, and managed to come up with the right inspiration to the right problems in the 4 1/2 hours that are allotted. There is also more than a little luck involved, unfortunately. That’s all. It may have some correlation with research skill or maybe “intelligence” in the socially stereotyped sense (after all, you need intellect to compose symphonies or socialize or talk persuasively), but nobody finishes the big proofs in 4 1/2 hours. That goes for every walk of life, not just math.
And if I don’t, as I explained, there are lots of other reasons than me being bad at math. I should still be able to enjoy it.
I am going to leave home, meet-up with everybody else, and leave now, which means I am not going to read this post over again. Best of luck to everybody else who is competing, one person in particular.