I Can’t Do Math. Now, there’s an agreement for you. Since I can remember, I’ve said those words. Until recently, I wasn’t really aware of what they meant. See, I took math through geometry in high school. Trigonometry? Calculus? Nope. I never enjoyed math and lived as much as possible in my right-brain world. And if you pressed me on my multiplication tables past 5, I wouldn’t be able to beat a fifth grader, at least in speed, without having to stop and puzzle it out.
My dad, though? Oh, my. He was a whiz. He’d calculate complicated figures in his head, and he was a genius at finances and investing. So imagine. As I struggled with multiplication tables greater than 5, and he rattled them off with ease in his head, I took that as proof that I was a math dwarf. Not that he told me that, mind you; I just assumed if I couldn’t rattle off multiplication tables like my brilliant dad, I could not possibly be anything but bad at math.
So I internalized that agreement and began saying I couldn’t do math, which was just a polite way of saying I sucked. It also lowered others’ expectations, so I never had to worry about disappointing anyone by my (self) agreed-upon lack of skills.
Here’s the thing, though: I CAN do math. I know this because, as a young adult who worked in one state but paid taxes in another, I rather foolishly didn’t pay quarterly state taxes, waiting instead until April to panic. And that meant feverishly calculating the penalties on my returns, but not with a calculator. Oh, no. I forced myself to calculate extensive decimal places by hand with nothing more than a notepad, a pencil, and an eraser, in some sort of bizarre punishment for ignoring my taxes. And I was straight-out correct on each and every calculation (when I went back to check it against a calculator).
Fast forward a lot of years. One day I heard myself respond with a laugh to a general inquiry about project figures with, “Eh. I don’t do math; you’ll need to ask someone who does.” As those words reverberated in the air round me, I suddenly recalled my last-minute tax gyrations (four years of that, thank you), and my A average in high school math classes. Realization blossomed. Somewhere in my youth I made an agreement with myself that I was bad at math. I never challenged it, never considered what my words actually meant, never stopped to think about whether that agreement was actually true. I had just accepted it as real. Now, here I was, suddenly realizing that all along I’d agreed to something that simply wasn’t true.
Each of us has agreements — multitudes of them — that we’ve literally codified in a Book of Laws that governs how we live. Some of those agreements arrived because of experiences like my math odyssey, some courtesy of well-meaning parents, siblings, friends, teachers, bosses, co-workers, religion, society …. Oh, we were young and naive when we blindly accepted them as truth.
What I’ve come to know is this: Living authentically means challenging my agreements and freeing myself from the ones that lie, the ones that were perhaps true for someone else, or that were expectations placed upon me by others.
My challenge to me, and I think I’ll toss this out for you to ponder as well: dust off your personal Book of Laws and read it with eyes and mind and heart more willing to bore into the truth. When you find something that’s not true, be brave. Be bold. Forge some new agreements that rock because they’re true. For you.