Lately, Victor, my 13 year old son, had some trouble in school with maths. When he asked for some support from my part, I jumped right in. We don’t live together, so we met in various places around the city, trying to accommodate each other schedule. By the way, that’s another advantage of being a digital nomad: having flexible hours and places to work on.
So, we started our common journey towards some of the wildest and challenging destinations I had lately. Namely, the 7th grade algebra and geometry. First of all, let me tell you that what they teach to those kids nowadays in school is serious stuff. Heavy. A little too heavy. Or, to be more clear: too disconnected from what I know to be real life. But more on that later.
Preparing For The Test
Things were great in the beginning, but, as we advanced, we started to experience some hiccups. One morning, we went to a McDonalds and started to work. It was a very nasty weather, blizzard and freezing cold. We had to walk in that weather for around 400 meters. Inside it was warm and cozy and I could tell it was too early for him. He was barely hiding his yawning. The lesson was quite difficult and we were starting to lose track and focus. A few times I asked him if he wanted to quit. To my (quite pleasant) surprise, he answered “No” each time. So we continued to push, and, even if that session lasted 45 minutes more (and I had to postpone a business meeting because of that), we made it. Or, to be more precise, Victor made it.
To make a long story short, in the last week we sat together and took everything from the start. Read the theory, did the assignments, the whole routine. Victor picked up really fast. We never spent more than 1 and a half hour on each session, because we didn’t have to (except, maybe, for that morning). We finished all the stuff faster than we thought. The only thing that he really needs to do now is to practice more by himself.
So I decided it’s time to let him know that, if he does really well on his 7th December test, we’ll go to the Steve Vai concert on 8th. Yeah, he’s into rock music. He already saw Ozzie Osbourne live, if you wonder. Now, this announcement really motivated him. He struggled to get a chance to respond in class and get a better grade even before the test on the 7th. With not much success, unfortunately. We’re still waiting for the final test to build a better grade.
So, the pressure built up really strong on this 7th thing. He really wants to go to the concert so he pushes a lot. From what I saw, he is prepared. And confident. And really willing to succeed. He’ll do fine.
The Potential Test Result
But, and here’s where this blog post really starts, he may as well fail. Yeap, this is a possibility. Even if he’s confident. Event if he really wants to succeed. Although he did it in a very powerful way, he inserted himself into this maths thing a little too late. The concepts aren’t very clear yet for him. We didn’t have enough time to do this. And some of the concepts are really strange. Much too disconnected from what we face in our daily life. And the manuals are crap. (Believe me, by that I just made them way better than they really are).
For instance, at some point we struggled to understand how to extract the square root of a number, following their indications. Forgive my nerve, but after half an hour of following some stupid indications, without understanding squat, I ended up googling it, and found a working and understandable algorithm in 5 minutes.
So, Victor may flunk maths this year. So be it.
I’m still committed to go to that concert together. Because maths is not the real lesson here. The real lesson is wanting to do things better. To overcome some stupid status quo. To create some disruption in some parts of his life, disruption which will ultimately lead to something better in all the other parts of his life.
Because during our sessions, what I wanted to train, wasn’t algebra. I don’t know algebra. Never really used it.
The Real Test
But I used self-discipline. I learned how not to quit. I learned how to focus. And this what I want to teach to my son. And this is what he proved me that he learned. The maths grade is secondary in this process. It’s not completely meaningless, I still want him to get a good grade, but it’s not as important as the real life lesson.
Victor may not remember how to extract the square root of a number in 20 years from now. I didn’t and had to google it. But he’ll remember for sure our common determination to stay there and do the assignment. Our sessions of “we can do this”. That freezing morning when he really pushed it and remained on track.
The Real Lesson
Too often we get caught in some temporary challenges forgetting the real test. We are pushing it to get more money, more social status or more power. And when we fail to acquire this we’re unhappy. We failed the test.
Well, we may flunk the money test. We may flunk the social status test. We may flunk marriage (I did this a few times, by the way. Brilliantly).
But as long as we can keep on trying, we’re going to be fine. Behind all these “tests” something more powerful is building.Â
It’s our capacity to face challenges. Our constant insertion into the life thing, just as Victor decided it’s time to reinsert himself into the maths thing, just to make something better out of it.
And even if we fail the “surface” test, a reward will always be there for us. I know that for sure. We’re far too limited to understand all the subtle life processes which are surrounding us. That’s why we invented sayings like: “when God closes a door, it opens a window.” Because in the hidden fabric of the events, there’s always a reward for everything we do right on the “deep” layer, even if we fail on the surface test.
I don’t know how Victor will do on his surface test, this time. I do hope he’ll get a good grade on the 7th. But I am still going to that concert, no matter the outcome.Â
And I will enjoy the hell out of it.