25 March 2011

The willingness to fail

Calculus has been stressing me out lately. I actually went into preterm labor the day of my midterm (and thus missed it). This was only partly due to the stress of the class itself (I have lot sof other things going on), but it gives you an idea of my freak-out level.

I said to my husband that I was only going to give myself twice to fail the class before I decided it was a sign that I just am not cut out for this science stuff. But in the back of my mind, I was already thinking that maybe I just couldn't do it and should think about going back to something I KNOW I can do. I actually started researching what it takes to become an editor.

But then I had a particularly bad day, in which I mostly ignored my children and surfed the Internet. I came across a quote that really struck me. I think he was talking about science, and John Backus, inventor of FORTRAN, said, "You need the willingness to fail all the time. You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don't work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work."

I really suck at failing. I've never done it, I've never been gracious about coming close to it, or even losing a GAME. But if I'm going to be a scientist, I have to learn. SO much of science is trial and error and error and error. If I can't stand to fail, I will never make it as a scientist without being completely broken.

So calculus might be a good place to start practicing. I'm going to try like hell not to fail. No scientist goes into an experiment or observation or calculation hoping it doesn't work out. But if it doesn't, they pull themselves up and try again, fixing whatever went wrong the first time. And that's what I need to do here. If I fail, I'll try again, I'll work harder on the things that kept me from passing (because, see, I UNDERSTAND calculus, I can even DO it, but looking at a problem and figuring out what calculus I need to do - getting started - I struggle with), and I'll do better the next time. My spirit won't be broken, and I sure as hell won't quit.