I write this on the last day of finals.
Yesterday, I had two exams, today I have one. It will bring my total up to six for this semester. Of those six, I’ve only really worried about three of them.
Two of those were yesterday. Needless to say, I had a stress headache the night before. I needed to do well on my physics exam, and I basically needed to ace my calculus three final to get the grade I wanted. I was stressed. I poured over my textbooks and problem sets and past exams and projects to learn the material.
I knew I did well on my western civ exam, my other core exam, and my chem exam. The final exam was an improv performance, and I knew I’d do well on that one, too.
I was confident in these subjects. Still am.
But physics and calculus three?
I studied. I spent hours and hours making sure I understood the material and could do problems presented to me by the textbooks and the online homework and the in-class notes and assignments.
I’ve never put so much work into two things that took less than an hour and a half each.
That was yesterday.
I feel good about physics. I’m confident I got the grade I wanted on that exam and in the class as a whole. Perfectly confident.
I know I didn’t get a perfect score (the score I wanted). I know I didn’t end up with the grade I was hoping for.
It will be the first math class I’ll get a grade lower than an A- in. It is also my last math class. Beyond the math in my engineering classes, I’m done. The math department won’t be seeing me again.
But this calculus class?
Part of me is disappointed. My last class, my last one. I could have kept the streak, could’ve kept that perfect record. If differential equations hadn’t stopped me last semester, why would this class do it? Most of me, however, is content. Here's why:
There’s this thing in calculus called Green’s Theorem. From it are derived most of the other theorems involved in vector calculus. Without Green’s Theorem, line integrals are way too burdensome to deal with, and without it we wouldn’t have Stokes’ Theorem or the Divergence Theorem.
Now, to the layman all those names mean nothing. What’s vector calculus? What’s a line integral? What’s an integral to begin with? Who were Green and Stokes, and what’s Divergence?
Let’s be perfectly honest: it doesn’t matter. I will say this: it’s the hardest part of calculus. This is where all the calculus students struggle.
Well, most of them.
My professor stopped us one day, mid-class and handed out a piece of paper. It was a short article titled “Everyone has a Personal Green’s Theorem”. We all thought he was introducing the theorem, since it was what came next in the book.
As it turns out, we weren’t doing calculus that class period.
We were doing philosophy and work ethics.
The writer of the essay was a math professor talking about his education. When this professor took calculus three, he was good at it. The math came easy (this is similar to me in many ways). Then they reached Green’s Theorem and this man, this professor-to-be struggled. He struggled with math in a way he’d never struggled before.
The article went on to talk about how every single subject, no matter what it is, will always get hard someday. Whether it’s math or science or art or music or writing, it will become difficult for every single person at some point.
Doesn’t matter who they are, or how good they are at it.
Things become too complex or difficult for them to come easy.
The level at which this is true is different for each person in each subject. Many people find math becomes difficult as soon as algebra one, some people don’t find it difficult until they do real analysis and have to prove calculus.
The point of the article? Everyone has their own personal Green’s Theorem. Everyone eventually reaches a point in every subject where they actually have to try.
For me, my Green’s Theorem in math actually was Green’s Theorem.
The article didn’t end there. It wasn’t just prepping us for when math would become hard.
This article talked about how most people give up when they reach this point. As it turns out, however, this is the point where the real work is done. The moment you reach your personal Green’s Theorem in anything, you have to try. When you try, you have to put forth all effort to learn master and overcome and persevere.
The Importance of Perseverance
If all of us gave up as soon as things got tough, we wouldn’t be here. We’d have given up on everything a long time ago.
We aren’t meant to give up when the going get rough. When we push on, when we persevere, we find art. We find the art of math, the art of science, of music, of painting, of writing, of living.
The moment we give up is the moment we stop making art.
When it gets hard: when writing gets hard, when math gets hard, when life gets hard, don’t give in. Giving up on it means giving up on art.
Don’t give up.
Push on. Persevere.