Math and life

There are some similarities between math and life that you probably never thought about.

Math. Everyone’s favorite subject. Pythagorean Theorem, The Black–Scholes model, etc. The list of elegant, hair-graying, life-shortening formulas goes on. Math is a beautiful yet harsh reality. It is faceless, emotionless and everywhere.

Did I lose you yet?

Depending on your situation, your life is a beautiful yet harsh reality. The answers are in existence. The answers are hidden, waiting to be brought to light.

Recently, I read Edward Frenkel’s Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. It exposed me to the reality of mathematics. It’s taught me things I’ve learned to integrate into my life.

My goal isn’t to persuade you to become a mathematician—or how learning the Pythagorean Theorem will save your life one day. My goal is to help you understand how the process of learning math can help you in other aspects of your life.

From my readings, I found six realities of math that applies to life. It seems that math and life are much more similar than I thought.

1. Math and Life Are Both Uncertain

Confusion and frustration are obvious steps when doing math. That’s why it’s called math. There will be times when you approach a problem and have no idea how to solve it, let alone where to begin. And this is completely fine because the exciting part is the process of solving the problem. Losing your marbles is part of the process. Kind of like when you’re building something from Ikea.

When you’re taking on a project at work, starting a company, or raising children, there are a multitude of unknown variables. This is supposed to be invigorating! If everything in life was cut and dry then there would be no excitement. Everyone would be successful with little effort.

Enjoy the process and embrace uncertainty! It is where your creativity thrives. What makes math and other obstacles of life so intriguing is the journey that takes place to overcome the obstacle. When you solve that equation, close that sale, or finish that marathon, you’ll raise your hands in triumph! Most importantly, you’ll have learned so much in the process.

2. Keep Math and Life Simple

Another similarity between math and life is that some of the most obscure problems were solved by using simple formulas. Einstein (he was a physicist, not a mathematician) was known for keeping things simple.

Genius is making complex ideas simple. Not simple ideas complex.

—Albert Einstein

Time and time again have simple concepts been the foundation to solving complex situations. It’s our tendency to over-analyze or magnify a problem when in the end, all we need to do is begin with the basics.

Training for a marathon? Start by running a mile. Then two. Then four. . .

Learning the guitar? Play scales. Repeat till your fingers bleed and calluses develop. You’re not going to learn “Stairway to Heaven” right away.

Writing a book? Create an Outline. Start with page 1. Begin with the introduction. Or just write whatever comes to mind and piece everything together afterward.

Begin with the basics. You’ll figure the rest out.

3. Math and Life Can’t Be Done Alone

A problem might be outside a mathematician’s interests. Or perhaps the problem is too easy for their taste so they delegate it to a student. Regardless, no mathematician goes at it alone. According to Edward Frenkel, it is almost impossible for students to do their own research without someone coaching their work. An advisor is vital.

We like to think we can do everything ourselves (I’m looking at you solopreneurs), but high-performing people know they can’t do everything. They collaborate and delegate. A smart leader will delegate a project to someone that’s hungry to prove their worth. A smart business owner will delegate tasks because they know they don’t have the bandwidth to do it themselves. Or they know that someone else can do it better—they build people up.

A mentor, advisor, personal trainer, life coach, etc. is crucial to your success. Having a third-party to keep you in check will pay exponential dividends. Whether your name is Barack Obama, Richard Branson, or LeBron James, you have people helping you along the way to hit your milestones.

Bottom line—no one succeeds on their own.

4. Math and Life Require Persistence Like None Other

More often than not, at the end of the day, you realize that your initial idea was wrong, and you have to try something else. These are moments of frustration and despair. You feel that you have wasted an enormous amount of time, with nothing to show for it. But you can never give up.

—Edward Frenkel

As you might already know, math will test your will. I can recall many moments in school where I’d erase and cross off failed attempts at solving problems. Papers would get tossed, and profanities yelled out. Remember when I said losing your marbles is part of the process?

Ideas will fail. You will fail. There will be days when things just don’t go your way. But it’s days like these that separate the mediocre from the extraordinary. While the mediocre give up, the extraordinary go into hyperdrive and [Usain] Bolt passed their competition.

5. Math and Life Are Both Unselfish

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.

—Harry Truman

In the world we live in, people tend to create something, declare ownership, then monetize it. People and companies are constantly getting sued because of one’s declared ownership of an idea or product.

A correct formula is an absolute truth about something in the world. The best part is if a correct equation is created, it is available to everyone! No person can monopolize math. No person can patent an equation. Albert Einstein created E=mc² but owned no rights it. It is for everyone to use for free!

Use this as inspiration to be unselfish. How many times have you given something away only to be disappointed when the other person didn’t reciprocate? Give something away with no intention of receiving anything. This could be a smile, a helping hand, or a compliment. Unselfish acts of kindness create an abundant life.

Small and consistent acts of unselfishness will eventually come back to you.

6. Love

I was not expecting to receive anything in return other than the pure joy and passion of intellectual pursuit. I wanted to dedicate my life to mathematics simply because I loved doing it.

–Edward Frenkel

Can you believe that? There are people out there that love math. There was a period were Frenkel was not going to be able to pursue a career in math. Nevertheless, he continued to do math.

Some musicians continue to make music knowing that won’t become the next Beatles. Writers continue to write knowing they won’t become the next Hemingway. I know developers that create apps just for fun. They have no intention to create the next Instagram.

What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? Because you loved it. Because it fulfills you.

Instead of living out of fear. Try living out of love and see where that takes you.

I am no mathematician nor do I (or will… ever) aspire to be a mathematician. It’s a subject many wish to avoid and is a subject cared for so deeply by a small population. Math is elegant and ruthless. It is everywhere and invisible. It’s sitting there behind our reality. Behind every device, utensil, and recipe we use.

The things we want in life elude us yet they are everywhere. The tools are there. The audience is there. The support is there. We just need to emerge the courage, creativity, persistence, and love to take us where we want to go.

Do you find any other similarities between math and life? Let us know in the comments below.


Del Singh lives in Seattle and spends his time leading The Epoch Man, a men’s self-improvement blog dedicated to bring out your inner badass. When he’s not blogging, he’s working the Seattle tech scene, exploring the Pacific Northwest, and searching for the best place to eat hot wings. You can also follow him on Twitter @The_Epoch_Man.

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