I Am The Greatest In The WORLD
I was in middle school when I went to my first math competition. I know, I know, nerd alert, right? I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It wasn’t so much that I loved the math, but I felt accomplished in being chosen to attend and I enjoyed the challenges that came forth. I distinctly remember the Halloween theme that filled the building. I can picture a small room with colored paper laid out on the tables where I took my individual test. The musty scent left behind after years of PE and athletics in the old gym fills my nostrils as I recollect the ceiling to floor décor of papier-Mache, cobwebs, and flashing lights. I can picture the candy filled jars and the toilet paper mummies. I remember the small slips of paper where we wrote down our answers to the questions posted throughout the room. The day came to a close with a relay round of competition, each team down on the floor in the main gymnasium, desks lined in rows, one teammate behind the other, cheered on by non-participating schoolmates. Mostly, I remember the anticipation of winning one of those coveted puzzles and prizes. I knew I had a chance that day. If only that confidence would have remained.
As I got into high-school being a “Mathlete” wasn’t quite as cool. I didn’t mind. What did bother me though was going to competition and feeling inadequate. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal. There was a small band of us that went to several competitions a year and we made the most of our experiences. I mean, who doesn’t love a day out of school? We’d even make dorky t-shirts and gave ourselves math names like Calculadorus. We were the elite in our small town high school and in some competitions we could hold our own, but at the larger Universities we were small fish in a big pond.
I/we made excuses. We didn’t practice like the other kids. We were actual four-sport athletes, not mathematicians. We hadn’t learned the material other kids had, blah, blah, blah….Like I said, EXCUSES; justifications of the mind that have no real validity in the context of the situation. I remember feeling like I was never going to be great at math. Good maybe, but not great. And why wasn’t I? Because somewhere along the way I had lost my sense of self-assuredness. In its place I had been hit with a large dose of realism.
I wasn’t great, I was just an above average kid at an average little school and that’s all I ever would be.
That was all I ever would be not because that’s all I was capable of, but because that’s all I would allow myself to believe. Somewhere along the way I had turned into a statistic. A kid who was labeled as “gifted” early on in Elementary school, but grew into a perfectionist oriented, afraid to fail, teen. Sure, maybe it seemed like I was excelling to those on the outside, but I certainly wasn’t reaching my potential. I could feel God beckoning me to more, but the dreamer in me was gone. My goals became mediocre. Consequently, mediocre results came spewed forth out of my unwillingness to prioritize self-growth. I couldn’t see beyond my current reality to what could be.
My message to you today is this: If all you ever see is the reality before you, then what you have is as good as it will ever get. You have to dream bigger. Imagine bigger. You have to have the mindset of Muhammad Ali. Wake up every day and tell yourself, “I am the greatest.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You are the greatest. You are unstoppable. You are going to change lives and you are going to do it starting right now. If you haven’t read it enough on this page, YOUR SOMEDAY IS NOW, not tomorrow, not after your kids are grown, not when you’re less tired or more financially stable, right now.
I lost sight of that for a long time. My self-confidence that I now know started to dwindle somewhere early in the pre-teen years took a long time to recover. A BA in mathematics, a MA in Ministry, years of teaching/coaching, one husband, and two kids later, I finally feel like I’ve found it again. Finally I can say that my dreams are bigger than my reality and it is such a beautiful gift. For you, maybe it’s an unwrapped gift, but it’s waiting for you regardless. Right now you have nothing but opportunity. You have nothing holding you back but the limitations you have put on yourself and the excuses that are currently flashing in the back of your mind. You are greater than your circumstances, you are greater than your faults, and you are greater than your negativity.
When you believe that you are bigger than yourself and you will rise to greatness.
Now, that doesn’t mean that your optimism will come into full fruition without any effort. You still have to put in the work. It also doesn’t mean that you have to conquer every goal today. However, it does mean that you need to start. Choose a task you’ve been struggling with, and boost your own confidence by facing it head on. Today, I started in my own classroom. This time of year I’m extremely limited in having time to work on my personal goals (hence my month long hiatus in writing). So, since my students were Pre-ACT testing, I picked up puzzle that’s been sitting unsolved in my room for over a year. A puzzle that’s been driving me crazy. You see, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln always had a room where math contestants could go during their down time when I attended competitions there. It was full of brain teasers and puzzles. I loved them, but was terrible at them. This was super frustrating because there is this stigma that if you can do math, you should be great at problem solving. So, when I started teaching, I decided I wanted those challenging opportunities to be present in my own room.
I started purchasing things for my classroom puzzle box two years ago. Tangible objects/puzzles for students to solve with both their hands and their minds. One wooden puzzle in particular is made up of several small cubes linked together with a string. The goal is to put it back together into a single 3×3 cube. None of my students have ever solved it, but since watching my husband dominate the thing in thirty minutes soon after I bought it, it’s been my personal goal to finish. I’ve tried it multiple times and never gotten it done. Today, that was not going to happen!
Round one, 30 minutes and a fail. I was one block off. Round two was 40 minutes and resulted in a mess my three-year old could have replicated. For round three my students were on their last test of the day. I was running out of time. With 3 minutes left of testing I pulled the whole thing apart, told myself I would finish and boom. Back into a single cube it went. As a sense of accomplishment washed over me I was reminded of two things. First, you have to believe it can be done, no matter what the circumstances. If you aren’t willing to buy into yourself, don’t expect anyone else to either. My success was dependent on me knowing I would finish and my determination to do so. Sure, maybe this was just a dumb puzzle, but this translates to life goals too. Secondly, no matter how long it takes, the journey has already started so you might as well start heading in a positive direction. God has an endgame in mind for you no matter how many detours you take, so if you’re going to choose go off on your own you better make it count.
Today, I chose to embrace my inner mathlete and left aside my insecurities of failure. I ask you to do the same.