I tried to focus on the test before me. The test I had always failed. It was finance. Maths. My ultimate nemesis. And my fear made me feel sick… it actually made my vision blur from pure panic. I tried to focus on my breathing, to try and calm myself, but it wasn’t working. I was going to fail…again.
And then I thought of my daughter. I thought of what I had been trying to teach her… to never give up. And so, Mummy was about to face her biggest fear.
I thought of a talk given at my daughter’s school library only weeks earlier. How we needed more girls involved in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects – something of which I was well aware. But here was the kick, the talk was actually about how parents, including Mummies, needed to lead.. and inspire this learning. During which I had nodded… of course, I would support that in every way and every capacity.
And then in that peaceful, beautiful library I was given a maths exercise with the other parents. Crap. I meant I’d support in every way…except that. Cheering enthusiastically from the sidelines. But not supporting by actually ‘doing’.
Looking at the library maths quiz before me, I felt the inevitable panic start to rise. I was an Arts student, I loved policy and strategy… and yet here and now I was surrounded by parents who were doctors, engineers, chemists, mathematicians. I was completely out of my league. I could feel myself break out in a sweat as the flight or fight response kicked in. As the adrenaline surged through my veins… overwhelmed by my body’s chemical panic… I couldn’t comprehend the instructions from the exercise. I couldn’t even read.
Then I remembered my daughter’s trusting, large brown eyes. The same adoring eyes that looked at me as though her Mummy could do anything.
So I glanced down at the innocent looking paper and looked. Really looked. And I thought… nah… it can’t be that… it seems quite logical. In fact… it’s actually quite straight forward. I can’t be right. I’ve never been right about maths. So I stayed silent.
When the teacher, clearly passionate about encouraging girls in STEM, told us the answer to the quiz – which turned out to be an interview question at Google – I was completely flabbergasted. Despite my self doubt, I was right. For the first time in my entire life, I got a maths quiz right. But then, more importantly, the teacher asked us to look within ourselves – to how we had reacted, what we had thought when we first saw that quiz. Because that was what our children would see, and what would frame their future opinions on STEM subjects. And it was horrifying to realise that I might be a part of the problem rather than the solution.
I walked around in a daze after that revelation. I went to work… sat silently through meetings… but as the day progressed I found I spoke up more to the engineers and technicians. I questioned their figures and judgements. Because on that day, I had managed to think logically and rationally through my greatest fear and I come up with the correct answer. And I only did it because I had gone to that session for my daughter. Mummy had confronted her biggest fear.
And now, weeks later, I was looking at a test which could truly add a huge qualification to my career, and a third of it was maths… and I could feel the familiar panic rising up.
And then I thought of my daughter. How I never expected her to be perfect… but wanted her to keep trying, to never give up when things got hard. And this test was really, really hard. Time to practice Mummys’ lessons in resilience. So I took a deep breath, and I actually read the questions. I looked at the figures. I evaluated and made rational choices. I tried. I refused to let the irrational fear of my past dictate my present.
When I received my final mark I was completely shocked. I had not only passed a test where the average pass rate is 60%, but guess what my best section was? The financial one at 85%. Ironically if it hadn’t been for that section and how well I’d done I would have failed the test. But during the exam I had remembered the school library and I trusted my instincts. And I remembered I did this to be a role model for my daughter, because I wanted to be the type of person who demonstrates with some determination you can do anything… even when it comes to confronting your greatest fears.
Tonight, after reading my daughter a bedtime story, a simple sentence she said broke my heart.
‘Mummy, I know they say practice makes perfect, but no matter how hard I practice, I still find reading really, really hard.’
I paused, remembering all the years I studied hard to try and improve my maths… hours and hours worth. Yet it took until I was in my 40s to even come close. I could have told her practice will make perfect, but instead I paused and said:
‘Sweetheart, practice may not always make perfect, but not giving up comes damn close.’
Then I told her about my fear, and how bad I was at maths. How scared I was at her age and for many, many years after that. Her young brown eyes widened with shock to realise her Mummy was scared by learning some things too and she said:
‘Good job for not giving up Mummy. Well done.’
And me teaching my daughter that lesson, through doing, has meant more to me than any grade could or ever will.