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I’m Scared of Problem Sets


Now, I’ve got your attention.

My name is Margaux. I’m 16. I’m studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects and interning at a tech startup –

So, what’s my problem?

Problem sets? Say what?

What are Problem Sets?

Problem sets are problem solving and decision making STEM based exercises, that I have to suffer daily.

Aside from doing the problem set, I’m expected to write a narrative on how to solve the problem and potential decisions that can come out of it.

I work on math, software (JAVA), and physics problem sets every day as part of my homeschooling. Sometimes they are easy. Sometimes they are just right. Sometimes they are brain bursting.

When they are brain busters, things happen. I stab my pencil on my notebook. I scream like crazy (OK internally). I have to walk around until I can get back to the problem set.

I think all STEM kids go through this as we are under pressure to do good in these hard subjects.

The Head Game

My frustrations:

My biggest battles are not with the problem sets but with what’s going on in my head. Specifically the messages I give myself.

I think that I can’t do the problems before I have even worked on them. I don’t want my teacher to look at me with disappointment, disapproval, and frustration. It makes me ashamed.

Even though I understand the subjects, I’m not confident that I can do the problem sets. I freak out and go through a mental list of bad things that can happen because I don’t think I understand the material.

There’s a voice in my head that tells me:

You might have to re-learn this. Don’t get too confident. You might have to do more problems and you’ll be behind on all of your other work.

I get antsy and lose focus.

When I become like this, I forget how to solve the problem or I won’t try at all. I’ll stare at the problem, but I’m not trying to solve it. I’m trying to figure out how I can escape the frustration that comes with solving the hard problem.

Mastering the Game

I’m learning how to beat the mental game. How to clear my head when I get frustrated. How to stop escaping and sit my butt down. How to figure out how to solve the problem.

At these times, I give myself a lot of reassurance. I become my imaginary cheerleader.

Even though I still dislike going through the grit of doing problem sets, I’m getting better at resilience and self-discipline. Those are hard lessons to learn. I’m learning what engineers, programmers, and entrepreneurs do day-in and day-out:

Solving problems and fighting the head game.

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