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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?

I’m scared of problem sets? Say what?

What are Problem Sets?

Problem sets are problem solving and decision making STEM based homework and exercises, that I have to suffer through daily as a homeschooler.

Aside from doing the problem set, I’m expected to write a narrative on how to solve the problem.

I study on math, software (Java), and physics problem sets every day. Some are easy. Some are OK. Some are brain busters.

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 because we are under pressure to do good in really hard STEM 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 teachers (my parents) 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 the problem. 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 building 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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