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A Changing Passion for Mathematics

Photo of NC State Goodnight Scholar Jordan Paldino of the class of 2021.

When I first came to NC State, perhaps one of my most defining features was my obsession with mathematics.

As I have gone through more classes and had my passion tested, I have found it has transformed into something different. One might compare this to a fire, in which after flaring up as a massive body, simmers down to a much more manageable and reliable cinder. While it is quite difficult watching the fire die down, I have found that this offers a much more robust form of passion — one that instead of relying on explosive periods of excitement, is able to last much longer than before.

I first began to realize this during my second semester of college where, after a difficult first semester, I had to buckle down on my academics. With this, I was forced to take many all nighters in order to complete my assignments. While the content was much different than before, what made matters worse was the fact that while the first semester was filled with general education classes, these were math classes with material in which I was passionate about.

As I went through my classes, and completed more homework, I became exhausted. This was a large challenge for me, as during my high school years I was able to do relatively well in my math classes without exerting myself too much. But to have math, a subject in which I had been so passionate, wear down on my mental health was quite distressing and it drove me to question what I even liked about the topic.

The point in which I was able to see those “cinders” was the summer after. The time before this was a very hard period, in which I questioned my passion for the subject. I wondered if I would ever be able to enjoy doing another proof? If not, then what else could I do? This changed as the summer passed. Around the middle of summer, I found that I wanted to learn more math. While it was not to the same degree as before in which my whole body was consumed with the desire to look into the topic, it was more of a slight tug that pulled me to learn more about the subject. I took a copy of my algebra book and for once, without any of the pressures from school or worry of pulling another all-nighter, I read.

After this experience, I looked at math in a new light. While the periods of intense excitement to do math did come occasionally, it was replaced with a much more stable desire to learn and do math. As I worked through my major, my ability to time manage slowly got better, and with that I was able to remove some of the stresses that came with the major.

Looking back on my experience, this reminds me of a specific scene in The Miner by Natsume Soseki. In the scene, the main protagonist has left the mine and notes both the beauty of a flower and the ugliness of the fellow miners. After going to a checkup, he passes by the flower and miners to find that while the flower does not hold the same beauty as before, the miners do not have the same ugliness. While the work and stressors of my classes had such a stark contrast with the mathematical ideas that I loved, I have found that both have leveled out to a much more manageable level.

The reason for me writing this blog is to let others know that there will be times that you question your ability and passions. Maybe not in college, but at some point the time will come. I feel as though if I knew the outcome, I would have been much more prepared for what was to come.

Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program

This post was originally published in Goodnight Scholars Program.