The Angry Optimist


It has been an exceedingly long semester. Three months so far on the rollercoaster highs and lows in math comprehension have been like waiting eight seasons of Game of Thrones for winter to finally come. Four more weeks to go. Comprehension is Coming.

I’ve spent a good chunk of this almost four months being pissed off at my math teacher. He’s a super mathematician, and probably a nice guy otherwise, but a total asshat of a teacher. I’ve had a difficult time as a middle-aged adult, who had not sat in a classroom in 22 years and has since learned math from the ground up in just one year’s time, being treated like I’m “not ready to be in this class.” But, as my mug suggests, I’m trying to get zen and “Let that shit go.” While forcing myself to play nice in the sandbox, I went to my teacher’s office this morning with questions about the material. I can say that I have been impressed that despite my direct criticism of his teaching style, he has still accommodated my requests for time outside the classroom. At one point today, I randomly stated in passing that I’m not exactly an optimist. His response was, “Yes you are.”

It made my brain screech to a silent grinding halt. I’ve spent so much time being pissed off at this guy, that I was thrown by his observation. An optimist? Me? The cynical angry one? The one that’s not sure from day to day if the glass is half full or half empty? The one that wrote a strongly worded letter to the Mathematics Department complaining about this guy’s condescending methods? Is he really the good guy after all?

The up side to getting old is that you occasionally get wise. While I nearly let my delinquent angry youth destroy my future, I have thankfully learned over the years that anger is a funny little symptom of something else. When you break it down, fear, doubt and pain are the basic sources of anger. I’ve been angry at my math teacher because I’ve been scared that he’s right.

In that moment in his office I realized, he is right. I’m not ready. I haven’t mastered all the math that has come before in order to breeze through Calculus while gleefully sipping champagne on the deck of a yacht. But if I waited to be ready to get married, I never would have gotten married. If I waited to be ready to have a kid, I never would have had a kid. If I waited to be ready to have a career in television, I never would have actually done it. And I can assure you, not one bit of any of that has been a champagne-sipping breeze, and there sure as hell have been no yachts – but it has all been worth it.

You can prepare and train as much as possible, but you can never be totally ready for the hardest things you aim to achieve, especially when it’s a path you’ve never taken. That’s when you put your default anger setting to good use. Don’t get angry at the person telling you you can’t, at the person pointing out why you’re not ready. Set fire to the fear, doubt and pain, thank your math teacher for the fuel, then walk like a badass in an action movie away from the blaze, battered and bleeding, knowing, ready or not, you achieved.

It turns out, my math teacher was right about the other thing, too. I am an optimist – an angry optimist.

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