I Don’t Know Why I’m Not Stupid

I mean, I know I’m not stupid.

But I don’t know why.

Let me explain. At least I will try. And herein lies the fucking problem.

I guess the easy answer is that I assume I am stupid because as a child, my narcissistic father told me I was stupid. A lot.

Perhaps, it is that simple, but I don’t think so.

I program computers and code in an old ass, not sexy language. Black screen, green letters.

It’s not a friendly language. There are no drop down boxes or anything. You don’t get to skip any steps. There are no wide sweeping “just assume all the following is true” options. You have to tell it every single step in painstaking detail. It’s not easy and as long as I’ve been doing this, I absolutely know I still have way more to learn than I already know.

I don’t understand why I understand what I do.

I don’t know how I know that I need to process data in a specific way to get the expected results. I’m not talking syntax. The syntax is stupid and difficult, but I’ve been doing it so long that I just mostly know it now. I’m not talking about the act of writing the code, I’m saying I don’t understand why I write it the way I do.

I guess if I had a formal education in programming, then it might be different. I learned by listening to cassette tapes in the late eighties. Well, I learned enough to jump down rabbit holes and figure shit out.

I’m terrible at math, which is ludicrous. Literally everything I do is math. I guess it’s true that everything all of us do is math, but you know what I mean. 

But I am terrible at math.

math numbers

When my boss gives me a project and the calculations go anywhere beyond simple addition, subtraction, multiplication or division, then he’s got to write the formula out for me. Because I don’t know. I don’t get it.

It’s a jumbled up mess. Nothing that makes me go from “sort of calm” to “sweating out of my eyeholes”, in seconds, is for someone to ask me a simple math problem. Seriously, I could cry.

If my work day includes my boss speaking these words “so, I need a report that includes gross margin”, then I’m having a bad fucking day.

How can I fucking not get it?

I just don’t understand how I do what I do when I have remedial math skills. And remedial might be a gift.

It’s not just a lack of math skills.

When I have to explain something technical to my boss, it’s painful. I grasp at finding the words to explain something that I just know will work. I do a lot of babbling. It’s cool though, he’s used to it. Most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time, my babbling will lead to a coherent thought. Mostly, I can end up explaining what I’m doing. But some of the time? I got nothing. I have no idea. It’s embarrassing.

It’s like I have this smart person who lives behind my left ear and whispers shit to me that I can’t really hear, but I can make happen. Since I can’t really hear what she is saying, how the fuck can I explain what she is saying?

I’m not giving up hope. I’ll figure this out one of these days.

Maybe, a veil will be lifted and I’ll totally get math! Maybe, it really is a block that comes from being I was told stupid as a child. Maybe, I’m trying to box in the way my brain works. I have no idea. I don’t know if it matters.

What works for me, is that in the not too distant past, I would have a hard time talking about this.

Obviously, one reason being that I have difficulty explaining things as we just previously talked about. Mostly, though, it’s because I have been embarrassed by this my entire life.

I’m good with it now. It’s my brain. This is how I do.

I guess.


Image by Jae Rue from Pixabay

20 Thoughts.

  1. Everyday I wait for someone to recognize I am a poser.
    Everyday I am SURE I am going to be outed as a fake.
    Sometimes? I gasp with delight when I do something on accident that is good, then I sigh in exasperation because I know I can’t do it again.
    The same way.
    I just put out a cheatsheet for the added title and author entries in a bib record. It needs to be approved by the Mentor Committee, so I submitted the rough draft that I have been working on for a year, at our last meeting.
    Cue feelings of inadequacy and doubt.
    It went very well and the BEST compliment I could ever receive came from the best cataloger on the system (I call him God) and I went giddy in my relief and gratitude.
    We are good at what we do because we made it happen.
    ‘Fake it til you make it’ is real, Baby! and sometimes, I ain’t even faking 😉
    Our bosses have learned our code talk 😀
    And really? Isn’t that all that matters?

  2. I’d never make it through the first day on a job like that. So on the ‘stupid scale’ you can put me right at the bottom. I still use my fingers to do some math, and recently found out that several of my (age related) friends do the same! Maybe it had to do with the times we were raised, or the lower expectations they had for women back then, because I scored really high on the math intelligence tests. Go figure. There’s the old saying – ‘actions speak louder than words’. You can DO it, no need to explain HOW you did it!

  3. I thought it was just me. I can develop a website and troubleshoot like a mother BUT I literally have problems balancing my checkbook! Math is my nemesis which sucks because I have to use it every day as well. I was constantly told I was stupid but never put it together. I also struggle when talking to clients and trying to get my point across. I’m like an awkward 13-year-old boy!

  4. I’m upset that your father did that to you. It’s hard to grow and learn, to have courage when you can’t even rely on a parent to support you. Sending a major hug. As we grow and navigate life, we are forced to make decisions. These help us realize how clever, careful, loving, intelligent we truly are. So wipe that memory away. It never applied to you.

  5. Sometimes it seems like admitting we don’t understand something actually makes us smarter. I don’t know how it works and of course now that I’ve typed that I can’t think of a single example, but I feel like we make some things harder than they are. It’s like an English teacher I had in high school who went on and on about how poetry was really complex and we were all too stupid to understand it. It turned a lot of people off but I was determined to understand it and finally realized that teacher didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about. And there’s stuff at work where I don’t remember how I figured it out but I know what works right up until my boss asks me to teach someone else and I can’t articulate it. I’m not purposely withholding information–that would make me an asshole–but sometimes stuff is hard to explain.
    Also I have a website that calculates percentages bookmarked. Why should we have to do math when computers can do it better?

  6. Yeah, I can’t explain things either. Years ago, my then 16 year old grandson, asked me to teach him how to drive my car, a manual transmission 5 speed car. I told him that I couldn’t tell him how. But I could show him. We spent one afternoon taking turns driving down rural back country roads in Michigan, laughing and having a great time. He caught on fast. In the years following, we often laughed at my stupid teaching attempts.
    Until he was killed in that fucking war in Afghanistan. Now, it’s a warm memory of a great time with a beloved grandson.
    So I guess not being able to explain things worked out for me.

  7. Your childhood experiences with math do make a difference. I was told for my entire childhood “take as much math as you can get because it will determine where you are able to go in life.” So I did, for a while. In ninth grade (what would be Freshman year in a high school but was my final year in junior high) I took all of the math. Algebra and business math at the same time. They were hard, but at the time I was taking them as a challenge, and “hard” felt good to me. Then the next year, in actual high school, I took geometry, and it just kicked my ass to the curb. They didn’t want just calculations and formulas any more, they wanted proofs. They wanted me to actually think up the reasons these things were what they were and list them in two columns. I was uniquely bad at doing that. Algebra two and physics didn’t get any better, and I struggled to just pass those classes.
    The good news is that aside from some of that ninth grade business math stuff and knowing how to set up a proportion , I have never used any of the math I learned in school in my actual life.
    My dad was a surveyor for the Forest Service, and he studied (mostly math) on his own in his spare time to become a construction inspector, and then did that for the Forest Service for ten years, so that’s where the pressure to learn a lot of math came from. Perhaps if there had been less pressure, I might have learned to like it more. No, that’s a lie. Perhaps I would have hated it less. I know people who actually like math, who use it as a language, and I admire them a lot from my position of never, ever being that way.
    I’m a goddamn musician, and music at its bones is math, so how can I say I hate math? I don’t know. I play a lot of music in odd time signatures just because I like having to do the math part of music well, and that may be what those math aficionados are feeling, but I don’t really understand that. I just know what works, and know that it feels good to be able to make it work.
    I’m glad that you feel more comfortable talking about this stuff now. Back when I was an ambitious math kid, they taught me to program in BASIC a little, and I don’t remember much of it except the having to tell the machine (a mainframe with terminals) to do every little thing in numeric sequence, and the drifts of little paper dots that came out of the back of the printer on the terminal. I’m hella old.
    Briana is home, in a cast, and on several meds, and the car is toast, but we’re hanging in there.

  8. Oh how do we know some shit is a wonder…………………
    I am not smart but I am also not stupid, and I have met some really stupid people, just saying

  9. I’m weirdly good at what I do, too, but whenever I try explaining it I become a 13 year old Valley Girl, using “like” and ending my sentences as questions. I’ve gotten better (I’m 52 and have been doing what I do for over 26 years). But sometimes I leave a meeting with the looks on peoples faces burned in my brain like an old Kodak negative
    Thank you for sharing. I, too, have never really talked about my embarrassment at babbling to my various managers over things I know are right and make business sense. Somehow the outcomes have outweighed the communication challenges.

  10. It may be a Right vs. Left brain issue. The right is simultaneous, spatial, timeless or outside time, brilliant. The left is logical, sequential, verbal, but really retarded in comparison to the right because it relies on words to encode meaning. That is too slow. Sorry this is an oversimplification. Women tend to have a more developed corpus colosum (sp?) Which usually explains women’s intuition, or the ability to have the brain hemispheres communicate. But it also seems to explain why such femenine brains tend to be more easily deceived. Now getting ready for flames thrown at me for repeating what I have read… “-) It is not stupidity but over specialization. It has its advantages.

    • I know the brain is a mystery from dealing with my father’s brain injury from 27 years ago. I also know we know a lot more about it now than we did then.

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