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Inspiration from Calculus and Goats

Friday morning I woke up extra early (aka 9 am) and made my way over to Gibson Hall to my math professor’s office. I’ve been to his office hours way too many times over the past month; so many times, that I’ve even started to memorize some of his office décor. He has a mock-inspirational poster (the kind only teachers have) on the back wall. It reads, “I’m so far behind. I think I’m first,” with a picture of a mountain goat standing on, what I presume is, a mountain.

That poster always gives me a quick laugh, because I’m proud of myself for making it to office hours, despite the fact that it’s my 5th week of calculus and I still couldn’t tell you the limit as X reaches infinity in almost any circumstance. AKA, I am the goat, the mountain is calculus, and the mountaintop is a billion million miles from my calculus professor’s office.

After office hours–which was, as always, incredibly confusing and deeply unhelpful– I walked back to my dorm, defeated. In my head was that familiar soundtrack of, “I’m going to fail. There’s nothing I can do, I’m going to fail,” playing on loop. There was also a bonus track, “I am the goat. I am the goat. So far behind, I think I’m first.”

But then I realized that it wasn’t true. I’m not the goat, for a lot of reasons, but most importantly, because I have never, ever claimed I was first; I’ve also never sat on Calculus Mountain and said, “Hey, I think I’m just going to camp here for the night. Good enough.” I admit it, I’m not naturally gifted at math, but I’ve never stopped trying to get better. There are plenty of people in my 150+ class also struggling with calculus, but only a few actually trudge up the never-ending staircase at Gibson Hall to make it to office hours.

I started to think about how everyone is climbing mountains, and almost never giving themselves enough credit. There are people training for marathons, and disappointed that they can’t run 10 miles at an 8-minute pace. People who, despite having just moved across the country and into a whole new world, are annoyed with themselves for being homesick. There are people disappointed in getting an A minus, and people angry with themselves for not being able to perfectly balance a job, school, extracurricular activities, and a social life.

We live in a world filled with inspiring people, and I’m not just talking about Olympians and CEOs. It’s your friend who is the president of every club, and still has time for a social life. The girl sitting next to you who got a 100% on the hardest test ever. The people who seemingly have it all figured out.

The problem isn’t that we’re so far behind, we think we’re first. The problem is that we’re so far ahead, we think we’re last. Because the downside of being surrounded by people who are perpetually killin’ the game is that, a lot of times, it feels like you’ll never be able to keep up.

So allow me to inform you that you are not the goat far behind on the mountain, kidding yourself into even thinking you could compete. Much more realistically, you’re the goat up ahead, with all the other elite mountain goats—kicking butt and taking names.

Good luck climbing your mountain, and don’t forget, sometimes even the best goats struggle.

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