According to a rather widespread idea, mathematics is something you should pick up at a very early age and pursue throughout your entire life to achieve any significant success either in it or in any adjoining disciplines like computer science. You can often hear that it is too late to start seriously working on maths in one’s twenties; sometimes even 17-19 year-olds are discouraged against taking up mathematics because they are already too old to gain enough momentum.
Which is quite a weird notion, when you think of that. Although the history of science is rife with examples of people who started at maths before they were ten and achieved fantastic success, there are just as many examples of people who had nothing to do with it until much older. Joan Birman, one of the leading researchers of knot theory, got her PhD at 41, Albrecht Frählich did not attend a university until he was in his 30s and did most of his important work well after 60, Raoul Bott didn’t show any promise until graduate school – the list can go on and on.
You may start at any age, at any time. You don’t have to jump to advanced mathematics – you may just as well start slow, like hiring a math tutor in NYC to understand basic concepts, and work up from there.
You may become the next Birman – or get numerous other benefits. For example:
1. It Opens up Career Opportunities
A number of careers in engineering, science, technology, healthcare and suchlike require serious understanding of mathematics. It is all but impossible to achieve any remarkable success in coding and programming without significant underlying mathematical knowledge, and it is one of the most promising and lucrative career paths of modern times, which in and of itself greatly increases your competitiveness on the job market. Thus, studying mathematics can be not just an intellectual exercise, but a very practical undertaking as well.
2. It Develops Analytical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
Skills you learn when studying mathematics aren’t limited to or delineated by the area of numerical values. They can easily be transferred to other areas of human experience and will help you both when you study other disciplines and when you deal with life situations that have nothing to do with learning at all. Mathematics makes you used to getting deep into the nature of complicated things, infuses your brain with discipline and improves problem solving, logical and analytical thinking. In short, mathematics make you smarter, less likely to base your judgments on emotions and more – on rational factors.
2. It Is a Useful Tool by Itself
Even if you don’t choose to pursue a scientist’s career, mathematics can help you in a thousand little and big ways. It is just like a hammer – you can mostly get by without one, but when you get it, a lot of things suddenly become much easier. Learning mathematics is akin to learning a new language, a new way of understanding and perceiving things. The difference is, mathematics is a language of logic, and once you know it, it will become an underlying current of your entire life. In addition to that, it flows over to other areas, like economics and finances, and makes it easier to understand the aspects of your life that pertain to them.
4. You May Find a New Calling for Yourself
Perhaps you were intimidated by mathematics when at school because it seemed to be too difficult and complicated. Perhaps you were too sure you didn’t have a natural predisposition for it and decided to forgo it in future life just because of this. The thing is, if you never actually tried your hand at mathematics in earnest, you cannot be sure you don’t like it and don’t have a natural gift for it hidden deep inside. Contrary to popular opinion, adults are often much better than children at learning new things, not in the least because they are (hopefully) more mature and choose their own goals to pursue, not the ones imposed on them by parents and teachers. If you start studying maths now, you have all the chances of discovering a new interest and passion you never believed was there – who knows, perhaps you were so disgusted by this discipline simply because you were forced to study it?
In the long run, the ability to understand mathematics doesn’t have anything to do with age and when you start studying it. It is a matter of understanding a language. At first you don’t understand a single word or sign, no matter how talented you are – but slowly and steadily, you understand more and more. Start it at five years or at thirty-five – you still have enough time to succeed.
header image courtesy of George Bokhua