Bus from Chiclayo to Trujillo, Peru.
Six years ago I finished university. I had done all my subjects, did an internship to get out of the last few classes that I had to take (everybody thinks that mathematics is boring or difficult or both. Imagine how you feel after 6 years of doing it…), wrote my master thesis (about a subject that almost nobody understands and absolutely nobody cares about). I had done my final presentation (including a tiny mistake: 2 + 5 = 9. I still blame the fact that I just forgot to change one sheet when I altered my example somewhat…).
And at the end of it all I got a piece of paper that said that I was a mathematician (actually, it said something complicated in Latin, but I’m sure it was meant to say that I was a mathematician as well).
Like: Whenever there is anything to be done with numbers, you are fully capable of doing it. And: You are allowed to have an opinion on anything related to formulas and you may expect people to heed your opinion. Or: There are no restraints to applying to any job with the word “Quant” or “Quantitative” in it.
In other words, with that piece of paper I got all the Qualifications (with a capital) of a mathematician. I could do anything that a mathematician could do (or at least what I imagined a mathematician could do. There is as of yet no list of those things as far as I know. But I’m sure anything with numbers is fair game).
And the world was good. I got a job, first as a quantitative consultant and then as a quantitative risk manager (see, they got “quantitative” in the title!), I did a lot of stuff with numbers and had a fair number of opinions about formulas.
But now I quit my job, I am traveling and thinking. Thinking mostly about what I would like to do. When I get back. With the rest of my life.
And the problem is, most of the things I think of do not involve numbers that much. And they certainly don’t have “quantitative” in the job title (though “quantitative philanthropist” does have a certain cool ring to it. Now only to figure out what that means…).
I would like to be a writer. I would love to start up my own business. I want to improve the world.
But I find myself without the qualification to do what I want to do (or at least try). And that kind of feels like I would be bluffing my way into it. Which of course is exactly what it would be. But then, everybody who ever did anything out of the ordinary was bluffing their way into it (“Ah, yes, Mr Darwin it is? So you would like to form a world-shattering new theory, the likes of which has never been seen and which will be taught at schools for the rest of eternity? Well, with the preparation you will get at our institute we can guarantee that you will do exactly that!” Not that I would compare myself with Darwin just yet of course…)
At every moment I expect someone to come round and to yell in my face: “You can’t to do that!” and then I would have to look at the ground, hands behind my back and in a very soft voice admit that yes, I did not have the ability to do that and who was I thinking to go out and try and I’m really sorry I’ll go back to playing with numbers again now, sorry to have bothered you…
It’s not that I might fail, I’m fully prepared to do that (if you never fail you’re not learning anything new). It’s that someone might call my bluff and I’ll be standing there unable to say anything and with everybody laughing…
I know that image is only in my head. But just thinking about it makes my heart beat faster and sweat break out on my skin (ok, that might be partially because of the 30+ degrees here, but still…) And feelings are a lot stronger than thoughts…
So the bad news is I’m stuck. The good news however is that I know I’m stuck.
I’ll let you know when I find a way to get myself un-stuck.