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5 rules for being a grownup

Of the many things I don't excel at – dancing, parallel parking, acting happily surprised when I really don't like a Christmas present – my worst is math. I am hopeless at math. But we're not supposed to say such things any more, right? Not since last month, when, in a widely disseminated Atlantic piece, Miles Kimball and Noah Smith attempted to bust the notion that aptitude is a native ability and prove that "inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence."

The story was a compelling and very specific challenge -- as well as an offer of reassurance -- to the many of us who suffer from straight-up math terror. Kimball and Smith insist, reasonably enough, that "Math is the great mental bogeyman of an unconfident America" and "Too many Americans go through life terrified of equations and mathematical symbols." Believing you're just dumb at some things isn't accurate, the authors say, and worse, that belief holds us back in our education, careers and lives in general. What we assume is the condition of not being "a math person" can be overcome the same way ordinary students across the world do it – by just putting in the time and trying harder to get better at it. And while I don't entirely agree with everything the authors say – for real, even basic math concepts flummox me – their message of just putting a little more backbone into it, whatever it is, is one that needs to be stated again and again.

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