I’m a Math tutor. At some point every year I teach my students about vectors.
Vectors are movements from one point to another. Here’s a vector that gets you from point A to point B.
Questions involving vectors often require students to consider the different ways there are to get from one point to another.
For example, in the diagram above, to get from point A to point C, you might want to travel directly between those points, as shown below.
Or, you could go from A to B first (maybe there’s an award-winning pizza place at B that you must make a stop at) and then go from B to C .
It always feels satisfying to figure out a route you hadn’t seen before — and if you can pick up some fabulous Italian food on the way, so much the better.
If we leave aside the way we imagine vectors should look, there are countless possible journeys from A to C. We can create our own meandering paths between the points, pausing as many times as we like along the way to admire the view.
We could jump off the page at A and fly through the air before zooming back down to land at C (assuming we own a tiny plane — but who doesn’t?).
The fact is, there are often more ways to look at something than we might at first imagine.
When you’re making a difficult choice, there may be more options available to you than the ones you simply can’t decide between.
When you’re placing judgement on a person or event, you might lack some knowledge about them that, if you took the time to uncover, would completely change your perspective.
When you’re trying to overcome an obstacle, there’s often a pathway around it that you’ve overlooked.
Looking at things differently can become a game you play every day: one that makes life immeasurably richer.
Brené Brown, a world-famous TED speaker and author, struggled for years with the process of writing. As her friend Elizabeth Gilbert explains in the book Big Magic, Brené has a background in academic research and was convinced that creating important work always involved tedium and suffering.
Elizabeth suggested to Brené that this wasn’t necessarily the case —in Elizabeth’s opinion, it was possible to work in a relatively healthy, even enjoyable manner. Brené decided that she would test this whether this was true by trying something different. Instead of writing in solitude, she began speaking out loud to two of her colleagues, telling them the stories she wanted to include in her next book, while they took notes of what she said. Next, Brené used their notes to put together a draft. She then read the draft aloud to her colleagues, who helped her to revise and improve it. In the midst of working in this manner, the three of them shared laughter and taco breaks and the realization that crafting a manuscript could be much more fun than they had previously imagined.
Brené found a different way to write.
Meg Worden, now a health coach, was once sentenced to two years in prison for selling ecstasy. While serving her time, she did the hard work of accepting the responsibility for her situation and acknowledging that even in the most dire circumstances, she still had some control:
Meg found a different way to respond to an unbelievably difficult situation.*
By accepting that an opinion is never set in stone, you can learn to shift your viewpoint on almost anything.
Procrastination can be seen as weakness, or it can be recognized as a sign of fear or confusion — and be addressed accordingly.
Not being able to sleep can be infuriating, or it can give you a little quiet time to do some writing.
A long commute can be a daily ordeal, or it can be a chance to get into a good audiobook.
Asking for help can be humiliating, or it can help deepen a friendship.
Even paying bills, which almost everyone finds dull and draining, can be looked at as an opportunity to send money out into the world with the hope that it will end up with someone who really needs it.
No matter how difficult the situation you find yourself in, there’s countless different stories that you could tell about it.
Choose one that works for you.
You can find out more about Meg’s story on this episode of the Unmistakable Creative podcast, which I highly recommend.
Thank you for reading! For more stories like this, you can follow The Maths and Magic of Being Human.