Me My Life

My Mathematical Mind

Have you seen the “things I’m afraid to tell you” meme going around? Well, here’s my take on it. I’ve mentioned my love of math before, but here is the full scope.

I’m smart. It’s not something that one brings up often, and especially not me. When I was a little girl, my father got annoyed with me one day because I had corrected something his friend said, and he told me to keep quiet and stop showing off. That offhand comment stuck with me and made me equate letting people see that I have a brain with bragging, so I hid my intellect.

But yes, I’m smart. Really smart. But I never wanted to be some kind of genius that can manipulate numbers and solve equations, no. I wanted to be well-read with excellent verbal skills. I wanted to be an author or a poet, or maybe an artist, but nothing that involved math. I was disappointed every time if my scores were higher on standardized tests in math instead of verbal, even when I did exceedingly well across the board. I was the geeky girl in high school that custom programmed my TI-89 graphing calculator to make vector-based art that was dependent on the variables you would enter into an equation I wrote… and I thought I didn’t like math. I know how to code and design websites (ahem) today because I’ve been coding since I was 13 for fun. I’m good at a wide variety of things (Jill of all trades, master of none), but foremost I’m mathy, and it took me a long time to accept that about myself.

I got a little lost in these fun videos by Vi Hart the other night. If you are at all curious about what it’s like to be inside my brain, the frenetic pace and mathematical tangents in the video below are a good start to understanding my thought processes. I especially enjoyed the little aside in the video about the parallels between art and math, and the cute take on calculus leaping from algebra’s limitations. It took calculus to make me really fall in love with math. (Everything leads up to it and culminates and is beautiful.)

My mom recently went back to school for her teaching certificate. As part of her studies, she had been looking into the varying degrees of giftedness in children that weren’t as well defined when I was in elementary school, so we’ve been talking about how schools treat gifted kids and I’ve been thinking about my experiences in the classroom lately. I was a model student when I was young. I skipped ahead in subjects to move up to the next grade level, and even then it was all too easy. But then something happened when I hit junior high, and I became a terrible student. I don’t think anything changed in me, but rather the teaching methods and expectations were different.

I would do my homework and then leave it in my locker, forgetting to bring it with me to turn it in, but then I’d ace every test and make up for it. I figured the work wasn’t as important as the mastery of the subject; my teachers did not see it that way. I failed a semester of English AP in my junior year and had to make it up my senior year in a remedial class where the teacher referred to me as “La Femme Nikita” (inappropriate!) and we read books written for fourth graders. I made it through my senior English AP class because my essays were weighed heavily and they saved my overall grade. I missed weeks of school due to an illness one year, and missed all of trigonometry, so I bought a book and taught it to myself when I later needed it to progress on in other math disciplines.

I only have an A.A. from a community college. It’s an accomplishment, and one that I should be proud of, but I’m embarrassed because I feel like I never fulfilled my potential. I had partial scholarship offers from Ivy League schools, based on my PSAT scores, but I never would have been accepted due to my low GPA. I wanted to go to Reed, but we couldn’t afford it and my parents were convinced I would flunk out of college anyway, so I was encouraged to not bother. I floundered in community college at first (I hated it and resented being there), and it took me years of going to school off and on (while working full-time at the bookstore where I met Brandon) to get my two-year degree. It was easy to ace my classes once I’d finally decided to and I would have continued on to architecture school, but I wasn’t accepted into the college of my choice (low high school grades, remember), so I gave up and started my my stationery shop instead.

I was feeling a bit down on myself recently while thinking about all of this. Had I been able to make my grades reflect my intellect, I could have gone to any school I wanted, been anything I wanted to be. I love that I’ve been able to create this job for myself, this funny “professional blogger” gig that I never could have predicted or aimed for, but it’s not like it pays that well and it would be nice to not have to worry about money, especially right now.

Still, I don’t think I could have made myself behave any differently. I am inherently the absent-minded professor; the classic INTP, with a dash of creativity thrown in for good measure. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, but I know how to make it work for myself now.

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  • Shannon
    May 4, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your math-iness. I think many of us, including myself wishes that we had pushed ourselves more in areas of our life. I wish had I had better focus and drive. I also wish someone had been a better guide and mentor to me through the torturous years of acedamia. I think I’ve turned out alright, looks like you have too.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:04 am

      I’m sure a lot of us wish we could have done better in school (or other areas), but it’s still hard to admit and talk about. But yes, we often turn out all right in the end.

  • Becca
    May 4, 2012 at 5:40 am

    It sounds like we are quite similar, apart from the Dad front. Mine would like to show off his precocious little brat of a daughter, which made me extremely competitive and probably quite annoying. I constantly sought the approval of adults – particularly in areas that I knew my family respected, like maths and languages.

    I started out at private school, where competition was encouraged and good results were rewarded, but when I moved to public school due to a change in family finances, it was terrible. I was 5 books ahead of the class in maths, and would always finish my work before anyone else. It was there that I saw that the other girls would play dumb – it wasn’t acceptable to be hard-working or intelligent. I soon slowed down, staring out of the window and chatting in class.

    When I moved to secondary school (age 11), I tried to get back on track, but was demotivated when it became clear that I would never be the best again – there were too many people in my class. I did just enough to get by, charming teachers with my ability to randomly retain information, just enough to get away with late/non-existent homework and skipping class to go shopping. I got into the university I wanted, and delighted in being a “dappy blonde” on one of the best maths courses in the country, but simply couldn’t get away with what I had been doing before, and soon dropped out.

    I landed on my feet yet again, and qualified as an accountant with a Big Four firm, but still couldn’t quite push myself to do anywhere as well as I should have.

    They say that the brain is like a muscle. I’m afraid that I have become a serious couch potato in that department. I just don’t know where to start to get back into it!

    You should be very proud of yourself. It’s far more difficult and takes a deeper intelligence than simply academic to achieve in this field.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:10 am

      I’m afraid that I’ve become a couch potato in that regard, too. I like playing games like Scrabble/Words with Friends, or solitary card games like spider, and of course I still like to get involved in a good coding project, but it’s not the same. I stumbled across one of my old notebooks full of equations, and it all looked a little foreign. I feel like I should be doing more to stay sharp.

      And I went to public school in a very average neighborhood. My best friend was also smart (she’s a doctor now), and I’m glad that we had each other because the pressure was definitely there to play dumb, especially for girls. It’s so sad.

  • Stephanie
    May 4, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Love this post, and I am loving your blog! It is so wonderful as we get older, and we can begin to accept ourselves for who we really are. I agree that it is so important for schools to carefully nurture those children who are gifted, as it can make such a difference to their outcomes.

  • Cheltz
    May 4, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Funny, I always thought I was good at math — got good grades, aced tests, etc. — but, I never did it for fun. You definitely got me there!

    P.S. The worry sucks, but your little family will be just fine. In five years this will all be a distant, distant memory :).

  • Jacquie
    May 4, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Ah, what an interesting post. I hardly ever post comments, and don’t think I have ever commented on your blog, although I have read it for a few years now.

    I feel that if schools paid more attention to children like you, the ones that ‘get it’ and helped them to work in a way that suits their own learning style and assessed them accordingly, so many more people would succeed. Too often, bright kids get left behind because they don’t conform to the school. I am spending a hideous amount of money on private schools to ensure it doesn’t happen to my own children now. It kind of annoys me that I have to, but I just don’t think that in a class of 30 kids, teachers have time to work with all kids in the way they need to in order to get the best out of them.

    I can appreciate why you wish you were in a better paid job now, but things have a funny way of working out. Hang in there!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:15 am

      We did have “challenge” classes, starting around fourth grade, but even those had 10 or 15 students in them. I was telling my mom that one of my favorite experiences in school was with my junior high algebra class. I was already in the accelerated class out of three tracks, but then within that class there was a group of 5 of us that were allowed independent study. My mom, who has been studying education and trying to make a career change, said that that was a terrible move on behalf of the teacher (lazy?), but I loved it. I could teach myself in half the time just by reading the book and working through the problems.

  • Kathryn Humphreys
    May 4, 2012 at 6:32 am

    You know our struggles with Roan already. Schools are not set up to recognize gifted children even now. And while much time is spent discussing differentiated curriculum, it is not aimed at the higher achieving students, especially when other things, like those you describe, often mask what is truly going on inside their heads. I struggled for a long time to reconcile my degrees in dance with being smart. Doing what interested me, since it wasn’t engineering, was seen as a cop out and useless. I’m really good at what I do, but no one understands how you can be smart and have a non-traditional career. That these things take vision and drive. What you’ve accomplished could only be put together by a person who could find the connections between seemingly disparate items, the intellect behind this work should be obvious. My hope is that all this talk of nurturing creativity in the new generation will lead to a societal change in how we perceive and acknowledge achievement. This is a wonderful essay, thank you.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

      I struggled with reconciling my interests, too. I didn’t want to go to art school because it wouldn’t have been intellectually challenging enough, and I didn’t want to go to a traditional college because their art programs weren’t as innovative. I wanted to pursue art therapy for a while because I figured it would be a good blend of my interests, but when I realized that architecture was an option, it seemed perfect. It was too late a realization though, so without the grades to back me up, I couldn’t progress beyond two years of study.

      I really have created the perfect job for myself, one that lets me dabble in all of my interests, but it isn’t something I could have predicted even ten years ago. I wonder what E and A will be like a lot, and I hope they won’t have the same problems I had as a kid in school. But then, I’m pretty different from my parents, so my two will probably have their own paths.

      • Kathryn Humphreys
        May 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm

        My sister is an architect and she left the field because of frustration about the lack of creative freedom. I’m interested to see what careers will be available when our children are grown, I suspect they will draw heavily on their ability to think and create for themselves.

  • spark
    May 4, 2012 at 6:58 am

    Wonderful post Nicole. Thank you for sharing. I was gifted child at school in English and languages but was not allowed to read books above my grade level. My mum and dad did the best they could with what they knew but they really didn’t have any understanding and by the time I was in high school (excellent school but highly traditional) I was over it all and was expelled twice. I’ve since gone on to be an academic and feel lucky but I know when I am in the classroom, I look out for those disengaged children. My husband is also gifted but education was not valued in his home as he was growing up. He has now taken the big plunge and studying engineering at age 43. Scary as we have gone from double income to nothing with a young child but somehow it happens. I do look back and feel disappointed that no-one took my hand and fostered my ability but my life is full and I wouldn’t swap it for anything. Plus there is so much more time ahead of us to do with it as we would like. My dad started his Masters at age 65!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:26 am

      I sometimes wonder what I’ll be doing years from now. I’m committed to Making it Lovely, but none of us know where bloggers will be in the future. I suppose school is always an option for me, and maybe with some years behind me I’ll be able to write an essay that will convince an institution to have me. I’d make an excellent engineer.

      • spark
        May 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

        I can’t speak for the American system but I know over in Oz there is strong growing trend for Universities to take on mature age students as it is well acknowledged that they are highly motivated and committed students. There is more and more of an interview system and many more support systems in place for new students who need assistance for pathways in to University. You might be surprised. There is also strong evidence that mature graduates accelerate very quickly in promotion (and corresponding income) in their chosen career path. By the way, Western Australia is the epi-centre for engineers due to our booming resource sector. We’d love to have you:) (as I think any tertiary institution would). Don’t be limited

  • Erin
    May 4, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Woah wait, your teacher had y’all read fourth grade level books in a SENIOR AP class??


    Anyway. I know it’s hard to look back on your choices in life and think “what if?” Especially when you’re in the middle of financial difficulties. My husband and I are both teachers (or I was, before I made the decision to stay home with our children.) His master’s degree is in theology, so his choices on where he can teach are pretty limited. We struggle, to put it mildly.

    The reality is that either of us could have continued our educations, broadened our fields of study to include more (and better paying) options, but then most likely we wouldn’t have been able to get married, and we wouldn’t even have the family that we worry about providing for. And then we’d be pondering the “what ifs”, but in the other direction.

    Honestly, as a teacher and as a parent, I’d be pleased as punch if my boys turned out to have the drive that you have (teaching yourself trig? Wow.) The schools I’ve taught at talked constantly about creating “lifelong learners”, but that is the one thing that a school really can’t make. But that’s what you are. Success is not measured by grades and GPAs and degrees and yearly income. Don’t buy into that.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:30 am

      No, we were reading fourth grade level books in the remedial English class I had to take to make up for failing my junior year AP class. I was in senior level AP at the same time, reading Heart of Darkness and so on.

      I am definitely a lifelong learner, and it’s just a part of my makeup. My family encouraged my curiosity, but not too heavily or to any extreme, and it certainly wasn’t something I picked up in school.

      And yes, had things gone differently, I wouldn’t have the life I have now.

      • Erin
        May 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

        Ah ok, whew, read that wrong and I’m glad I did! I blame the early hour. ;)

  • Starling
    May 4, 2012 at 7:19 am

    I cosign everything that Erin said. Also, it’s easy to say “what if.” I ask that question all the time, even when I know I shouldn’t, but I also know that there’s no guarantee that IF I had kept pursuing my childhood dream of journalism that I would be working at a newspaper or that I would be happy doing so. Instead, I’m taking the lessons I learned on student newspapers (work for the benefit of your audience) and applying them to what I do now. It seems like you’ve done the same thing. You’re taking everything you’ve learned and are learning and making it lovely, and that is fantastic :)

  • Charlotte | Living Well on the Cheap
    May 4, 2012 at 7:20 am

    I love this post. I was a gifted kid as well, although I never enjoyed math and in that area was mediocre among the other giftoids. I think my greatest skills are verbal and social. I spent six years earning degrees in English and Social Work, and I’ve been beating myself up a little lately about all that time and money down the drain as I prepare to stay home full time after the arrival of my first child in July, but this post reminded me that it’s important to find your path, even if it’s not what you would have predicted.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

      I never wanted to be a stay at home mom (and I guess I’m not, I’m a WAHM), but I didn’t know for a long time if I even wanted to have children. Then one day, something flipped and Brandon and I decided we were ready, and when Eleanor arrived, I was head over heels, wondering why I had resisted for so long.

  • Ashley {GirlyObsessions}
    May 4, 2012 at 7:24 am

    I love the honesty of your post, and that it’s a story about you and your path in life and not just a list. You are obviously very successful and seem to have a fulfilling life, but everyone’s path is different. And it doesn’t matter how you got where you are. Even if you think you didn’t live up to a certain potential, your intelligence can never be taken away from you, and is what motivates you! And just think about all the lives you touch on a daily basis with your blog!

  • Beth
    May 4, 2012 at 7:25 am

    I’m a teacher. Yesterday I was teaching a lesson on Linneaus’ classification system, and mentioned as example that school classify students based on age. It was at that point that I thought, “Hmmm…I wonder why. Why don’t we, instead, classify on ability? Wouldn’t my 5th grader that can barely subtract do better if he were grouped with other kids just learning that skill?” I don’t know. I don’t think the answer is that simple, of course. But it’s food for thought. Who says the way we do it is the right way?

  • Marlena
    May 4, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Great post. I hear you. Also, a great example of how you won’t say those things to your own children. My husband is one of the smartest persons I know. Hands down. Like, really, really smart. Yet, he did so poorly in school he was sent to a boarding school and then kicked out of that. His parents didn’t think he could get into college, he did, and then went on to get 3 Master’s Degrees (he doesn’t think this is a good idea). Anyway, all to say, that intelligence comes in so many different forms and is expressed in so many different ways. Grades are such a poor indication of brain power, and yes, middle school can do a number on ya.

  • Caitlin
    May 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Wow is right! That’s amazing. I am not a math person at all, but I made myself struggle through math, physics, and organic chemistry so I could study marine biology. I love it, but now that I am struggling to pay bills and my student loans, I sometimes wish I LOVED math or engineering so I could pursue a career that pays better. But I love what I do (even though I am still not a “science-y” person . . . )and I am so grateful that I was allowed to make my own decisions regarding my career.

    You bring up such an interesting topic – education and how students learn. I do think there is a difference in quality of education among all the schools I went to and it makes me worry that I won’t be able to afford a good education for my potential future children.

    Thank you for this post – it was really great!

  • AT
    May 4, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Fascinating post! I too, was the conflicted geek throughout my childhood and teen years. I am interested (so interested) in people like us who are equally talented in left and right brained activities. I was on the Math team (yes, that was a real team) and president of the Art Honors Society. My friends would joke with me that my brain was in competition, because so few people excel in both.

    I majored in environmental engineering in college, but ultimately changed majors to business, and am now in product development, which is the ultimate blend of science and art.

    Re: education, I was SO fortunate and didn’t even realize it at the time. I went to such a small school that there were only 2 kids classified as gifted, and we had 1 teacher all to ourselves. That woman single-handedly set me up for success.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:38 am

      Ha, I was on the math team too! We were forced to join (or heavily encouraged) as part of my high school’s Honors Plus program. We were called mathletes and I HATED it. Of course I was the star mathlete.

      I often wonder how many people are equally left and right brained. It comes so naturally to me that I didn’t realize I was the exception until I got to high school.

  • RebeccaNYC
    May 4, 2012 at 7:58 am

    wow. Did this post hit a nerve! I was also very gifted, but terrible terrible terrible in math, so they thought I was slow, and I spent a lot of time in classes for the mentally deficient. (you can just imagine the names they called me in school…this was before bullying was considered a crime) I was not slow, I was bored. Also came from a family of “do not show off under any circumstance” but talent will out, and I am an opera singer today, with a coveted full time job at one of the largest houses in the world. In this job, not only do I have to memorize over 20 operas a year, I have to do it in FrenchRussianGermanItalianCzechSanscrit. Slow my ass.
    I am loving this “things I am afraid to tell you” meme… mine would be that even though I AM a professional singer at a very high level, if someone asks me to “sing something” I can never think of anything to sing, and I’m too shy to do it anyway. sheesh….

  • Kathleen
    May 4, 2012 at 7:59 am

    What you just described is what I’m experiencing with my 14 yr old son. He has ADHD and aces all his tests but forgets to not only turn in his homework, but also sometimes his classwork! I’m really worried about his starting high school next year. The school system really doesn’t know how to deal with kids that don’t fit into the norm and I think that if he’s really struggling, I might switch him to virtual school (I’d be horrible at home-schooling). Did you ever consider that you may have undiagnosed ADD/ADHD? It’s unbelievable common in gifted children.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 9:41 am

      It’s possible for me, but not something that I worry about. I have incredible focus for long periods of time, but only if it’s something that holds my interest (solving a coding problem is particularly fun). I think my ‘symptoms’ are less indiciative of ADD/ADHD and more a reflection of my personality type and giftedness. Or maybe it’s all wrapped up together, I don’t know. But I’m happy with the way my brain works now, so I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

      • Alyssa
        May 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        I have ADD, and a part that people don’t really know about is hyper-focus: when your interested in something it can hold your attention to the exclusion of all else. But I like to think of my ADD as a benefit – something I would never change about myself. A lot of people don’t have the ability to switch between things, approach problems from new angles, and a lot of the other things I’m blessed with. So what if I can never find my keys!

  • Lara
    May 4, 2012 at 8:01 am

    I so love this post. I’ve always seen a great link between maths and art too. I love that you know yourself this well – acceptance, disappointment, pride and all! Really admire anyone who can identify those things about themselves so eloquently too. A great read, thank you.

  • NK @ Style-ING w/ Children
    May 4, 2012 at 8:08 am

    my greatest fear for my kid is that she’s going to be bored at school. I’m determined to move mountains (spend my last dollar) to get her in the best school possible that will GET her. My husband, her dad, is incredibly gifted mathematically. I am more of an emotionally intelligent person, than anything academic. Seeing how her personality and intellect took both of these qualities and made them her own is scary and exciting at the same time. I hope our best will be enough to help her navigate school and learning.

  • Erin Q.
    May 4, 2012 at 8:32 am

    I bet you’d have a totally different experience with school if you were in my class. Here’s how I teach:

  • Jeanne
    May 4, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Thank you for sharing! I can so relate! I started kindergarten at 4. By 2nd grade they wanted me to skip to 3rd grade. My mom said “no” since I was already young. In 3rd, they wanted me to skip to 4th. Again “no.” I somewhat breezed through school but was never challenged or pushed and just did “enough.” This was the 60s/70s and being the smart girl wasn’t always “cool.” Although I was gifted in math, I always hated it. It was painful. I’m also an art person (work in advertising). Math has both come in handy (graphically) and a hinderance – I’m a “rule follower” and sometimes feel blocked creatively because there are no rules in being creative. It’s a struggle I’ve always felt.

    Anyway, I got my Associates way back when (’78) and always felt inadequate because of it. So in 2005 I decided to finish my bachelors. I graduated in 2010 (at 54), so you’re never too old! You can still do it!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I started kindergarten at age 4 too, and my parents also didn’t want me to skip full grades (for social reasons). I was able to move ahead to the next grade level for reading along with two boys in my class, but the school put us with the lowest level for the next grade up and it was too easy.

      I love to hear about people who went back and finished their schooling. My mom went back as an adult, and has just now finished another degree to become a teacher.

      • Jules
        May 4, 2012 at 12:54 pm

        My mom went back to school as an adult (in a new country, no less) and earned her PhD. She has since published 5 books.

  • Brita
    May 4, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I wonder how many people are like this. I certainly am! Your “did the homework, forgot it, but aced the tests” reads exactly like my story, only it was “skipped the homework because it was boring, aced the tests.” I did okay, and ended up following the traditional high school, then college path and got my BS on “schedule,” but I still feel bad that I coasted through my education.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Yeah, eventually I just started skipping the homework. I didn’t need to do it to understand what we were learning. Hearing it once in class was enough.

  • gina
    May 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

    your experience as a gifted student/underachiever is a common one. i am trying to tell my gifted 10 year old son to be a good student isn’t the same as being smart. being a good student means being prepared with homework, etc. hope he learns from my mistakes.

    • casacaudill
      May 4, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      My niece is struggling with this right now. She’s smart as a whip, but easily bored during school. The homework doesn’t challenge her, so she fights doing it. The school finally called my sister to complain. I’m trying to tell my niece that she needs to start doing her work if she doesn’t want to end up labeled a slacker, but she’s also stubborn as a mule and is fighting me on it.

  • Molly
    May 4, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Interesting post. I was the complete opposite of you. I struggled through elementary and high school with math and sometimes reading. I still hate math. I excelled in art and even earned some awards for my talents in high school. However, my philosophy was to do the bare minimum. I was a B student and put little effort into anything school related unless it was art or English. In fact, I missed getting into the National Honor Society by 0.1 GPA, which didn’t bother me in the slightest.

    Somehow I managed to get into a really good college. Within 2 weeks, I realized I couldn’t do the bare minimum and still be a B average student. I studied hard, passed all my classes, worked part time and graduated a semester early with a BS! All this from the kid who was in remedial math from kidergarten to senior year.

    Anything is possible, you just have to light a fire under your rear and push yourself. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to do it.

  • Alison
    May 4, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thank you for sharing your story! I think being smart and being good at school aren’t the same thing, which (as someone who was home-schooled) seems pretty messed up to me. It’s inspiring to see how much success you’ve achieved through a non-traditional path.

  • Cara
    May 4, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I’m going to second Kathleen and suggest that you might have undiagnosed ADD. I was recently diagnosed with it and it was a huge relief to have an explanation for all the stuff I was compelled to do that got me in trouble as a kid/teen (daydreaming, procrastinating, etc.). The symptoms for girls/women are not always the same as boys. Girls will also work harder at masking the symptoms, which makes it harder to spot.

    Remember when Mattel released the Barbie that said “Math is hard!”? I believe it was when we would have been late teens. With that attitude floating around, I’m not at all surprised that you felt like you had to hide your math skills.

    Thanks for the link on gifted students. That stuff is fascinating to me. Also, you might want to take a look at the Triple Bind. It looks at the pressures on girls to be smart, sweet and sexy.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

      It is entirely possible, as I said in response to Kathleen. I was always daydreaming and procrastinating, and everyone said I was “scatterbrained.”

      And yes, I remember the “Math is hard!” Barbie. I liked the way The Simpsons made fun of it with Lisa. There are so many weird social pressures on women.

  • Jo
    May 4, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I’ve thought a lot about this over the past few years – I was also very advanced, several course-levels ahead in school. When applying to colleges and trying to decide what I wanted to major in, my dad (who is very, very smart but chose to not go to college in order to run his own business because he hated the one job he had where he had a boss)gave me the best advice I’ve ever received, which was that if you love something, you’ll find a way to be successful with it. I ended up in majoring in history and art history, with almost minors in geology and comparative literature because I took a wide variety of courses that interested me without having a hard-set plan. After college I applied to a variety of jobs and ended up taking a low-paying job in museum education that I LOVED … but I was shocked by the comments I received from well-meaning people asking what my plan was to get a “better” job. I realized that away from my parents, I was in a world that truly would judge me based on my career choices. Later taking a high-paying job in marketing, I was again amazed by how impressed people were by the job that made me miserable. We’re adopting a baby now (after years of infertility treatments and failed adoption attempts) and my husband and I decided I’d be a stay-at-home mom, and again, I can’t believe people’s reaction. I feel like I have to apologize or justify my reasons for not working when in fact, I’m so very happy with my decision. It has made me question whether, at 32, I’ve wasted my intelligence and if I should be much further “ahead” since I have a master’s degree and a history of academic pursuits – am I just wasting it all? Then I remember my dad’s advice, that I’ll be successful in anything if I love it – and I do, my choices made when I followed my heart have never made me feel remorse but those I made when I felt pressured have inevitably dragged me down. I’m all for reflection and checking in once in a while to make sure you’re still on course FOR YOU but I think that second-guessing yourself for making the best choices for you at the time, with the information you had then, isn’t productive. A friend recently told me that really smart people don’t care what others think, they know the best thing to do is what makes them happy. I think that even if things are a struggle for your family right now, as long as you can get by and you’re happy with what you’re doing outside of financial stresses, you’re on the right course. Keep your chin up!

  • Susan @ Jubilee Furniture
    May 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

    I agree with what others have already written, Nicole – and like Jeanne completed my bachelor’s degree as a “mature” adult (May of ’06 when I was 46 – returning to school as an older person is amazing! Learning at that age – for me – was much more fun than when I was younger – I was so excited to be there and could feel my brain expanding and growing – not literally, of course!).

    The only other thing to remember is your journey – exactly as you’ve lived it – brought you Brandon, Eleanor and August and for those three reasons all the hard stuff you went through makes it’s worthwhile. But you’re smart enough to know that!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      Yes, I’m thankful for the way my life has turned out. Brandon told me this morning that he didn’t like this post, because he thought that I was unhappy with my life and wished it had gone differently. I hope it didn’t come across that way because that’s not what I meant at all. I do wish that I had done better in school and fulfilled my potential in that way, but not at the expense of changing the outcome of my life.

  • J.
    May 4, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Like most everyone else who’s commented, I can really relate to your post. I was the only kid in the history of my high school who got high PSAT scores but didn’t get to be a National Merit Scholar, based on poor grades. I didn’t do homework (it seemed like busy work), wrote essays during gym class the period before they were due, but aced tests including my AP exams. I did succeed at a big state college, though (in spite of everyone’s low expectations), because I got to pick classes I was interested in, there was less busy work, and I realized how much money was being invested in my education (even though it was a state school, it was a lot of money for my family). I eventually earned a double Ph.D.

    When I was teaching at university my favorite students were always the returning adults. They had the focus and genuine interest in what they were studying that some undergraduates lack. I think if you went back to school now for something you love, you’d really shine. UIC does have a School of Architecture, you know :)

  • Jo
    May 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I fully can relate to this post. I’m a math geek as well, but also super creative. My parents strongly urged me to go into engineering, and I was too scared of letting them down, so I did. I stayed in it for more than three years and two internships, after finally deciding that this was just not a career for me. It took me two years to catch on the credits that I then needed to complete a math degree. In the meantime, I also got minors in art history, chemistry and economics. I wish I had felt like I could pursue a creative major that really interested me. For years, I’ve been bouncing around from one “smart” career to the next, but I don’t feel nearly as fulfilled in my job as I do when I create art or take pictures or plan parties. It doesn’t matter almost whether or not everyone considers you smart…I’d so much rather be happy in my career. Props to you for putting this out there. I think it’s a real positive for other smart women to read this.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 11:57 am

      Had my parents pushed me to do more, I probably would have. I think my mom was just frustrated with me and didn’t understand why I had such trouble in school, and my dad kept telling me to join the military (which I did not want to do).

  • heidikins
    May 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

    More than any other post, this is the one I can relate to. Thank you for posting this. Also? If you have not read A Beautiful Mind, the biography of John Nash, I would highly recommend picking it up. It’s fascinating.


    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Thanks for the reminder — I’ve always meant to pick that one up.

  • Athena
    May 4, 2012 at 10:34 am

    It’s amazing reading a post like this, because I think it brings a certain level of reality to the Internet Face that bloggers sometimes come across as having.

    I, like so many others who have already commented, feel a greater kinship with you knowing your background as the smart kid who ended up not a scholar. My own fall from academic grace came at college, mostly because I had built up this idea that if I just got through high school with great grades, extracurricular activities, and excellent test scores then I could go to a really wonderful college where I’d finally learn things. The disappointment of realizing that college was even easier than some of my high school classes, and had been “dumbed down” to address the gaps that public schools left in most kids’ education, was intense. I stopped going to classes, and for the first time in my life started failing courses.

    Eventually, I rallied enough to graduate with a degree, but the feeling of wasting my money and time on a worthless piece of paper has never faded. I graduated into the recession in 2009 and still cannot get a single job that I couldn’t have secured directly out of high school; no one cared about my degree in the end, just how much job experience I had (which was, obviously, none).

    It was a lesson about how scholastic achievement really isn’t all that important–mostly because the people who could really be intelligent enough to innovate on old methods and create entirely new solutions to old problems just don’t have the patience to sit through the years of boredom that a program with no challenges has to offer. Too much of undergraduate work is “general education” courses, which are all those same courses you had to take in high school (and likely for your AA as well) that probably bored you silly the first time around as well.

    I think that you may find a certain peace eventually with the fact that you won’t be like “everybody else” who can sit through class after class of the same information, because you’ll be thinking, “why is this so difficult for everyone else to understand?” and still forced to proceed at the pace set by the college. You may just be better suited for other areas, or even approaching professions you’ve admired from afar sideways. It’s something that I am trying to reconcile myself to as well, especially now that I’m near to giving birth to my first child. I think there may be something to being a non-standard job parent that can open a child’s eyes to seeing more than just the same career paths we’ve been taught exist. There’s more to life than just the standard professions of Doctor, Teacher, Lawyer and so on.

    I wish you luck.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      It’s interesting to hear about people that feel like their degree is a worthless piece of paper, especially since so many of us (myself included) feel bad about not having that piece of paper. I love your take on the whole thing.

  • Jenny
    May 4, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I have a feeling you would be excellent at most anything you do, you have great taste and a fabulous eye! I made really good grades in school but I didn’t really “excel” in any one area (at least not like some other kids in my comptetive high school). I got help for my lagging math skills and that clicked so the once dreaded math was now loved. I was okay in English (but I didn’t like it). I shipped off to college at NC State fell into the College of Textiles where I double majored in Apparel Management (originally wanted to go into fashion, took a pattern making class and hated it) and Textiles – concentrating in design. Because both my majors are BS degrees I took a lot of math, chemistry and related more numbers-based classes. It clicked, it was hard but made sense. I graviated towards weaving and woven design because it appeals to my numbers and my creative sides. I’m a woven textile designer and spend most of my day doing math. People think I just draw pictures all day, and that is part of it, but you have to do the math first otherwise the loom won’t understand what you are trying to make it do. You have to calculate yards and picks and ends and sizes and plug all that information into the CAD – it can get really nerdy but I love it. Remember that the computer owes part of it’s beginning from a Jacquard loom and the cards that the looms used to use (whole cut or miss of how the pattern is woven). So luckily I’ve found a career that fits both my left and right brains – though the jobs aren’t as plentiful as they used to be. But most people still think I just draw all day long…tra la la… ;o)

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      That’s a job I never would have thought about (so specific), but it sounds fascinating! I always liked using CAD, too.

  • carole
    May 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

    loved the video, thanks for sharing!

    when i was a young teen, I had a similar experience, when my dad called me a “know-it-all” for correcting an adult…now that I’m older, I realize that what he said had more to do with his insecurities (about not going to college) than me…

    however, to this day, I still think about what he said and how I felt, and I don’t share intellectual accomplishments with him that I might otherwise because of it…I love my dad dearly, I don’t think he knew how hurtful it was–for him, it was an off-hand comment, but for me, it changed me and our relationship in a way that can’t be undone…

    great post, lots to think about!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      My dad didn’t even make it though high school, so I know now that it was out of insecurity on his part too. You don’t know that when you’re five though.

      And he still doesn’t really know what it is that I do. He gets it a little more lately, but I think he’s still waiting for me to get a real job, especially now that Brandon is out of work at the moment.

  • Giulia
    May 4, 2012 at 10:49 am

    I love this post! without wanting to be cliche you do sound like Einstein ;) – schools are tailored to average population in order to capture as many as they can, it’s hard for under-performing kids and hard for over- performing kids to fit in and often they get lost. I was a lazy student. I was very smart and was able to get through school with B+ and A- without lifting a finger. My parents (both lawyers) always pushed me to do more work so I could do better – my answer was always, why? I’m doing fine without extra effort. My husband was always bored at school and remembers that, he’s the engineer, the math nerd and loves the challenge.
    We are lucky to send our kids to a public school that utilizes the ‘individualized’ learning method. Which means they work in their own pace, take more time if they need, work faster if they can with personal interaction with their teachers. I hope this will help them work at their pace, but also help them move through high-school and then university easier where it’s expected that you learn on your own without detailed direction given.
    I did my bachelor in a practical subject of business ( I probably would have excelled in something like political science or women’s studies), but I’ve found a career in communications where my intellect gets challenged but I’m also surrounded my creativity as well. I do often wonder though where I’d be if I had pursued a masters or even a doctorate as my parents and grand-parents did.
    Again, great post – I’m loving your blog more and more.

  • Alyssa
    May 4, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Count me in with the gifted, non-traditional learners. I didn’t do homework because I didn’t see the point. Once I know something, I know it, and I didn’t want to have to do it over and over again to prove that I knew it. That was a problem in college too, but I’ve managed to be successful anyway because of my interpersonal skills and the fact that my head just holds so much knowledge!

    I’ve heard that some schools are moving away from counting homework as such a large part of grading, which makes me hopeful for some of the like-minded kids of today.

  • Sarah Jay
    May 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I’m so glad you shared this side of yourself with us. Although you it’s not overt or deliberate, I think your giftedness *does* show in your work here. It’s in a lot of the small choices you’ve made and things you’ve said, choices that I would probably make myself if blogging were my job. It’s a big part of why I’ve been reading for the last few years, because it all feels so familiar. This confession of sorts just solidfies that feeling, because I’m also a creative INTP who struggled in school despite my giftedness.

    Now that I’m raising my own gifted child (my son just turned 3 this spring), I’ve been looking at my own education through a different lens. I spent my elementary years in multi-age public school classrooms that used more Montessori principles than most, and allowed me nearly free reign. It allowed me to fall in love with school and learning while building my confidence. But it came with a price: I never developed any studying or time-management skills. I was able to coast through honors classes in junior high and high school, and tested my way into a top engineering university. That’s where things fell apart for me. I didn’t have the focus to choose just one field, the discipline to finish, or the self-awareness to realize I needed help managing my learning. After all, we’re taught that smart kids don’t need tutors and well-behaved girls don’t have ADHD. If I had only known then what I know now…

    But I do know now. I know I don’t want that experience for my son, who is already so much like me. And I hope that having lived it and learned from it, I will be a better advocate and model for him.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Eleanor, so far, seems to be very similar to me, and I wonder how she will fare in school.

      It’s nice to hear that so many people identify with my story. I suppose it makes sense that you would read the blog of someone who seemed similar to you, whether overtly or not, but it’s still neat.

  • Sandra
    May 4, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Waving my hand over here too in recognition! I was the smart kid – and luckily my first three years were spent in an alternative school where we were grouped by ability. I remember my friend Bernard designing nuclear powered subways in grade 2 and thinking it was no big deal.

    It’s hard to explain but for me it’s almost like my brain is a toy. I love to learn and have a huge variety of interests – math-ish and music and arts and history, etc. I love the challenge of learning new things. Knowledge just sticks.

    The hard part is finding community with others who can keep up with the banter and topics and interests. Gah, did I just actually write that?! I don’t mean it to sound snobby or pretentious but it can get kinda lonely at times.

    I did my homework but that’s because of the strokes that I got for it – a bit of a rocky home life so school was where I could shine and be recognized and celebrated. I was the first one in my family to go to university and still all these years later, I am the outlier. My parents are smart, it’s just that in their working class circles you didn’t “show off” or show others up by being smart.

    So kudos for you for stepping up and making this statement!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      “It’s hard to explain but for me it’s almost like my brain is a toy. I love to learn and have a huge variety of interests – math-ish and music and arts and history, etc. I love the challenge of learning new things. Knowledge just sticks.

      The hard part is finding community with others who can keep up with the banter and topics and interests. Gah, did I just actually write that?! I don’t mean it to sound snobby or pretentious but it can get kinda lonely at times.”

      YES. Ditto to all of that. I’ve even considered joining Mensa before, thinking that maybe it would be fun to have a ready-made community of like-minded people to interact with, but I don’t know if I’d really enjoy it. I’d like to think that my blog fulfills that community aspect for me.

      • Jules
        May 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

        I agree with Sandra. It does get very lonely.

      • Sandra
        May 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

        I DID join Mensa but quit when my Mom told everyone (I was in HS). Just didn’t need “geek” so emblazoned!

        A HUGE part of starting a blog for me was building community. It’s so wonderful that we are no longer limited by geography.

        The joy that comes from quick banter where someone gets your references is heavenly.

        I love going to NYC to feast on theatre and museums 2x a year – it’s a gift to my 11year old self who dreamt of the same when I was living in a small town on the prairies of Canada listening to Broadway cast recordings.

  • Meg (MIMI+MEG)
    May 4, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Love this post. I wish I has half as smart as you are :) I’m a lot of creative and that can me maddening! “Tortured artist” really is true, especially when you are also somewhat rational, so you aren’t just totally crazy and making amazing things because you don’t care, but you are over-analytical about it! Eek! We all have issues. Love that you posted this, and I love love love your really smartness (like that grammar? ;) ). I think it’s typical for really smart people to have the same things happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you can’t change the past and you are amazing!

  • Monique
    May 4, 2012 at 11:35 am

    This post is blowing my mind right now. Your story is completely opposite to mine, and yet we’ve ended up in the same position, namely wondering what life would be like if we had done X with our life/education. I envy you for your freedom to create, and it reads as though you might think the same way about my education/career opportunities. Classic case of grass is always greener, I guess.

  • Norah
    May 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Funny, I have been having this EXACTLY thought process lately. At 36, with a decent paying job (where I do the same/better then others with degrees), it’s, strangely, finally starting to bother me that I don’t have a degree and that I squandered so many opportunities by not living up to my potential. I think a lot of it is because I am a mother now and I have been thinking about ways to communicate with my daughter when she is older (she’s only two)so that she doesn’t make the same mistakes I did. But every choice brings you to your current path and I wouldn’t trade most aspects of mine for the world.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Having children does make you think about it in ways that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I hope they don’t have the same struggles I did, because I’m not entirely sure how to help someone like myself, other than allowing full independent study.

      • Norah
        May 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm

        I think you just have to keep trying. If plan a isnt working, try another tactic. I just wish my parents had set me down and said “Why don’t you want to go to college? What are you afraid of?” I guess I just wish they had tried harder with me and peeled back the punk rock exterior and at least tried to help me figure it out. Honestly, I was scared I wouldn’t get into college, and I wish someone had told me that was ridiculous. My parents were older, my dad was retiring my senior year, and my sisters were perfect student over achievers, so I think they were like “Um,what? I don’t understand what is happening right now.” I also kind of wish they hadn’t let me think I was a grown up just because I was 18.

  • Vanessa
    May 4, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I have always felt inadequate because I was “unschooled”. I have been taking classes off and on forever and finally graduated with my Bachelors. I discovered that I am actually very smart, but just never had the opportunity to learn growing up. But now I am feeling like I should have gone to a more prestigious school, like my Bachelors isn’t good enough. Oh well…. Could you go to school to be an Engineer while doing your blog?

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      If I decided to go back to school, I would find a way to make it work, but I’m not pursuing it right now.

  • Lisa
    May 4, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Great post! It’s obvious that you’re not alone! I was really good at math growing up, and it came naturally to me so I just thought that’s how everyone was. I was that girl in the geometry class with a bunch of seniors (I was 15) who would do the homework before class was dismissed, forget the days when we had tests and still get the highest score. I wanted to take AP calculus my senior year at 6am and my parents were strongly against it saying it was my senior year and I should be having fun, not studying math that early in the morning. When I got to college I majored in math because it was fun to me and was the only thing I could imagine spending four years studying. I never thought I was the creative/artist type because I couldn’t draw. I always thought being creative equalled being able to draw. But, I love to sew! I love creating patterns, and figuring out the dimensions and measuring things out and most of this happens in my head. I definitely think in 3-D and it’s so hard to explain to people how I do it because I just do.

    If you can make it happen, I think going back to school would be amazing. My math/computer science classes were amazing and the professors become your family. It’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself and it’s something no one can ever take away from you. I’m still in touch with some of my professors today and it’s been 10 years since I graduated.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      I always think of myself as not being able to sew, but when I try I intuitively ‘get it.’

      Right now I’m focused on my family (I’d love to have one more child), and I love the blog and the opportunities it’s bringing. I wouldn’t rule out school in the future, though writing this post has made me realize I should be teaching myself a few new things on my own. It’s what makes me happy.

  • Rachelle
    May 4, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for getting personal and reminding me that a person’s worth is innate and does not come from education, pedigree, or accomplishments. This is just what I needed to read today.

  • Sarah
    May 4, 2012 at 11:49 am

    great post. i was the opposite–a good student who, despite also being a horrible procrastinator, almost always managed to get my work turned in on time and tests taken with acceptable grades. however, although i brought home report cards that my parents were pleased with, i always had this nagging ‘dumb’ feeling when comparing myself to my friends who were more like you. i dated a guy who, to this day, is probably one of the smartest people i’ve known. his grades in high school suffered due to a lack of finishing homework assignments. he’d miss classes and not bother with the work, but when we’d study for tests together, he’d be teaching me all of the concepts perfectly. i remember feeling as though my intellect was so inadequate next to his.

    i’m also the opposite in that i’ve always been a reading and lit person, who did ok in math. i still struggle with feeling like my husband is so much smarter than me just because his engineering mind is geared like yours–“mathy” (such a good word). accepting ourselves for who we are, what we know, and how we learn can be so difficult, but is so important. and i’m hoping that someday our school systems will evolve such that kids can taught in a way that honors their unique learning styles.

  • Bonnie Morscher
    May 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    This post really spoke to me, from a different vantage point than most of your commenters, from that of a woman nearing age 60 looking back at life. I was once described as a prodigy, had some early successes, but now seem like any other middle-aged invisible person. There were missed opportunities, I am sure, but all in all, I am happy with my life and who I am. My 35-year-old daughter, too, was a prodigy, a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, went the Art School route (on full scholarship) and is now contemplating an uncertain, but not overtly Art future. The thing is, creativity–art, math, literature or whatever–is present in how we live our lives, how we approach problems, values, etc. Life is in the details, not the broad strokes. And it sure seems to me that you have your details right.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      This was wonderful to read, thank you.

  • Mara
    May 4, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I think that average people don’t ever consider that they have potential, let alone that they’re not living up to it. The extraordinary among us know that we can always be more than we are now. The realization that you are capable of more is what truly makes you gifted.

    I’ve taught myself more from books than I ever learned in a classroom, but that’s my learning style. It’s sad that all of us endure the classroom whether it suits us or not. If you want to learn more, go learn more, don’t worry about whether your knowledge is sanctioned by a university.

    Also, thank you for being a woman and saying you’re good at math. I said I was bad at math in high school because I bought into a ridiculous gender stereotype. In college I realized I’m better at math than most men I know. Now I cringe every time I hear a woman say, “I’m bad at math,” wondering if she’s just telling people what she thinks they want to hear.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:56 pm

      I do tend to learn better when I just go ahead and teach myself. It’s the reason I enjoy designing and coding my site — I like coming up with a creative vision and then working to achieve it.

  • Rebekah Wolf
    May 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Wow! Thanks for sharing your story. My boyfriend and I both have very similar stories. I always thought I was different (a bit of a failure), because I didn’t try harder in school. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It’s reassuring to read that so many other people feel the same way.

  • Laurie
    May 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Wow, incredible story!!!!! A person such as yourself that has such a passion for math would make an awesome math teacher. Any desire to be a teacher one day?

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Teaching doesn’t call to me. I’ve been doing a little bit with the online classes through Alt and I enjoy that, but it’s not the same thing.

  • casacaudill
    May 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    When it came to reading, writing, and anything that fell into those ill-defined categories, I was a whiz. I read the paperback version of 101 Dalmations when I was four. I read a trashy romance novel – cover to cover – when I was five. I was studied by the child development center at my mom’s college. I hated talking with other kids my age because (1) they couldn’t carry on actual conversations, and (2) I hated other kids that used babytalk to express themselves. I was a little shit, to be sure. My intellect was applauded, I was heralded as a whiz. My school wanted to skip me a grade but my dad said no. Fast forward to junior high, and like you, everything changed. I couldn’t do math. I struggled so much with it. It’s like a switch had been flipped where my brain just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, work properly. Some of my teachers thought I had a learning disability. Can you imagine the impact that had on my self-esteem? Oy vey, it was bad. I lashed out. I acted out. I studied, I crammed, and I cried because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it. It’s not like I was trying to master it either … I couldn’t even do the baseline math. In tenth grade I nearly failed geometry. In 11th grade I passed trigonometry with a C. I can’t tell you what I learned. Today I can do basic math, but nothing too complex. I really do feel as if my brain isn’t wired for math at all. Meanwhile, back in junior high another group of teachers wanted to have me skip a grade again because I was astounding them with my writing and mastery of other subjects. In high school, I utterly FAILED the math portion of the SAT. I aced the verbal. I had been wait-listed for my favorite college (not Ivy league) but when my SAT scores came out, I was obviously declined. I ended up going to a division 1 state school where I failed both math and logic courses. My now-husband was a dual math/computer science major at Carnegie Mellon and he was astounded by how I couldn’t understand even the most basic problems. Tutoring me was probably the hardest job he’s ever had. This inability to cope with even basic numbers did an even worse turn on my psyche than it had back in junior high and high school. I eventually graduated with a 3.0 GPA but I can tell you it was because I padded my coursework with classes where I could excel.

    It’s crazy how the brain works.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Ha, I had to smile at the thought of you reading a trashy romance at age five. I used to grab all of my grandma’s terrible Dean Koontz books and scare the heck out of myself.

      • casacaudill
        May 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

        I remember asking my grandma, “what’s a heaving bosom?” Needless to say, she wanted to know ASAP where I’d heard that one. To this day though I love those crappy books.

  • Nicole S.
    May 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    This is an amazing and interesting look into your head. I’m constantly wondering how the brains of successful creatives work. My husband and I are both architects, however he has an insanely mathematical mind (you’d get along well), whereas I’m the more verbal/personal connection type. And as someone who breezed through grammar and high school, I can relate. But I’ll tell you, the structure and demand of architecture school was not the best fit for me. But I went forward with it because I had decided at age 12 that’s what I wanted to do with my life. And you know, it’s taken me a while to muster the courage to admit that it’s not what I want to do forever and I’m ok with that.

    What am I getting at? First, don’t feel bad about the education. You’re super creative, successful and resourceful. Not all things that can be learned in school. Second, be glad you’re not an architect. 50% of us are still out of work. :) Third, please keep being awesome.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      It probably is for the best that I’m not an architect now! At least I have work for as long as I’m willing to make it for myself.

  • Meghan
    May 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Funny that apart from the math part- this could be my shared story- although I did pretty well (but didn’t try much) in Highschool and then without structure or motivation didn’t make the grades I should have in college- except when interested and engaged- like when I mistakenly took a senior level class as a freshman (Paris and Beril in the 1920-40s about art and politics and culture and managed o get a good grade) or in Poly Sci (where we watched The War Room and I became obsessed with James Carville and read Newsweek cover to cover every week) I struggle now in adulthood because I am no longer the best in anything. I excelled at sports and academics when I was young and now there isn’t as easy of a way to SHINE- I didn’t seem to fit in when I held the typical subservient corporate job. Now I seem to do everything well, but I am not GREAT at anything anymore- I am not the BEST. It is an adjustment. My father always jokes that I “Peaked early” and that I should just hope to have kids that mature at a normal pace and not push them to be the best at an early age. I am not sure what the right answer is- but I suppose that I will just keep trying new things until I find that satisfaction of being great.
    Thanks for the post- it definitely struck a chord and got me thinking.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      It seems to have struck a chord for a lot of people. I’m reminded that I should be pushing myself more on my own to learn new things.

  • Alison the Peacock
    May 4, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Such an interesting post, thanks for sharing! I have been thinking about this a lot for myself, feeling like I am not living up to my potential. And also thinking about what it means to be smart, and how people respond to intelligence. I think there has been a real shift in our culture — while at one time being smart and well-educated was a positive trait, people now care little about facts, measures of intelligence, real accomplishments. Sad.

    I did well in school and have an MA in Art History, but I have been in the working world for 10 years and I truly feel it has rotted my brain. I’m not as sharp as I used to be, I am not challenged in ways that excite me…there is so much paperwork, monotony, lack of creative thinking…ugh. I work with other people who are quite smart as well, but we spend all of our time focused on meaningless dreck. I guess it is clear that I don’t like my job very much :)

    But this not-living-up-to-my-potential thing has been weighing on me, and I realize I need to do something about it. For me, that means going back to school. I always thought of myself as the artsy literature girl, but it turns out that I want…an MBA!

    There are a lot of paths in life, and I think often the most interesting ones do not involve going along with the status quo. Can’t wait to see where else your path (and your giant brain) take you!

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      Isn’t it interesting how our perceptions of ourselves can end up limiting the things we do? Go you, get your MBA!

  • Crystal
    May 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I think that people of all ages, professions, education, etc. go through these moments.
    I myself actually just got into an argument with my father because of how horrible I am at math and my lack of understanding a math problem we were trying to solve. Math has never made sense to me. I can complete basic math for you; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Once things get past this….I get a little shaky.
    When I received my SAT scores in High School and submitted them to colleges I knew that my saving grace were my high scoring levels in English and that math would place me into remedial levels. Sure enough, I entered college in remedial math and could not pass the course. I failed out and took a math aptitude test to see if it was something further. That was when I found out that I have a math deficit and have the mathematical knowledge of a 7th grader. It was nice because all those years of struggle finally made sense, but it was heart breaking because there wasn’t much I could do to change it.
    This math deficit is still there – hence why I couldn’t understand the math problem that my dad and I fought over, but there is always a silver lining to everything. I have been accepted into a Ph.D. program for Psychology. Although I will have to complete another Statistics course and struggle, I will overcome and succeed.
    It’s okay to struggle and it’s okay wonder of what might have been, but remember that all the experiences you’ve had in life thus far have made you who you are.

  • Alisa Loveday
    May 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I think you would have been a great architect! I do think that it unfortunately happens in schools- sometimes even the brightest girls are not given the all recognition they deserve. Regardless, you’ve created this beautiful blog and store and you’ve inspired and brought joy to so many. Imagine if you hadn’t done so. If instead, you’d become some famous architect, had your blog and stationery shop never existed, there would be a sad void in the world. Sounds like a cheesy thing to say but I believe it’s true. There is always the option of going back to school. I know it would be tough in some ways, because you’re a mom now, but that doesn’t entirely negate the possibility. If anyone could do it, it’d be you!

  • Elizabeth
    May 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I’m truly in awe of people that excel in Mathematics! That side of my brain has cobwebs, I was the opposite with the scores on tests. Mine were all fine and dandy in the language arts, but math, sadly no :( Both my daughters inherited my non math skills and have suffered through school.
    Funny though, now my oldest is 26, and she married a guy that is a total math guy. My youngest has a serious boyfriend who just graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in pure math. He is now on his way to getting his masters degree in Math( Algebra). I truly love the way his mind works, and so wish that I had a tiny bit of it. My youngest is ready to transfer to a state university after community college. Guess what classes she put off until the end? Luckily her boyfriend is helping her with her study skills and homework.

    Nice post, and informative on just how different we all are, and what gifts we are given in life.

  • Beth C
    May 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing that, Nicole. My grades starting going down in sixth grade. I’d always been loved by teachers up to then, but that year one of my teachers (I had three that year–we rotated from class to class) took a disliking to me and graded me down. I think I’d been too ambitious in a summer school sewing class I took with her between fifth and sixth grades. Everyone else wanted to make pillows, and I wanted to make a dress. (And I did!)

    I didn’t really get back on track until my junior year of high school. I went on to get a master’s degree. I can’t say that the master’s has helped me in my career, but I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without a bachelor’s. It’s pretty much a must these days in my field (journalism).

    If you really want to get another degree, you’ll find a way. But you’ve been able to carve out a path for yourself without it, and I’m sure you can do whatever you set your mind to!

  • Elishia
    May 4, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for years now, and have never felt compelled to comment on your wonderful material until now. I too, am struggling with who I am, what I was, what my potential is, and where I am. I’m 29 years old, 14 credits (2 semesters because I am attending school part-time)away from completing my bachelor’s degree. I am incredibly proud that I am so close to finally completing my degree; but i often feel deep regret and dejection because it has taken me 10 years to come to this point. I did incredibly well in high school, was accepted to all four schools I applied to, and eventually went to Macalester College because it was close to home, in a metro area, and offered me the most financial aid (perhaps the most important reason).
    During my sophomore year something personal happened that distracted me from my studies and made me question what i was truly capable of. I went into a deep depression and sadly did not and could not receive the counseling I needed at that school. I floundered my junior year and could not even make it a month into my senior year. I registered, attended class for a couple of weeks, then took a leave; repeated that pattern the following year, and finally on my third try just didn’t bother with the official leave. It was no surprise that I was dismissed from the school. This all happened at the same time that I decided to leave a lucrative but boring office job at the height of the recession. The only job I could find was one in retail making slightly more than minimum wage. I transferred to a state school that was more forgiving to part-time students. I have had a wonderful experience at this school and honestly put more thought into what it means to be educated than at my previous private liberal arts college.

    • Elishia
      May 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      As proud as I am, however, I still wonder “what if”. What if I graduated when I was scheduled to, what if I hadn’t quit my office job? The thing is, life is filled with “what ifs”. I cannot focus on all the dejecting moments in the past, because it distracts me from the wonderful things I have right in front of me. I understand that stigma of not having a bachelor’s degree, I live with it every day. It doesn’t mean I’m not smart, or that I’m not ambitious, or hard-working. I am all of those things. I’ve just had some hurdles along the way, that’s life.

      You did not have to state that you are smart. I see it everyday that I look at your blog. The creativity that you put into it, the skill required to execute it, and the savvy needed to make a living from it. Having an A.A. degree (or no B.A. degree) does not detract from just how intelligent we are. Anybody else who cannot see that, just doesn’t understand “life”.

  • Sarah
    May 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I, too, am very much an INTP. I spent my whole childhood believing that because I was smarter than most of the kids my age, I was supposed to go to the best college and law school or medical school, and that if I wasn’t working my way to the top professionally, something must have gone wrong. It’s really not fair to raise kids like that. I’m not an extrovert, and I’m not Type A. I’m 25 now and watch people with “inferior degrees” climb the ladder with ease and can’t help but think I’m not doing something correctly. But I know that I want nothing to do with law school, and that I would much rather sit by myself and contemplate complex problems and work with my hands than spend 8 hours behind a desk “playing the game.”

    I received a wonderful education and feel very lucky for it, but I also wish that the educational system was better designed for exploration so that kids really had more time to discover their own strengths and what makes them happy before they are thrust into a career or even college. I wish I hadn’t been taught that success was something so concrete, and instead been taught to ask myself: Are you happy? Are you challenging yourself? Are you growing? Are you making a contribution to society? I know that I will be fine, and that part of being in your 20s is self-discovery, but it’s taking some major shifts in thinking to be content with where I am now and still hungry for the future.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      I don’t think I’d be able to “climb the ladder with ease” either. I don’t have that ease that some people naturally have in social situations, and I’m not a schmoozer at all. I too am happier sitting by myself and figuring things out.

      “Are you happy? Are you challenging yourself? Are you growing? Are you making a contribution to society? ” — Such a great approach.

  • Janae
    May 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Nicole, you’re proof that school is not the end-all be all.

    Clearly, you are intelligent & gifted (!). What irks me about traditional schooling is we think everyone ought to be schooled in the same way & this alienates many gifted students who cannot thrive in the traditional educational system.

    We all are different learners–some people use their hands to learn, others visual, others still auditory. Thanks for sharing your experience, I think we all look to you, with our fancy degrees (I happen to have one & while it’s not worthless, I’ve learned SO much more in the “real world”) & think, I wish I was as talented as that little miss nicole. She’s a whiz at everything & makes everything so lovely!

  • rena
    May 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    high five, fellow nerd! sometimes you have to grow into it. it’s okay; we all know you are smart :) i was the same way for a while – can you say Mathaletes team and science fair winner? – but i didn’t want to be the nerdy Asian girl in engineering. but i also hate being told what to do so…i got the engineering degree. and an English degree, to make myself feel cooler.

    sometimes i feel like i am still trying to make myself feel cooler, but i’m getting over it. it only took 3+ decades. anyway – just wanted to say that i got the degree and i still wasn’t happy, and had to find my own path. that’s what it’s all about. xo

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

      High five, fellow Mathlete! Isn’t it odd that we would want to pursue English because that was the ‘cool’ way to be smart?

      And for what it’s worth, I always thought you were cool from way back in The Switchboards days.

      • rena
        May 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

        god bless the Switchboards. that was my real education :) English *was* cool, and those boys were way cuter. win-win.

  • J.
    May 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Nicole, UIC didn’t want you before you established your own business and became a well-known and respected design blogger, right? You’ve accomplished a lot since then; that demonstrates talent and commitment in a way that your community college grades probably don’t reflect. I wouldn’t discount reapplying, if architecture is really your dream.

  • Jill Browning
    May 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    This only makes me like you more. ;) Thanks for sharing!

    PS. Can we start a support group for people who only have a 2 year degree? I’m pretty sure it will haunt me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t intelligence I lacked, just resources (though I’m not referring to money)…

  • Sarah
    May 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I have to say as a regular reader, I really do like these posts that give a better glimpse into your life. I don’t read longs posts often and I was glued to this one. I hope you find that happy medium where you don’t feel like you missed something (like school). Hopefully your hubs will get a good job soon that way blogging isn’t as much as a money maker and more fun again.

  • Kimberly
    May 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    This post strikes a chord with me as well. I could have written it myself, other than the part about how much you love math, because I detest it. But, like you, I am extremely smart, always excelled in school without trying, and didn’t didn’t get great grades in high school for the same reasons. I actually could have graduated from high school a year early but didn’t because I didn’t feel like it, and then went to community college for two years without ever applying for any other colleges because college educations didn’t make a difference in the small town I grew up. If you stayed in that small town, you would just be the idiot who wasted all that money on college and still had a job only making $25,000 a year while your students loans totalled 4 times as much. My parents never made a big deal about college, never made me apply anywhere, and never pushed me to be anything other than exactly what I was. All my friends married their high school sweethearts and immediately started having babies.

    Once I moved to Chicago, I saw the world in a whole new way. Instead of being the smart girl, I was suddenly the only girl out of all my friends who didn’t have a “real” college education. I didn’t have a fancy alma mater to cheer for in a bar during March Madness, and the most dreaded question on a first date was always “Where did you go to college?” It haunted me everywhere I went.

    Looking back on it now, if I would have realized the importance of college, I would have done everything differently. I often wonder how different my life would be if I had taken the college route.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      “Where did you go to school?” is such a casually and commonly asked question, and one that makes me bristle. It’s assumed that of course you went to college, and to not have implies all sorts of negative things.

  • kelly
    May 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Interesting read. Personally I loved Math and I think it is so applicable to all forms of art. I’m glad you found a way to sort of absorb that skill/talent and at least use that logic/reasoning into your other work – coding sites etc.

    Not to be ‘one of those parents’ but our 4 year old is very gifted for his age. He has been reading since he was 2 and reads at around a 4th grade level. He is also big for his age so to see him in his pre-school class is hard… He is bigger and way more advanced. He is starting to do pretty well in the math department as well and is overall, just ahead of everyone. We’ve talked about how his school handles him and sadly there isn’t anything for him. He just has to sit there and listen to kids learn how to sound out the letter “P” while he is so beyond that. We’d considered trying to push for him to go into Kindergarten a year early. (His 5th birthday is 1 month after the deadline so he can’t start K until the 2013-2014 school year). But you give another perspective. Sometimes maybe it isn’t good to push.

    Either way, however you did it and any regrets you have, you’ve turned out pretty good I’d say. I could only hope for the same sort of future for my son. :)

  • Christina W.
    May 4, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Like what Meghan said, this could be my story apart from the interest in math. I was in the gifted program starting in first grade, and that translated into AP classes in highschool (including, weirdly, AP Computer Programming as a freshman)…but I was, for various reasons, a terrible student. I graduated highschool with a 1.something GPA and would have had to repeat my senior year if my AP English/Creative Writing/Drama/School Newspaper mentor hadn’t fudged my grade a bit because she believed in me. 1.something GPA and the smartest teacher I had ever met told me that I was one of the smartest students she’d ever taught in her 35+ years of teaching. Maybe private school would have made a difference, who knows? But at 30, I am still struggling to balance work and finish a degree. Still. At 30. (well, technically 30 in August) Part of that is because of a 7 year marriage to a -very- well paid man, and finishing college or even having a job was a choice, not a necessity. Divorce has taught me the error of that line of thinking, and now I’m back to the drawing board as if I was in my early 20s! I was fortunate to have a very intelligent mother (MENSA member) who encouraged critical thinking, but the negative reactions from nearly everyone else when brainy matters were involved got me to hide it as much as I was able. I remember once in 3rd grade, we were studying verbs, and had been assigned to make a list of 50 verbs overnight. I have always loved a challenge, so I sat down with my mom (who offered encouragement but let me do all the actual coming-up-with of words) and listed around 400 verbs. I thought my teacher would have been delighted, I knew my gifted program teachers certainly would have been. Turns out, she was a particularly nasty individual, and probably should not have had the care of impressionable children. She mocked me openly, and was full of contempt for the rest of the school year. I really think that it was those little incidents that eventually led me to keep quiet even when I know all (or at least a significant portion of) the answers.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      It’s sad the way incidents like the one with your teacher, or the one with my dad, shape us. My high school English teacher (senior year) sounds a lot like yours. He was really pulling for me because I was one of the brightest kids he had ever taught in his long teaching career, and that’s why he weighted my essays and practice AP test scores so heavily to balance out my grade and allow me to pass.

      • Christina W.
        May 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm

        Thank god for caring, mentoring teachers in our education system! There are so many who are there for a paycheck and don’t really care about much beyond that, so the good ones are people you will always cherish. :)

  • Sara Rose
    May 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you for this. You’ve inspired me greatly! I went ahead in school and I was so deeply determined to write . . . . but then life, a very cruel father, and insecurity kept me wrapped in such a whirlwind and haze of insecurity that I almost picked a career path I detested. It took my life being turned upside down by becoming a mother for me to see the light and start becoming unafraid. I still have moments, especially as I have suffered severe anxiety and agoraphobia for a long while now. But this is beautiful. My daughter is brilliant at math and she is six. I could not be prouder. Especially as I have a mild form of dyscalculia- the fact that she is brilliant at it is beautiful to me. Wonderful post, Nicole.

  • Steph
    May 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    It sounds like you might have done better in school had your parents been more supportive – a dad who didn’t want their daughter to seem smart? That makes me so sad. My dad realized I was an “early reader,” and I was reading the Wall Street Journal with my breakfast before kindergarten every day because he encouraged me. I loved math because my mom encouraged me when I was good at it (and our Mathletes were called MathCounts!). I loved science because my dad helped me to ask questions, to ponder, to ask “why” (and it took me to the state science fair at age 12). Even though it often made them the “mean” parents, they kept track of my test schedules, asked if I’d done my homework, and asked about my grades, because they KNEW I was capable of it. I never would have gotten to where I am now (I am a cancer researcher with a relatively new PhD) without their encouragement. Although you have done well for yourself without a bachelor’s, I really do hope that you will encourage your children when you notice subjects in which they excel, what homework they *like* doing, or whether their essays are really insightful for their age. Whether it may be law, medicine, finance, engineering, art, or humanities, they’ll need it (in addition to just being “smart”).

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Ha, my parents assumed I was on drugs from the time I was 13. I most certainly was not and had never even tried them (still haven’t — I’m so square!).

  • Kelly
    May 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for this Nicole. While it doesn’t sound like I’m quite as gifted as you are (I do okay, but let’s not get crazy with the imaginary numbers and such, alright?), I have had similar feelings of not living up to my potential based on all those nice things the standardized tests said about me. And I am an architect (of the landscape variety)!

    Speaking of, might I suggest you also explore the idea of pursuing landscape architecture rather than building architecture? We have the exact same education requirements (5 years undergrad and/or 3 years grad). I wanted to be a building architect growing up, but after interviewing lots of established professionals, one thing that struck me was how much of an old boys club it was and still is. Especially if you’re a woman, you will have many more opportunities for advancement and creative control in the world of landscape architecture; it’s a much more open and collaborative design community. And we seem to have brighter job prospects these days as well.

    And sometimes you get to design things like this:


    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      I was going to intern for an architectural firm that worked in landscape design and I found it fascinating! But yes, I’m aware of the field still having an “old boys’ club” feel. It’s unfortunate, to say the least.

  • Your mother
    May 4, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Nicole, I had no idea you felt this way. I wish I knew than what (little) I know now about gifted. The “absent minded professor” is a trait of the gifted. Your “shutting down” in class and subsequently failing is another sign – one showing you were bored because of lack of challenge. As a parent, back then, and with such a bright child failing classes, it seemed like rebellion. Wish I knew it was from boredom back then. You are an amazing woman and you’ve built your own business and have a wonderful family. You should be very proud. “Potential” is not solely measured with academics.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      I know, mom. It’s fine really, just a little something I’ve been thinking about since we’ve been talking about all of this lately.

    • Sue Ceglinski
      May 4, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      I echo everyone’s sentinments and love learning more about my-friend-who-doesn’t-know-she’s-my-friend but feel compelled to comment that I love how your Mom identifies herself as “Your Mother”. :)

      • Making it Lovely
        May 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm

        She did that once, a long time ago, when leaving a comment and I liked it so much. She’s been doing it ever since. :)

    • Andrea Howe
      May 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      This response from your mom made me tear up

  • Krys
    May 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Nicole, I feel like you were writing about me. Though I do not have a mathematical mind, I am smart – really smart – and I stopped doing well in school around high school. Never finished up with college (though I did attend Carnegie Mellon University), and even gave up on the AA out of sheer boredom.

    I have a career path I’m very happy with, but I often (daily?) feel that I never lived up to my “potential”.

    Anyway, I wanted to chime in and say YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And, now I know, neither am I.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:41 pm

      And apparently, there are a lot of us that read this blog. It’s been really nice to read all of these amazing comments.

  • Kelly
    May 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    By the way, love the Spoon song reference. :)

  • JJ Keith
    May 4, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    You’ve made a fine path for yourself. I was much the same as a child, but I stuck with the good grades through junior and high school, in part because I’m obnoxiously competitive. (And I also had the thing with the test scores — I saw myself as a writer, but I skewed mathy.) I did go to college, a competitive one, and graduated when I was 20. All that, and I still ended up making $8 an hour working in a bookstore (and later $11 bucks at Starbucks). Eventually I went to grad school and now I’m a stay-at-home mom / freelance writer. I employ virtually none of my education in what I do. I would have been better served by skipping college and working harder to hone my chops when I was 18 instead of waiting a decade to do it. Don’t beat yourself up. Your acquired skills and now you use them professionally. That’s all there is to it.

  • Lauren @ chezerbey
    May 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I read this post earlier and have been thinking about it off and on today (while drawing details in CAD and using lots of math!). I appreciate your honesty…maybe it’s the idealized nature of blogging but I’ve always been envious that you had seemingly struck that perfect cord of applying your intellect to do something that you love and makes you happy (and that you’re GOOD at). I know many women (including myself, in some ways) that went down the traditional school/career path only to find themselves unhappy and unsettled as they hit their early 30’s.

    Maybe the grass is always greener, but I’d say you’ve made some smart decisions to be where you’re at now.

    (P.S. – architecture doesn’t pay that well either.) =)

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm

      The grass is always greener, definitely. My gig is pretty sweet sometimes, and in the last year I’ve been able to see a decent income from it, but it took five years to get to that point. Had I gone the traditional route, I feel like I would be so much further along in my career at this point.

  • Peaches
    May 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Nice way to say it: Sometimes the broken road leads to the best destination.

    Honest way to say it: Who gives a fuck what you have on paper? You have knowledge and assets and abilities that nobody could take away from college or regular classroom learning. You are YOU. You are RAD. And for the record, I have a lot of ivy league friends colleagues, and most of them are ass holes. Y’all made the right call.

    PS: Have you introduced Eleanor to Donald Duck in Mathmagicland ( It’s pretty sweet.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:19 pm

      I’d never seen that before, but I loved it!

  • elizabeth
    May 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    I really needed to read this today. I too excelled in school but never gave any effort in high school. My spanish teacher would let me sleep through her class, because she knew I could wake up and not miss a beat, but I was just sooo bored in school. I went to a prestigious uni(I think my high school’s reputation made up for my less than exciting resume), graduated with honors, and should be so happy with a great career right now.
    I was never afraid of being smart. I was afraid of failing. When everything academic came so easy to me, it became much more concerning when I realized I wanted to be an artist but couldn’t draw to save my life. I am now 27 and going back to school for a second time to get an undergrad degree in Fibers (my first degree being psychology). I’m trying to work on forgiving myself for the time I feel like I’ve wasted, and being okay with the fact that this is just the path that was right for me.

    • Nadia
      May 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      I was never afraid of being smart. I was afraid of failing.

      THIS! I couldn’t fail if I didn’t try. My gift is a (I don’t know how else to put it) photographic memory for images and hearing, so basically I remember anything I saw on TV. My dad and brother have different variation of the same. After freshman year of HS I totally rested on my laurels and got bad grades, the great test scores didn’t make up for not doing the homework.

      Your line about forgiving yourself really struck me, because I resent the time I “wasted” but I need to get a grip. There are so many aspects to art, hand-drawing being only a small aspect of the field. You will be great!

  • Catherine
    May 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this post; I truly appreciate your honesty and I think your blog is one of the most intelligent and refreshing to read. It’s obvious to your readers that you are incredibly smart and talented, and you should never feel embarrassed about the experiences that made you who you are today. I’ll bet, if you do decide to go back to school at some point, you would have great luck with all of the online degrees that are so accessible now. Have you heard about Coursera? They offer free college classes from prestigious universities, for free. Not for college credit, but just for the experience. I’m a SAHM mom with an M.A. in Lit. (really using that degree right now),and I’m thinking about taking the poetry class in the fall, because the idea of discussing poetry with people all over the world sounds like fun to me. :)

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      Thank you for letting me know about Coursera! I think it may be just what I need right now.

  • Jeannie
    May 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    This is the first time I have been on your blog. My niece sent me the link. I just wanted to tell you that I relate to the way your mind works. I, too, am extremely mathematically gifted. However, after one year of college, I met my husband, dropped out of college, got married, and raised children. Nine years ago (I am now 49) I went back to school and 8 years later, I finally graduated with a BS in Mathematical Sciences with an emphasis in Physics. I now am studying to take my Physics GRE exam with a desire to get a PhD in the subject. I love Physics and Math and cannot seem to get enough of it. However, I do believe that having such an analytical mind causes some unique challenges in my life. It is harder than people understand to deal with the way my mind processes life. I am trained to analyze and solve problems. I analyze everything there is in life, and when I am unable to solve life’s problems, it can be extremely frustrating. Nevertheless, like all things, we take the good with the bad and mostly I consider it a good thing.

    Nice post!

  • Des
    May 4, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Oh man, thanks for writing this. My story is super similar and seeing it all laid out like this is thought-provoking. I’m a hardcore INTP, plus I was recently diagnosed with ADD. Honestly, it’s a wonder I manage to accomplish anything beyond sitting around and daydreaming amazing things all day. A lifetime of being told you’re not living up to your potential leaves a mark. It’s so hard coming to accept yourself–especially in a world that seems to only value people who are your polar opposite.

  • Colleen
    May 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I couldn’t wait to comment, but there are so many already! I’ll just add my voice to the chorus. I wasn’t surprised at all to hear you say you’re smart, although I’m impressed you were able to declare it. Isn’t it bizarre that our culture is so impressed by achievement but expects humility in claiming our inherent talents? Your post (and life?) stand in glorious contrast to this character. I think your mind is opposite of mine, which makes me like you more, as a blogger and a human. Math makes me cry. What is a vector? For that matter…I’m not sure I remember what 9×8 is. Give me a moment.

    I’m fascinated by the artist Isca Greenfield-Sanders, do you know her? I love her paintings (I’m NOT an art buff, but when I discovered her years ago she struck a chord and stuck.) She comes from a family of artists and double majored in a math of some sort and painting, and I loved this quote: “Math,” she said “was my rebellion.” How oddly beautiful is that?

    I have yet to reach my potential, as well. Scholarships were shunned. Years were wasted. But. If we’d already met our potential, what were there be to strive for?

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      That’s a great quote from that artist! I like her a lot.

  • Lola
    May 4, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Wow, thank you for sharing this post; it was unexpected news to me. Truthfully, I did assume you graduated from a 4 year college based on the excellent execution of your blog. But I’m learning more lately that whatever society tells us is ‘mandatory’ is BS. The school system is too structured & linear to foster natural gift and talent. It’s a shame. Lesson learned is you can do whatever you want with whatever you were given, and YOU are a testament to that. Who cares what credentials you receive from schools? All that matters is that you are successful, however you define it.

  • Five for Friday « Designing Around
    May 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    […] made to reveal publicly deeply held thoughts and fears is inspiring. Nicole’s post on Making it Lovely was one of my favorites, especially in light of what we’ve been thinking for our […]

  • TAMI
    May 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    At the risk of sounding crazy, I just love you and your blog! It is hard to be an intelligent woman and find a balance in life where you don’t feel insecure or unchallenged. I really don’t feel parents of now 30 somethings knew how to prepare us. My parents had no college fund and didn’t know what the PSAT or SAT was! Oh well, no going back now. I just hope to inspire and challenge my daughter. I know that I enjoy what you do and I am glad that you do it. Thanks for sharing, it helps to know we are not alone!

  • abby @ thingsforboys
    May 5, 2012 at 2:02 am

    Your story sounds quite similar to mine (but a little different). I did poorly in primary school because I wasn’t mentally challenged. High school changed that for me and I excelled in high school. I love maths too! It just makes so much sense and when the answer is right, you know it’s right. Sadly though, because of how well I did, I was talked into doing an Electrical Engineering degree by my teachers. I wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I didn’t feel confident enough to pursue what I wanted to do (architecture, funnily enough). I completed my degree and worked as a programmer for several years, but wasn’t all that passionate about what I was doing (some parts I loved, some not so much). I dread ever having to go back to work now. Fingers crossed my blog will one day make a bit of money and stop me needing to go to work. I often wonder what my life would be like if I had done an Architecture degree. I know it’s pointless, but thanks for sharing…it’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

  • Bea, OT
    May 5, 2012 at 2:30 am

    My brother is an INTP and has a similar story! Unfortunately, the education system isn’t always capable of handling super gifted children! Seems you have succeeded in your own right and have a right to be proud!

    Thank you for sharing! I feel like you gave me a glimpse into my brother’s world! I am an INFP, so we’ve always shared a special connection…but he is not so forth coming about his feelings! Thank you for helping me understand a little deeper!

  • Amanda
    May 5, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Interesting. I had a horrible time in school and would never characterize myself as smart. I was always astounded when I would see super smart kids blow it by not doing simple things like turning in homework. Good thing about not being that bright is that one has to work twice as hard as the smart kids…and eventually, can outpace them.

  • Jana Smith
    May 5, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Great post! I’m a 7-12 Gifted and Talented teacher, and plan to share this with my students. This is a very common issue and debate in gifted education, and there have been several terrific books written about it. Giftedness often appears in children of gifted parents (not always…but often). Here are some books and a website that might be useful as your children grow: Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and What You Can Do About It by Dr. Sylvia Rimm, Smart Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness by Barbara Kerr, and The website has articles for gifted adults, too. It’s not the best looking website, but it has tons of fantastic information. The important thing is to give kids an outlet to learn about their interests.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 5, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you for the resources. August is still very young, so it’s too early to tell, but Eleanor is so much like me that I wonder if she will be similarly gifted.

  • Victoria
    May 5, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I’m a long time lurker – just wanted to say thank you for inspiring me to try to create a home for my family where creativity may flourish, in order to share my deepest values for them: empathy, compassion, and mindfulness. I’m glad you have found a way to use your talents to show us how to bring some beauty to our lives. It’s good to stand back from society’s messages of what success is and value the true complexity of our existence. Your post struck a chord for me because I have two young gifted children. While academic success is useful for attempting to have some kind of economic security, I’m not sure our economy will have a lot of good jobs for even well-educated people by the time my kids are grown up, so I want them to be well-rounded and see education as a means to an end, but not a definition of self-worth or badge of honor. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • K
    May 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    It is very brave to admit you are “really” anything. Really scared. Really crazy. Really hurting. But especially for women, really smart seems to be so taboo.

    Nicole, we all see you are really so many things: really artistic, really determined, really creative, a really good dresser! And although anyone who reads your blog regularly can see you are smart, I think it is brave and cool to declare yourself as really smart, because the kind of smart you’re talking about is special and unique.

    You have done so many cool things with your life, and I think you might be surprised to know how many of us stranger-friends who know you only through the blog admire and envy your aesthetic, talents, and blessed life. Of course you must have challenges and problems like all of us, but the stuff you share, the part of you that you make public, is truly amazing.

    Nothing has been a waste. You are amazing and cool and so gifted in so many ways. Keep up the blog and the business, and the amazing creativity. We all need it.

  • Cassie
    May 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Hi Nicole! I just discovered your blog and it is truly lovely! I’m hooked! I really enjoy your writing as well.

    Can’t wait for more!

  • Kristin
    May 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    You sound a lot like one of my good friends from high school. Such a smartie. He just knew how to take tests well, & it kind of frustrated/awed me (I studied much of my summer for a section of my ap bio class, & this kid spent 2 days glancing over the stuff & did better).
    What bums me the most is what your pops said, it’s amazing the impact of words, isn’t it?
    So obvs to me where your intellect is, you are so versatile!

  • LaDonna
    May 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    There is so much pressure when you are labeled as the smart one growing up. I always had straight As, was in the gifted elementary school classes. Waited until 9 pm to start my homework and still coasted through high school. People assumed I would be a doctor or lawyer. Law sounded boring and I can’t stand blood. So I figured I’m smart I’ll study science or engineering. Was an engineering major in college and it kicked my ass. I cried so much over test, over homework. I felt so stupid. I felt so ashamed when I asked for help. I would study and do homework while people in other major’s partied. I was too stubborn to leave. Then I was a junior and I wanted out but changing majors would have meant another 2-3 years of college. So I stayed. I did a minor in the humanities which helped cause I didn’t need to enroll in 4 engineering classes to be full time. My minor gpa is an A-. My major gpa is a B-. I graduated in 2003 and couldn’t find a job in my field. I went to grad school for library science. I’m doing fine in my new field but even now I’m ashamed to tell people I have an engineering degree. People are so judgmental. They assume something must be wrong with me. They say you are a woman with an engineering degree. They don’t believe no one would hire me.

  • querencia
    May 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    your post reminded me of Jason Padgett time lapse of him hand drawing a mathematically correct fractal. thought you might get a kick out of it as a math geek. I apologise if we aren’t suppose to leave links in comments on your site, btw.

  • Arianne
    May 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    I love this post – I knew you were a smarty, but didn’t realize you were a math smarty. I got in similar math trouble by not bothering to learn pre-calculus in high school, and then learning everything in one night so I could pass the test at the end of the year. Of course, not having put the work in, I forgot it all instantly, and when I tried to then start right at calculus in college, I couldn’t even pass the test to be able to take the course – had to start right back at pre-calc again!

    Oh, I was also the kid in elementary school who won the class spelling bee, then made it as far as possible in the all-school spelling bee, throwing it on the very last word so I wouldn’t have to go to the state spelling bee. Every year! I still burn with shame when I remember the year I purposefully misspelled “tongue” as “tounge” so Dustin would have to go to state instead of me.

    At any rate, I can relate to a lot of this. I’m more of a science nerd (and coding nerd) than a math nerd. I read books about how the brain works for fun, and feel bummed that I’m forgetting the Latin names of all of my favorite marine invertebrates – who has favorite marine invertebrates??

    I’ve also been thinking about this a LOT for my kids. I usually keep quiet about their brains for fear of sounding like I’m bragging or like I think I caused their smarts in some way, but they’re showing signs of knowing way more about math and reading than preschoolers usually know – and having so much interest in learning, which I love.

    I went to public school (luckily, it was the gifted program) and I’m wondering if the right thing to do would be to find a way to pay for private school so they won’t be tempted to just let their minds rust. It’s too easy to be completely ignored in public school, but I have no experience with anything else, so don’t really know how big a difference it is.

    Anyway, thanks for this! There’s not enough value placed on smarts in the blogs I read. Creativity, craftiness, and design are all well and good, but I love to hear from smart people about smart topics.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 6, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      Ah, that all sounds very familiar. Never misspelled “tounge”, but I knew to not do too well sometimes (*ahem, Mathletes*). I love that you have favorite marine invertebrates, though. But then, I already sort of knew that (Aeolidia).

      And I love it when bloggers let their smarts show, too.

  • Carrie
    May 6, 2012 at 7:58 am

    We so often hear about children with learning struggles and what avenues and support that is available to them – wonderfully and rightly so. However, the needs for gifted children are just as necessary and not so readily available (and are the first things to be cut when budgets are maxed out). I am smart, my husband is smart. My children, ages 6 and 8, both tested ‘gifted’ last year and it has been both fabulous and frustrating. Reading your post reinforces my desire to foster a happy and challenging environment for my kids. I can’t rely on others to provide everything my kids need now, and will need in the future, when it comes to their needs as gifted individuals. Your post reminds me to go forward, as their advocate, with care, patience and understanding as they progress through their school years and beyond.

  • laura
    May 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    i had a similar exprience. when i was 4 i was tested and found to have a reading age of 12. math and science came pretty easy to me too. I was bored in school, had a hard time paying attention and became a notorious daydreamer, but the night before a big test i could read the textbook once and ace it.

    i was so bored in school, i just wanted out, did not even take the idea of going to college seriously, i just wanted to travel, which i did for a number of years. when I was 25 i felt i wanted more, i wanted a real college education. i went back to school and got an architecture degree. i had both of my kids while in school, and it was tough.

    i feel glad to have a degree, though it took me 5 years full time, 5 years when my peers were working and saving. i am pretty much in the same finacial boat as any recent grad. and of course i have an architecture degree, so no real job prospects.

    i have to say, i dont think you should feel bad, you have a successful buisness, a lovely home, and your kids are obviously well taken care of. the only real reason to get a degree is to be able to achieve those things, so well done.

  • wally waffles
    May 6, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I resonate with a lot of this – I started school early, worked very independently in my first elementary school and skipped a grade. Then I changed schools and had a disastrous experience with my 4th grade teacher. From then on out, I struggled with my engagement in school. I went to a university, but ended up dropping out because I was doing exceptionally well in many classes, and exceptionally poorly (not even showing up) in others. I had this sense that I was simply not smart enough to get my degree. While I was dropped out and working, someone told me that she knew that I wold go back and would finish – but that I would do it in my own way. Some things sort of came together – I found a mentor who hired me as an RA and I went back and finished my bachelor’s and then got a masters. I went on to get my PhD (actually, at the school you said didn’t want you), but wasn’t able to finish – mostly my own fault.

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself. It’s been 5 years since I left the PhD program. I’ve gotten some really amazing experience and have gotten some phenomenal mentorship along the way. Because I work at that same school, I can get free tuition, but I am having such a hard time figuring out what I’d want to do. Currently, my job is a weird little mix of graphic design, stats, and health research. All of those interest me. Sometimes I think I’d like a degree in public health, sometimes I think of history (medical history), sometimes I think of a degree in communications (interested in propaganda and health communications)… I wish we had some sort of interdisciplinary program (U of C does, but too spendy).

    And part of me is still a little paralyzed at the thought that I might start something and fail again. People tell me all the time that I am smart enough to do these – but I worry so.

    When I lived in the west coast, a friend of mine started a goal group. The group met regularly and helped each other set and meet goals and offered tons of support along the way. Maybe we could start something like that in Chicago?

    • Making it Lovely
      May 6, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      I love the idea of a goal group. Maggie Mason (Mighty Girl) is good about organizing that sort of thing on a larger scale, with her Camp Mighty events, but it would be nice to have something local.

  • MissC
    May 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    This post would have gone down a lot smoother without the “I’m smart. Really smart” bit. Who says that? Who thinks about themselves that way? I’m supposed to be in awe of your vast intellect just because you liked a YouTube videos about math? OOOOOH, thanks for the peek of what it’s like to be in your magnificent brain — what an awesome privilege for us little pea-brains!!!!

    I have been a big fan of you and your blog, but I have to say that this post kind of makes me dislike you. I *did* have excellent grades in high school, and I *do* have a degree from a great school (two degrees, actually), and I would never, ever talk or write about how dang smart I am. It just makes you seem simultaneously full of yourself and really, really insecure.

    You have a great blog and are obviously very good and talented at what you do. Why not just leave it at that and not try to convince your readers that you’re some kind of misunderstood savant?

    • Making it Lovely
      May 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that it made you dislike me. It was a turn of phrase, a setup for the rest of the story (about failing classes, taking years to graduate from community college with a two-year degree, being rejected from schools, and not having a more widely accepted and understood career), not some sort of ploy. And I hardly think that liking an entertaining YouTube video (about math or otherwise) is proof of anything. It was just something I enjoyed and that I thought other people might also like.

      I wasn’t writing to convince my readers of my intelligence, but to show that I’ve had missteps and regrets. As proud as I am of the work I’ve done and the business I’ve grown, nobody’s life is perfect. Blogs are often called out for glossing over anything that’s even slightly negative, so the whole “things I’m afraid to tell you” meme (of which that post was a part) is in response to that.

  • Jennifer
    May 7, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I’m a high school English teacher and I see kids all the time who are very smart, perhaps even gifted, not get good grades, not go to college because they don’t apply themselves or don’t have expectations for themselves. I also see average students do very very well because they play the game, study hard, make goals for themselves etc.
    I was an average student who was labeled as gifted in the early grades, made horrible grades in middle school, and did enough in high school to keep my parents happy. However, going to college was never a choice for me… it was made by my parents before I was born. We were going and that was that. I looked at it as just another step after high school. My husband’s family was the same way. Even now when I talk to my own children, I say things like, “when you are in college..” I was a total snot and didn’t worry about getting in or getting scholarships, I just knew I would pick out somewhere close to home and go. Looking back, I could have tried for scholarships and I could have been waaay more grateful to my parents for having expectations for us.
    It is a rare child who has expectations for themselves. They are usually set by parents.
    Great and interesting topic!

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