“I am not a math person,” and other lies we tell ourselves

I cringe every time someone says, “I am not a math person.” You are many things, and one of them is a math person. You are an artistic person, a creative person, a dancing person, because you are human. The surest way to hamstring your growth as a human being is to peg yourself into or out of a specific role.

Believing that you are not a ‘certain type’ of person is a limiting belief that sets you up for failure. This method of self-defense may comfort us when we do poorly in the short term, but it is merely an excuse not to do better in the long term. By buying into these entrenched stereotypes we limit our careers, our resourcefulness, and our financial well-being.

A Narrow Career Path

If you believe you are not a math person, you will most likely cross “mathy” fields like engineering, science, and finance off of your potential career list. These types of jobs traditionally pay well and have higher demand.

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A narrow career path can restrict your advancement

However there is a good chance you have honed other skills that would actually make you an exceptional engineer or a top-notch accountant.

Careers do not cater simply to “math people” or “creative people.” Engineering requires creativity and communication skills. A graphic designer would use similar skills to render a 3D CAD model. Artistic jobs often require logical, analytic thinkers. We grossly oversimplify ourselves and our careers if we box them up in traditional assumptions.

Realizing Resourcefulness

What skills do we neglect because of traditional assumptions? Similar to being pegged as a “math person” or a “creative person,” it is likely that at some time your skills have been attributed to your gender. Do you know how to sew and mend your own clothing? Do you know what to do if the sink springs a leak? If you believe either of these skills are better suited for someone of a different gender, you are believing another lie. Both are skills useful for your development and independence. Both require time, effort, and a little bit of practice.

Effort not Innate

Skills take effort, not innate ability.

Purdue University psychologist Patricia Linehan writes:

A body of research on conceptions of ability has shown two orientations toward ability. Students with an Incremental orientation believe ability (intelligence) to be malleable, a quality that increases with effort. Students with an Entity orientation believe ability to be nonmalleable, a fixed quality of self that does not increase with effort.

And, especially important:

In the present study, Incremental orientations were associated with higher grades and higher academic engagement, among other positive, adaptive outcomes.

If you consider yourself “not a math person,” or “not good with money,” it really comes down to how much effort you are willing to expend working on those skills. Sometimes there are natural inclinations or preferences, but mostly we learn through determination to do better.

Where do these beliefs come from?

There are three factors to watch out for when we tackle our doubts:

  • Negative thinking
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies
  • Limiting beliefs

These three elements compound to destruct our efforts at achieving greatness. The better we can fight them off, the sooner we can all become a “math person” or whatever type of person we aspire to be.

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Don’t let negativity derail you

Doubts about money management skills fall into these traps.

Anxiety might wonder, “How do people retire? I will never have enough, so why try.”

Anger might growl, “I don’t get the money I deserve, it is out of my control

Hopelessness might whisper, “I am not smart enough to manage my own finances.”

These negative emotions feed on themselves. If one believes that managing money isn’t worth it, or factors outside of their control decide their monetary decisions, or that they are useless with money, it will turn into a self-perpetuating cycle. These are limiting beliefs that turn into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Do the work

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It is easier to let go of the fallacy of “math people” if we instead welcome the complexities of humanity. Identify the multifaceted aspects of yourself, your career prospects, and the people around you. Reject the stereotypes. Remember what it was like to be a kid– when you were allowed to dream big, do anything, or be anything.

When it comes to money management, leave “I’m bad with money” at the door. Identify your intrusive limiting beliefs, write them down, and tackle them head-on. If anxiety says financial independence is hopeless, ask instead how it is possible. If anger says your financial future is out of your control, ask in what ways you can take ownership. If hopelessness says you are not smart enough, ask what you already know, and what you can do to learn more.

You deserve financial success, you are responsible for your financial future, and you are capable of being a ‘money person’ just as you are a ‘math person.’ You just have to do the work.

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  1. This is good…because it is so true! It is a pet peeve of mine actually that people say they hate math or was never any good at math, even proudly declare it sometimes. I mean no one proudly says, “I was never any good at English”. Math gets a bad rap. I am glad you addressed this! Bravo!

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