Growing up, I thought math class was something to be endured, not enjoyed. I disliked memorizing formulas and taking tests, all for the dull goal of getting a good grade. In elementary school, my mind wandered so much during class that I sometimes didn’t respond when I was called on, and I resisted using the rote techniques we were taught to use to solve problems. One of my teachers told my mother that I was “slow” and should repeat a grade.
But my problem wasn’t with math itself. In fact, I spent countless hours as a child doing logic and math puzzles on my own, and as a teenager, when a topic seemed particularly interesting, I would go to the library and read more about it.
By high school, none of my teachers questioned my mathematical talent, but none of them really encouraged it, either. No one told me that I could become a professional mathematician. And frankly, that was fine with me. I had no desire to spend my life doing exercises out of a textbook, which is what I assumed mathematicians did — if I even thought about what they did.