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On a basis so regular that I could almost set my watch to it, I hear the following from marketers, PR professionals, and others in our field:

“Oh, I’m bad at math!”
“I can’t do math, I was never good at it!”
“Numbers and me don’t get along!”
“Math is hard, that’s why I’m in marketing/PR!”

This is a bit of a professional pet peeve of mine, because it’s an incredibly self-limiting belief. The moment you believe that you can’t do something, you’re probably right. You put mental chains on yourself, mental shackles that lock off part of your basic potential as a human being and deprive yourself of capabilities that could drive your career, improve your work, and build your business.

Endless line of school busses

This may come as a surprise to you, but in school, growing up, I was “bad at math”. It was one of my least favorite subjects. For the better part of grade school and high school, I was a solid C student in mathematics and all of its related fields. In college, I got myself into a Statistics course taught by an instructor who was a brilliant statistician but couldn’t teach to save his life, and I escaped that course with a C- after the curve. My actual grade in the class was a 37/100 (and the highest grade in the class was a 50/100). If you looked at my experiences and academic track record, then I was pretty bad at math, too. I was conditioned by our educational system to believe that math was more or less beyond me.

Something funny happened once I left school and began my professional work. I entered a field in which math was one of the driving forces, information technology. The machines I surrounded myself every day with are powered by math almost exclusively. Then the game really amped up in 2003 when I took my first job out of IT, becoming a Marketing Director at a startup. Suddenly, things like reporting, analytics, statistics, and data were one of my primary job responsibilities, and because I was the third of three employees, there was no one to delegate it to. So I started Googling. And Googling. And Googling some more. I read up on as many different ways to build reports as possible. I taught myself SQL, which is really set theory from mathematics, just written less poetically. I taught myself web analytics, which is really the statistics I did so badly in during school. I taught myself data analysis, which is a lot of the calculus I did so badly in during school.

What I found was that I wasn’t bad at math at all. In fact, I’m rather good at it. I was bad at school, and the way school wanted to teach me math. I’d bet the same is true for you if you believe you’re bad at math. Math hasn’t failed you, just your education.

The good news is that today, with resources like MOOCs and YouTube and social networks, the resources you need to re-learn math surround you, and there is a way to learn it out there that fits the way your brain works. All it takes is motivation, discipline, and willpower to break the mental chains that our failing educational system imposed on you about your mathematical abilities – and any other abilities you think you’re bad at. You may never be a mathematical genius (I certainly am not) but you can quite easily gain a functional level of competence that will enrich your career and your life.

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