When I was in high school, the schools in the city had a puzzle master come to each school to entertain the students. The event at my school happened to be the day after the event at my nephew’s school. On the day he came to my nephew’s school, my nephew came home all excited to show off what he learned at the event. He said the man called the students up to the podium to solve riddles on a board. My nephew posed a puzzle. It was not a complex puzzle to solve, but it took some thinking, but we cracked it. The next day when the man came to our school, he posed the same to us. Of course, I recognized it, immediately ran up to the podium before anyone else could, and solved it – thus getting a prize! Would you say that I had an unfair advantage? What if I was a voracious reader of puzzles and had trained myself in solving riddles?
The second story of my childhood is about mathematics. In our education system, high schools offer two tracks in mathematics – one with introductory algebra and the other advanced. My school provided only elementary algebra. After graduating from high school, we entered the Pre-University Course, where we spent a year preparing to join an undergraduate program. I had made up my mind when I was in high school that I was going to study engineering. I had no clue about what was required to enter the engineering program. I was unprepared for the rigors of the pre-university math and science classes which assumed you had taken advanced algebra in high school.
I was probably the only one in my class who didn’t have an adequate foundation for handling the complexity. I will go home every day after the classes and cry that it was too hard. Homework used to take forever. I even thought of quitting. My sister, who was then in medical school, would sit with me while I attempted the homework. She helped by being there, coaxing me to think and navigate complex problems. She slowly built up my confidence that I could learn as I went along. I got a very high score in my final math exams, though not the perfect score of a couple of my classmates. I was a very competitive student, and I was not happy that they had an unfair advantage because of their high school foundation, but I did the best I could.
What is the point of these stories?
In life, we sometimes have unfair advantages. We might be born into families who can afford education in great schools for their children; we may have never had to worry about our health or food. Not everyone in the world has these advantages. When growing up, our parents told us, “don’t waste your food; there are children who go hungry every day around the world.” When we have these unfair advantages, we must make sure we don’t squander them and use them to our advantage to do well in life and, more importantly, be good to our fellow human beings who don’t have the same benefits.
Sometimes life puts us at an unfair disadvantage. When that happens, step up and deal with it instead of wallowing in self-pity. Develop a positive attitude that you can overcome the odds and turn the situation around.
Life is all about what you make of your advantages and disadvantages.