Thursday, June 10, 2010

Learning Algebra

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

-Leo Tolstoy

I recently started reading “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis, a book about the collapse of the American economy in 2008. The quote above is found on the first page. It really blew me away, it is so simple yet terribly profound.

I remember my first day of Algebra in 7th grade. Mr. Nylin, who still teaches at my old school, melted my mind with ideas of Algebrapolynomial functions and quadratic equations. Before Algebra all I knew was arithmetic, I had mastered the multiplication tables and I could do long division with the best of them. All these new rules were completely foreign to me! My mind was moldable and I could accept the information that was being taught because I had no prior understanding of what was going on.

It’s too bad that they don’t start teaching personal financial management in 7th grade.

I got my first job in 8th grade, I was a bagger at the local grocery store. It was the first time I had my own money – it wasn’t much, but it was mine. This was where my first experience managing money started.

They didn’t offer a class at school on how to set up a budget, no one told me why I should save some of the money that I earned, and I didn’t have the internet to get some tips on improving my financial position. Until I was in college, everything I knew about money, I learned from making my own mistakes and watching other people make mistakes.

I get to chat with people everyday about their financial decisions. It has become clear that, in general, when someone has some experience managing their finances they become set in their ways - even when a change could serve them well. It is a challenge to convince people that it would be a good idea to change the way they have been managing their money… for the last 20 years.

It is important to know what you know and know that you know it - but the world wasn’t flat.

Be moldable, when someone is presenting you with some new information that contradicts what you have thought or done for the last 20 years, give it a chance. At a minimum you will be able to get a better understanding on your current process and who knows, maybe you will be able to improve your current situation! 

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