Learning To Solve For X.

“Impossible is only true until you prove it otherwise.” — Tanner Christensen

There’s this thing I tell people often, whenever the bill comes or whenever a series of numbers get laid out on the table.

“I’m not very good at math,” I’ll say.

This is a standard journalism line. Journalists all say they’re bad at math. (1)

But I wasn’t always lousy at math. Actually, I’ll confess that I used to like it.

I remember when math made sense to me. Algebra was a wonderfully simple thing: Look at an equation, locate the parts, break them down and then just solve for x.


There were nuances, sure, and tricks to help you get there faster. But ultimately, finding that “x” was all that mattered.

I look back now and realize that my worldview was inadvertently shaped by forces like algebra. It taught me to be a problem solver.

As a kid, I never dreamed of changing the world. I never wanted to be an astronaut or a firefighter or the President. I can’t remember any major ambition or goal from my childhood, really.

Mostly, I wanted to do my schoolwork well, and score a couple of goals at soccer games, and wake up early enough on Saturday mornings for cartoons.

Modest goals, all.

Every day started by sorting out the variables and finding “x” in my daily life. “X” meant learning how to the work I needed to do to get the grades I wanted. “X” meant finding new ways to score on the field. “X” meant discovering that I could leave my blinds open on Friday night so the light would quietly wake me on Saturday morning and I could tip-toe downstairs to watch TV.

In my little corner of the universe, I wasn’t focused on changing the world. I was all about making little things happen — locating “x,” and then solving for it.

The “x” has gotten more difficult to find over the years. The challenges have gotten bigger. The variables have gotten more complicated. I feel so lucky to have these challenges in my life.

But the bigger the problem, the smaller the steps that need to be taken to solve for “x.” There are no big breakthroughs or magic bullets, I’ve found, just thousands of small steps.

It never hurts to have big goals. But the only way to achieve them is through doing small things, through solving for “x” over and over again — until all those little answers add up to the breakthrough you wanted all along.

Photo at top via @iheartstana.

  1. This is probably a bad sign for an industry that’s starting to focus more and more on the bottom line.