When I do school visits and author events, I'm often asked what advice I would give young aspiring authors. Of course I tell them to take creative writing courses, ask friends and teachers for feedback, practice revising their work and start trying to get pieces published in various outlets. The obvious stuff, right? But one thing I find myself recommending, which surprises even me, is "Pay attention in math class!"
When I was in high school I HATED math! Didn't get it. Didn't like it. Didn't think I'd ever have to use it out in the real world. "I'm a word person, not a numbers person," I said, thinking I was all cute and clever. "And if it has to do with money, then my dad will help."
I was actually really stupid to think that way. Because one thing that few people tell aspiring authors is that this is a BUSINESS. If you have any degree of success, you are going to need to deal with things like the IRS and royalty statements and freelance invoicing and the IRS, and did I mention the IRS? If you're a teen reading this, chances are good you haven't had to pay many taxes yet. And, if you're lucky, your dad or mom is handling other money issues for you. But sooner or later you're going to reach a point where you have to take care of that stuff yourself. It's not rocket science, but it is math. The sooner you get rid of your "I'm creative, I don't have to understand percentages and algebra" attitude, the better!
And it's not just personal finance where Grown-Up Me has been surprised by the need for math skills. When my symphony chorus performed Bach's B-minor Mass, I could not for the life of me figure it out until I made myself approach it like a math problem. I had to count. I had to understand the structure of the piece - and it turned out to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Once I looked at it that way the music opened up and became, almost literally, three dimensional. It was like singing architecture! Trippy!
Actually, I wish some of my teachers had thought to teach math through music. If I'd understood the real-life applications of all those boring, two-dimensional problems, I'm sure I would have grasped it much easier. And maybe we don't all need to master college-prep calculus, but we do need the basics. If I had my way, every school would require students to take a personal finance class, and offer a beginning business course as well.
So what about you? What courses do or did you hate in school? Do you see any practical applications outside of academia? And how might that assumption be challenged once you're out on your own?