Second Kind of Mind

Second Kind of Mind

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Second Kind of Mind

Thoughts don’t have to be “real” or “true” to create failure or success in our lives. They just have to be believed.

My family members were great conversationalists around the dinner table. Certain subjects came up with regularity. One in particular was that some members of my family, yours truly included, were dumb in math. I always heard my name at the end of the family list of the mathematically impaired. After fourteen years of this, I began to accept it as an indisputable and unchangeable fact.

In high school, I failed algebra three times. Eventually, I passed and was accepted to a college in Wisconsin, where I applied for a psychology degree. One small problem stood between me and my degree—statistics. It was a four-hour lab that had to be taken in my junior year. After hearing all the horror stories circulating about statistics, I mentally went into the fetal position. The panic was overwhelming.

One day I was called into my professor’s office. Professor Fine, a short, stout man with thinning hair and a perpetual smile, sat on the front of his desk with his feet dangling over the floor. He read my transcript and held up his hands over his head.

“My son, this is your lucky day.” I looked up. He repeated, “This is indeed your lucky day. This is where all of your tenacity pays off. You’re going to be great in stats.” He had a huge smile on his face.

“How’s that, Doc?” I asked.

He shrugged. “You have the second kind of mind. Listen. First kind of minds are the kids who do well in algebra but don’t get stats. They struggle like crazy in stats. It’s a different kind of math that takes a different kind of mind. Second kind of mind is like yours.” He held up my grades.

“Didn’t have a clue about algebra, but you’ll probably get an A in stats. Kids who get algebra don’t get stats. Kids who don’t get algebra understand statistics with no problem. If you failed algebra once, I’d guess you’d get an A or a B in stats. Think about it, son. You flunked three times. You’re gonna be a genius.” He raised his hands over his head again. Eureka!

“Really?” I asked, confused.

He jumped to the floor and held my face with his free hand and looked me square in the eyes. “Really, and I’m happy for you. You never gave up, and now it’s going to pay off.”

I was ecstatic with the news. He tossed my transcript on the floor near the trash can, shook my hand and slapped my back with great enthusiasm.

As I left the old ivy-covered brick building and started across the campus, I looked up to the second-floor window. Professor Fine was smiling, holding up two fingers for “second kind of mind.” I smiled back and held up three fingers for “flunked three times.” This scene was repeated a thousand times until I reached my junior year. Each and every time, there was a smile of approval on his face, a firm and enthusiastic handshake, perhaps an introduction to another professor during which glowing expectations were repeated.

Eventually, I began to tell my friends how well I expected to do in statistics. This singular change in attitude affected all my grades. With the awareness of my new “second kind of mind,” I received the best grades of my life in college. I never believed I would do that well and probably wouldn’t have if it had not been for Professor Fine’s intercession.

For two years, I looked forward to taking statistics. When the time finally arrived, I did something that I had never done in any other math class—fought for a front-row seat. I asked so many questions I was often called a pest. My statistics book was never very far from me that semester. Also, there was little time for friends and hanging out. I set priorities and stuck to them.

Despite what the professor had said, it was hard work and took concentration and an occasional tutor. It paid off. I received one of only a handful of As that year. Shortly after, I ran into one of the professor’s former aides, who said, “Congratulations. Professor Fine tells his really slow students that ‘second kind of mind’ story.” And then he looked at me and said, “You’d be surprised how often it works. The mind is amazing, isn’t it?”

JeVon Thompson

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