the wrong page (stupidity and humility)

My Managerial Economics in a Global Economy has been a fun venture so far.  I’m enjoying getting to flex the math muscles of my brain that haven’t been used in several years.  Tonight, however, was a lesson in humility and common-sense stupidity.

I have just spent the last hour working on this problem:

Using the index (with 1985 = 100) on housing starts in the United States per year from 1986 to 1997 given in the table below, forecast the index for 1998 using a three year and a five year moving average.   Which of your estimates is better if the actual index of housing starts in the United States for 1998 is 163?

I simply couldn’t make the formula I was using help me with the problem.  I was working through a trend projection formula.  This isn’t a trending question; it’s a smoothing technique using moving averages.

I was four pages off in my book.

This past hour has really been a cathartic process for me.  About 45 minutes in I was tempted to give up and just worry about it later.  I persevered, reread all the info BEFORE the page with the trend projection formula, reread the entire previous chapter, and was just plain frustrated.

The fact of the matter is I’ve always done really well in school.  I’ve always gotten good grades, great test scores, and generally can learn things pretty quickly.  I can honestly say that I have never in my life been stumped on a question like this for more than 5-10 minutes (by “question like this” I mean one where I should be able to solve it, and have all the pertinent information available to me).  It’s not often in life that we get to really feel a new experience.

At this moment I’m feeling very humbled.  I’ve often relied on my intellect and gotten frustrated with people who don’t want to learn new things… or that think they can’t.

There was a brief moment in this hour-long misdirection of formulas that I wondered what the rest of the course would be like… could I handle having to process through hour-long problems all semester long.  Would it be worth it, or could I take a different course?  Could I, should I, give up?

It was a taste of intellectual defeat… and I didn’t like it.  But the alternative, giving up, would have been so very easy and appealing.  And, ultimately, all I won myself from pushing through the issue was humility, a feeling of ignorance, and missing out on sitting on the couch, watching a movie with my beautiful wife.  I can see how giving up not bothering with the problem would be more appealing and, in many ways, seem more beneficial.

This rests on my mind at the age of 27.  I couldn’t imagine the impact it might have on a 7 year old, or a 17 year old, or all the years in between.

I wonder when my children will hit this kind of wall.  I wonder when the next time I’ll have the answer just out of reach, only to learn that my own choices kept me from seeing it.

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