It’s a slow Friday… there’s nothing much really going on. My phone vibrates and I check my messages. My friend informs me that I’ve missed the USAMO cutoff by two points. At first I’m in disbelief. I check the MAA page hoping that it’s a joke. The truth hits me like a football tackle. After all the preparation that I’ve put through – WOOT, SMT, BMT, AMSP… all to just fall at the finish line.
Although I was originally very stricken and devastated, this rejection helped me pick up some valuable perspective. I recalled the meeting I had with Stanford mathematician Brian Conrad. Mr. Conrad explained to me that math competitions were solely for fun, and something not to be taken seriously. Initially I discounted his opinion because I thought competitive math was real math. But not making USAMO made me see things differently. Conrad explained that preparation for the USAMO and IMO simply requires one to memorize previous olympiads, theorems and techniques. Initially I felt that he was going out on a limb, but now I realize that the USAMO and IMO are almost akin to the SAT in that they require the same sort of preparation and training.
Conrad also explained to me that “real mathematics” is an unbounded and free artistic medium, as opposed to the finite nature of competitive math. He told me that if I ever decided to get into the realm of real math though, I would begin to appreciate competitive math less and less.
Even though I didn’t make USAMO this year, I pride myself in my lofty goals for next year. I hope to make MOP and leave with a bang. The USAMO incident also helped me gain some fresh perspective on math, and I think that even though I’ll still put my heart into preparing for the AMCs and USAMO, I’ll begin to drift into real math, which is why I’m applying to PROMYS this summer.