Skip to Main Content


See All Hours


One Moment...

See Average Occupancy

Common Reading 2023: The State of Being Stuck by Ben Orlin

The State of Being Stuck — Ben Orlin

Watch Ben Orlin give an extended presentation version of "The State of Being Stuck"

“The State of Being Stuck” uses words and doodles to discuss how getting stuck on a math problem can seem frustrating, but learning to persevere and work through those problems is what math is all about. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever gotten stuck on a math problem? Did the challenge of getting stuck discourage you or motivate you?

  1. What do you think is the key to perseverance: personality (grit), belief (growth mindset), or emotion (overcoming fear)?

Class Activity

Think about a time you felt discouraged by a problem you were facing. What did you need to hear to encourage you to persevere? Reflect on your response to that problem and write a letter to your younger self to encourage them to keep going.

Introduction — Alathea Jensen

Often, when I reveal that I am a mathematician to other people, they look at me with shock and horror, as if I had just said that I get my teeth drilled for fun. It’s difficult to explain how much joy I find in math to someone who hates it. The funny thing is that almost everyone remembers a time in their lives when they enjoyed math. Do you remember when you enjoyed math? Why did you like it, and why did you stop liking it (if you did)?

In the piece you’re about to read, Ben Orlin shares his experiences as a math teacher, and how many students interpret getting stuck on a problem as a form of failure. I remember getting stuck so many times during those years in middle school and high school, when everyone else was starting to hate math. I sometimes got so frustrated with math that I threw my book on the ground. But something kept me coming back; something kept me trying. Do you have something that you keep trying hard at, despite setbacks? What is it that makes you want to keep going?

Nowadays, even though I’m a math professor, I still get stuck on hard math problems. In fact, there’s a problem that I’ve been working on for more than ten years, and I’ve been stuck that whole time. (It’s called the Lonely Runner Conjecture, if you’re curious.) I don’t really expect to ever solve the problem, but that doesn’t bother me much. To me, having a good, tough math problem to work on is the most enjoyable thing in the world. I hope that over the next four years here at SU, you can find a subject that you enjoy being stuck on, too.

Related Videos

"4 Weird Unsolved Mysteries of Math" from SciShow

"The paradox at the heart of mathematics: Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem - Marcus du Sautoy" from TED-Ed

"Grit: The power of passion and perseverance" TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth

Click here for a transcript of the TED Talk.

Additional Resources

Center for Academic Success (CAS)

Check out the webpage for Susquehanna University's Center for Academic Success to learn more about the services they offer and to schedule tutoring appointments.

"Tutoring Services" from CAS

This CAS portal includes schedules for tutoring services based on subject (math, writing, academic skills, etc.) and provides information and instructions for scheduling tutoring appointments.

Famous Unsolved Math Problems as Homework

This blog post by Benjamin Braun gives examples of unsolved math problems that Braun will assign to his students and explains why he assigns these unsolved problems and how students have responded.

About the Author

Ben Orlin lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife and daughter. He has taught every level of mathematics from ages 12 to 18, with occasional spells teaching Psychology, Biology, English, Theory of Knowledge, and even Earth Science. He is the author of Math with Bad Drawings (2018) and Change is the Only Constant (2019).


Blough-Weis Library

514 University Avenue

Selinsgrove, PA 17870 | 570.372.4160

Susquehanna University


Facebook          Instagram      TikTok      Roger     

Send Us Feedback | © Blough-Weis Library | LibApps Login