The legendary teacher, the IMO 1979 perfect scorer slash Special Prize winner, chalked the problem, then left without any explanation. The air intensified. I looked around the new class full of talents, determined to make a statement on my first day at this top high school. After one hour of scavenging my brain for hints from similar problems I had solved, I was still nowhere near a solution. Clueless and frustrated, I spotted a few smiles around. Inferiority grew in me who still believed that luck had brought him from a low-tier middle school to this high school. I freaked out just by thinking about how to survive amidst this class of geniuses. Luckily, the deadline was extended to another week. I rushed home, digging up books and websites for similar problems, like I used to. A safe road, I believed.
A week later, the teacher delivered a verdict:.
"Good job. But all these solutions are common. Any new way?".
I was stunned. Any new way? Obviously, my solution was just another common path. Any new way? His words flashed me back to the first Math book Dad gave me on my 14th birthday: Problems Solving Strategies-Arthur Engel. The book was surprisingly interesting, enough to glue me to my desk with just a combinatorics problem. I started with a blank page, quickly finding a solution. Then, a thought popped up. Naturally, I turned to a new page, conquering another approach, and another page. till bedtime. In the end, 4 solutions came up, each taking me longer, yet excitement grew bigger alongside. Back then, carefree and passionate, I solved Math simply to enjoy challenging myself, with no target, no burden, and no fear. Just like that, I came to Math, naturally.
As days passed, contests and fame blurred my passion. The time I spent on each problem decreased, the open questions I often asked myself after each solution disappeared, and the unparallel feeling of pride and excitement after each success vanished.