My whole life I’ve been a goody two shoes. I never got a detention. I’ve never broken the law. When I was in my 20s, while everyone else was off having a wild time, I was at home reading maths textbooks.
I inherited my work ethic from my mum. She left school at 16 and was very insistent on education. My two sisters and I didn’t get the opportunity to socialise the way our classmates did. We were isolated, competitive and we developed an unhealthy respect for authority.
I got cancer when I was 36. It was this really big moment that made me pause and think: “Stop, smell the roses, you’re supposed to enjoy it as you go.” This is my life – I get to live it the way I want to.
It’s wrong to assume clever people do professional jobs. My dad left school when he was 14. But I’ve met really important maths professors who are not as smart as he is. He is very quiet, he almost never has an opinion. But he has the most brilliant engineering mind, and when he does speak everyone listens.
I feel most alive when I’m under pressure. There’s something thrilling about an impending deadline, knowing you are on an unstoppable train, that you’ve just got to get yourself good enough. And then it clicks. I find the frustration, followed by the elation, very addictive.
I am consistently and reliably late for everything. I strongly suspect it’s because I’m very optimistic – I think I can get ready quicker than I ever can. It’s my worst habit.
I’m scared of the ocean. When I was 19 I went snorkelling in Cuba and had a panic attack in the water. Since then, I’ve struggled to go into the sea at all.
Old age is a privilege that is denied to a lot of people. I used to think 36 was really old. Then, as soon as I got cancer, I was like, 36 is really young.
It looked like I was a goner at one point. My mum used to say: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. But when I was sick, a good friend of mine got me a keyring that just said: “Keep fucking going!” That was the best advice I’ve ever been given.
The secret to being happy is repeating to yourself: “These are the good days.” When I look back at when I was sick, I think: “My babies were small, I didn’t have to work, I got to sit with them on the sofa all day.” Mum and Dad came down and took care of me and I had some special moments with them. I got letters from friends I love. Even in the darkest moments, there are things you can feel good about.
I can no longer have children. I always wanted to have three, because I was one of three. It’s a regret, but it’s one I can’t be too upset about. I still have two gorgeous girls.
As I’ve got older, I’ve become happier and more optimistic. Bad things will happen. But I believe in my resilience, in the resilience of people I love and in humanity more generally. I think there is this irrepressible determination of humanity to overcome. The pandemic is a good example of that. No matter how bad things get, we adapt.
The Future With Hannah Fry is available to watch on bloomberg.com and the Bloomberg app