Trying to Overcome the Numbers that Rule My Life

The numbers in my life have far too much control over me. I want for a time when it's the other way around.

5 min. read

I never considered myself a “numbers” person. I don’t mean I wasn’t good at math (Mathlete, y’all!), but I care more about stories than stats. On the Myers-Briggs Typology Instrument, for example, my F to T (Feeling to Thinking) ratio is the most unbalanced, and I’m a _strong _F.

What I do — every thing I do — while seemingly disparate, is all connected by that trait. Every little project or endeavor I undertake is driven by my goal of making the world a safer place for all people.

So it’s as surprising to me as it might be to you how numbers-driven my day-to-day life is, and how much I find myself trying to turn that part of my brain off so I can focus on the present. The numbers eat at me, often glaring at me from within little red circles, screaming “Click me! Make me go away!” Others are tucked away within more complex websites or spreadsheets, whispering more gently, but still persuasively.

Following is a small taste of the numbers that are almost always whizzing around my brain, attempting to distract me from the task at hand. Every one of these things pops into my head at once when I wake up every morning, then attempts to suckle my brainjuice every minute of every hour I’m awake.

(To play along at home, after every number question, feel free to add in “Why?” then “How can I do better?” so you can, if just for a moment, share my sickness)

  • How many copies of my book did I give away today? How many books did I sell? What percentage of people who visited the site got the book?
  • How many emails do I need to read today? How many do I need to write?
  • How many outstanding contracts / bookings are there for my show that I need to hammer down?
  • How many outstanding Facebook messages/Tweets/Google+s/whatevers do I have? How many do I need to respond to?
  • How many new readers on
  • How many new pledges?
  • How many new curriculum downloads?
  • How many shares/retweets/+1s/whatevers did my most recent article/tweet/status receive? How many comments?
  • How many comments have been posted on all of my sites? How many do I need to respond to?
  • How many new Google Alerts do I have for my name, or the names of any of my projects, popping up on blogs and sites around the web? How many of these articles do I need to read?

That’s enough, I think. You get the picture. All of that is weighing on my mind, like, forever. Constantly. Even right now, as I write this post, a part of my brain wants me to switch over to the tab in my browser where I track how many copies of my book I’ve given away to see how many it’s increased because I just started a new ad campaign (How many clicks has it received? How many impressions?).

Part of me needs those numbers, because they are really the primary confirmation I have that anything I’m doing matters. I don’t have a job where profits are a good measure of success (in fact, that’s one number I’ve never kept track of, and literally have no idea — I couldn’t even ballpark it — what that number might be for this year, other than “not many”). Because in the work that I do, the only measure of success is if what I’ve done has made someone’s world a bit brighter, warmer, cozier, safer. And there’s no number for that, so I take what I can get._


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But the bigger part of me knows I not only do not need those numbers, but need to try as much as I can to divorce myself from them. When I write a new article on IPM, if it doesn’t get 1,000 shares and at least 20,000 views in the first 24 hours, I consider that a failure. That’s my benchmark. But I know, deep down inside, that nothing about what I do is that cut-and-dry, that I can’t quantify an article’s effectiveness in that way. Yet I fall into that trap on a regular basis, and sometimes find myself trying to figure out what made one article work when another didn’t. That is why this is all so dangerous, and why I need to separate myself from these numbers.

There is no way I can figure out the true reason why one thing I do leads to more numbers while another doesn’t. There just isn’t. I can guess, or really dig into the data and make an educated guess, but it’s all guessing. Anyone who tells you otherwise has a faith I don’t ascribe to, and a confidence (cockiness) I don’t possess. Hubris angers the gods.

The only thing I can do, the way I can best serve, is to continue to let things flow from my heart, unfiltered or unchecked by my mind (Will this get a lot of shares? What will the conversion rate be? What’s the ROI? Is it worth the time?), and know that the only verification I need is the peace I feel within knowing I’m doing my best.

I am taking little steps toward living that philosophy. I’m hoping this project will help. But I’m a long way from being there. In the meantime, I have about 50 different analytics reports to check before I go to the bathroom.

Ooo! I gave away 12 books while writing this post! Do you know what that means? Because I don’t.