Not Just Another Number
I believe in the power of numbers. As a lawyer and an avid runner, I spend most of my day juggling numbers. Did I run 6 or 7 miles this morning? Was my pace really just a 9 minute mile? Have I burned 500 calories yet? And then at the office – have I billed 8 hours today? Was that telephone call .2 or .3? Is my hearing at 8:30 or 9 tomorrow morning? In Department 5 or 11?
When I started thinking about the power of numbers in my life, I realized that it extends beyond running and lawyering. Did I get 8 hours of sleep last night? Am I supposed to take the 210 or the 110 freeway? Is there enough money in my account to cover that $87 check I just wrote?
And then one morning, as I was lying in bed feeling guilty for skipping my 6-mile run because I had only gotten 7 hours of sleep and worrying that I would probably gain ½ a pound for missing my workout, I realized that the power of numbers can be dangerous. The power of numbers can make my head spin and reduce me to a decimal place or one tiny square on a sheet of graph paper. But at the same time, the numbers are what organize me. They provide the structure that I crave and would sorely miss if it were gone.
The secret, I realized, is in learning to control the numbers, and not to let them control me. The numbers do provide structure, but they don’t have to define me. The world will not end if I run 3 miles instead of 6 this morning, or if I only bill 5.4 hours today.
Most of my life has been a struggle against the numbers – to score a little higher on the next test, to run a bit faster in the next race, or to squeeze in one more meeting this week. But for what? The classes I most enjoyed are not necessarily the ones where I made the best grades. And the best race I’ve ever run was also one of the slowest, when I took the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery around me and help a new friend cross the finish line. And the evenings I most look forward to are the ones where I go straight home and cook dinner with my husband, rather than rushing off to yet another meeting.
So I believe in the power of numbers, but I also believe in the power to rise above them. To understand that I am more than a 5-foot 4-inch, 120-pound woman, armed with a calculator and a stopwatch. I am more than the sum of all those numbers in my life, and when the giant spreadsheet in my head threatens to swallow me up, I need to remember that the real power is knowing when to walk away from the numbers. And just be happy. At least for the next 30 minutes . . . .
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.