The Numbers That Count

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

I am wearing pink today. Or, rather, I was wearing pink yesterday – inadvertently on Wednesday – when I wrote this post. Apparently all the cool girls wear pink on Wednesdays. But, given that I just learned about this trendy spoof from the movie “Mean Girls” nearly nine years after the movie was released, I think it’s safe to say that I am playing catch-up. Even now, as I publish this post, it is no longer Wednesday and I am no longer wearing pink. Alas, I missed the popularity boat. Again.

One of my favorite bloggers – Alise at Alise…Write! – wrote a raw and honest post yesterday about our obsession with popularity and status, with stats and numbers, with titles and recognition. In the post, she wrote about a painful conversation she had with a literary agent regarding her blog traffic, and how the conversion made her feel discouraged, inadequate, overlooked.

As a blogger, writer, and hope-to-be-published-author who has had very similar conversations myself, I can relate wholeheartedly to the pain and frustration that can come from the numbers game. While there is great joy and fulfillment that comes with pursing one’s passion – whether it is writing, photography, painting, ministry, engineering, teaching, entrepreneurship – there is also a great deal of self-doubt, angst, and disappointment that comes with chasing a dream.

Since I began writing and blogging a little over a year ago, I have discovered an inner truth and satisfaction like nothing I could have imagined. When my dad called to thank me for writing a poignant piece about his mom, I felt sheer bliss. When my husband – a very perceptive critic – praises my work, I can feel my soul smiling. And when someone – whether it is a friend, family member, or stranger – takes the time to read my words and share their thoughts, I am both humbled and amazed.

But, in spite of all of the enjoyment that I get from writing, it has also unleashed attacks of sorrow and torment for which I was (and am) completely unprepared. While the act of writing remains a source of true happiness, the pursuit of success with my writing has allowed doubts and anxieties to enter my life in a most unwelcome way. As satisfying as the act of writing is, there are times when that personal satisfaction just does not seem to be enough, when I want more. More blog traffic, more followers, more pats on the back. There are times when I want to know that this endeavor is more than just a hobby. When I want to be as popular as my friend Alise doesn’t think she is. When I want to know that I am seen, I am heard, I am accepted.

Because, when you get down to it, this writing thing is really more than just the act of writing. It is a soul-baring thing, a cut-myself-open kind of thing. A live-at-the-intersection-of-reason-and-passion kind of thing. A break-myself-free, fall-down-on-my-knees, show-me-mercy kind of thing.

And this chasing-your-dream thing – whatever the dream may be – is painstakingly heart-retching and gloriously beautiful all at the same time. Because, like my astute husband gently pointed out last night, a person who is chasing a dream is pretty damn lucky to be able to chase the dream in the first place.

Alise writes in her post that a flawed “system” might be to blame for the numbers game in the publishing world. People seek out what is safe, thus perpetuating the popularity cycle. We care less about what someone has to say and more about the pretty packaging that the words come in. And we want someone to reinforce what we already know, instead of opening our mind to new ideas.

And I think she is right. But the numbers game extends far beyond the blogging and publishing arenas because – let’s be honest – we are all in this “numbers” game, this massive popularity contest, this pageant of evaluation. Do I make enough money? Is the square footage of my house adequate? Did I accomplish enough billable hours? Are my profits higher than last year? Did I realize more annual sales than my competitor? Do I have enough Facebook friends? Did I get enough “likes” for my latest status update? 

The numbers are everywhere and in everything, each of them a tally mark as we consider whether we are enough, whether we are worthy, whether we belong.

Don’t get me wrong, comparisons and evaluation aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, comparison and evaluation can motivate us and help us to learn, grow, and improve, and one of the easiest way to evaluate something (a book, a blog, a product, a service) or someone (a writer, a doctor, a lawyer, a salesman) is through numbers.

The numbers aren’t the problem. It is the over-reliance on numbers that is the problem, that threatens to kill our spirit slowly, softly, mournfully.

Although the numbers are an inescapable reality of life and a useful tool at times, I must constantly remind myself that life is not about keeping score, as Emily Wiergna writes in this post. Where it really matters – in our families, among our truest friends, in our hearts, with God – there is no scoreboard. There are no numbers. There is no comparison chart.

There are only you and me and us.

Yet, I will be the first to admit that, even though I know that in matters of the heart there is no Jumbotron flashing the latest popularity score and evaluation stats, I am constantly at war with my tendency to seek approval and recognition in the numbers. In fact, I struggle almost daily to avoid the comparison game. I know in my mind that my skill and worth cannot be calculated by the numbers, nor by the amount of external praise and recognition that I receive, but my sensitive spirit doesn’t always listen.

We live in a world where our skill is often evaluated based on numbers – salaries, property values, sales figures, growth projects, bestseller lists, blog followers – and it can be hard, so hard, to remember that our skill and worth as a person – as a friend, a lover, a neighbor, a spouse or partner, a parent or child, a sister or brother – can never be evaluated by numbers.

Unless, of course, you count the number of hours spent laughing, the number of hugs given, the number of tears wiped. The number of cards sent, the number of true friends, the number of meals shared. The number of lives made easier, better because of you.

These are the numbers that I am focusing on today.

These are the numbers that that I will keep in my arsenal of weaponry against the dangerous and pesky voices of doubt and criticism that wage war inside my head.

These are the numbers that count.

What numbers do you focus on?

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This post was inspired by a photo provided by Angie McMonigal Photography as part of our Photo Inspiration Challenge. You can see more of her work on her website or Facebook page.

Please note that my blog has moved from http://www.randomreflecionz.com to http://christineorgan.com. While site traffic will be redirected to the new site for the near future, please make a note of the new URL.

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Comments

  1. says

    Blagh, I needed to read this today. My numbers went way down this week – no rhyme, no reason to it. They dip and sway and never go as high as I’d like. I continually remind myself not to get all neurotic about it, and just keep writing.
    It’s hard.
    Natalie the Singingfool recently posted…On the PorchMy Profile

    • Christie says

      You’re right – just keep writing. That will be our motto. It is hard. Fortunately there are people like you whose support, understanding, and encouragement makes it easier. Thank you.

  2. says

    Yup, yup, yup. I feel the same way. I love writing and I love the creative outlet that is my blog. My writing helps me to sort out my thoughts. But I, like you, often get too wrapped up in the numbers: number of Facebook likes, number of comments, number of outlets who pick up my work (which to date has been only two, despite many submissions). I often have to remind myself why I write. I have to tell myself that I don’t to it for anybody else, I do it for me.

    All that said, I absolutely love your writing. Your is one of the few blogs I check in with regularly. There are so many out there, it’s hard to keep up. But I do try to make the time to check in with you. So, keep it going on and screw the numbers.

    PS, love the new name and look.
    Steph at I’m Still Learning recently posted…Advice for the new mom: a letter to my 29 year old self…My Profile

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