As a species us human beings spend an awful amount of time calculating, measuring, monitoring & counting. Over time, humans have become driven and sometimes obsessed with the act of quantifying. We count days. We count time. We weigh our options. We weigh our bodies. We measure progress. We measure success.
Organizations are driven by data, statistics, charts and numbers. Spreadsheets, graphs and P & L statements are microscopically tweaked and manipulated in an insatiable need to make the world black and white and definable.
As a Millennial, I have found myself at arm’s length from the types of roles that call to me due to the number of years’ of experience on my CV. Intellect, passion, drive, commitment and potential are subjugated to the number of years’ of experience listed in chronological order on a CV.
In school and university we are driven to achieve certain grades. Striving for these numbers eclipses the process and the joys of learning. Studying and learning become structured actions we engage in simply to see an aspirational percentage on a transcript. Not only is our academic success measured by numbers, our self-worth and value become intrinsically linked to the numbers on our essays. The higher we set the bar the more disengaged we become with the core reasons why we are doing what we are doing in the first place.
At the office I find nothing more tedious than going cross-eyed in front of a computer monitor, pawing through decimals, formulas and numbers to distill a bigger picture into coarse data and percentages. Programs and projects that involve real people with real emotions and real experiences are deconstructed into an ROI analysis or a red or green number on a spreadsheet denoting progress or regression.
When it comes to our bodies, we reduce food that grows from the earth into a number of calories, our self-worth into the number of kilograms on the scale and our physical activity into the fat burned, the calories torched or the steps taken. We measure inches and grams, height and weight, ‘good enough’ or ‘worthlessness’ and go on to pin these measurements onto our bodies which are in essence simply miracles of biology and unimaginable complexity.
The strength and quality of our marriages is determined by the years we have been together, a year condensed into the number of days of holiday we are allotted, our progress in life by if we have hit certain milestones by certain ages. We are over the hill if not married with children at 40, our children are developmentally behind if they are not reading by 5, and our parents old and infirm once they have surpassed 80.
We compartmentalize, reduce, deconstruct and demolish the human experience into something we can quantify, measure, analyze and judge ourselves and our experiences against. The bank balance, the annual bonus, the weight lost, the years until we are done our degrees or the grade on the exam narrow our focus and boil down our lives into a project, a timeline and a deadline.
We have an awful day when the scale reads a couple pounds heavier. We write off our intelligence and passion when the test comes back with a C-. We fret about our children when they aren’t walking at two. We freeze our eggs when we’re unmarried at thirty.
And at the end of the day where does all this measuring get us?
Endless management meetings to drill down on a percentage point or two, a life of calorie counting and deprivation, an entire education and world of opportunity distilled into a grade point average.
And we are left unhappy. Fearful. Feeling lesser than. Worried. Stressed. Angry. Obsessed. Rigid.
Like with the false belief that life is a linear process, quantifying robs us of the experience of being ourselves, of being free and of being authentic. Quantifying reduces the human life and the human experience into a series of numbers, percentages, grams, hours and days.
I acknowledge that numbers are an unavoidable aspect of human life simply due to the way in which our society is organized. The challenge lies in not letting your life become a series of numbers, countdowns and measurements.
I believe that a shift away from quantifying at both the corporate level and at the personal level would create a much richer and more authentic human experience. I believe that we would connect more authentically, that we would feel more freedom and spontaneity, that we would focus more on what really matters and that we would experience less obsession, frustration, anger and rigidity.
So let’s start by throwing out the scales, by switching off our phones, by bringing ourselves into the moment.
If we’re going to hold on to minutes, let’s spend them being not counting 🙂