I’m a numbers freak.
I like looking at numerical figures, stats and graphs, and tables and charts just to see if they’re moving.
But don’t get too excited now.
I’m not great at Math. I just find numbers interesting.
At one point, a certain number symbolizes growth, progress, prosperity, power, greatness, and success. At some point, the same number exhibits the complete opposite.
For instance, the number 10 is great for a lot of people when it signifies perfection but not so great for some folks when it denotes the last place in a competition.
My fascination with numbers
When I was a child, I liked watching cars.
For half an hour when I wasn’t doing what children my age would normally do (play, eat, whine, sleep, repeat), I would sit at the porch with my pen and paper and start tabulating. I would tick mark each car passing by in front of our house, the ones that caught my attention and would classify them according to color.
I was only 7 back then so it was not complicated.
But had a car salesman randomly asked me what specific car color was the most popular, I would have said red on a Monday, white on a Tuesday and blue and black the rest of the week. It also varied depending on the month and when something beyond the ordinary was taking place in the neighborhood like birthday parties or a summer exodus of travelers who were clogging roads nearby causing major traffic, resorting to our streets for shortcuts to their destinations.
And I would have handed over my crumpled pages of crude and untampered with statistical research with confidence, pride and yes, integrity.
Over time, I got more sophisticated.
I would classify the cars according to their manufacturers and label those I couldn’t spell under OTHERS.
Of course, OTHERS would always have the greatest number of tick marks.
Nothing much has changed
When I became a freelance writer, I would measure my success by the number of 5-star ratings I would earn from my clients. And because I strived to get only 5-stars, even the 4.97 on my list was never good enough.
After I had published my first novel, I monitored my sales page like a hawk for the next six weeks. When my sales were up, I was happy. When they’re down, I was disappointed. And when I had zero, I was incredibly depressed.
It was my intro to the indie author’s topsy-turvy world which was almost like a salesman’s.
It was feast or famine but you didn’t want to give up because you were driven by your passion to create and that tiny window of opportunity you may hit a gazillion loyal fans or sales over time.
The case of the zeroes
One night, I went to the tunnel of deliriously depressed when I saw the big zero percent plastered everywhere on the analytics page of my novel’s website.
I had installed an app to monitor the number of page-visits or hits my website earned daily and I would religiously check the stats for movement.
That’s how I gauged my success back then as a writer.
If my website’s visitor page was low, I was not good enough.
So, the first night of hanging out with the zero percent plastered on my analytics page while I worked on my website was not fun but it was tolerable.
Nine days later, the annoying circle seemed to have overstayed its welcome.
I started feeling more depressed.
I began to question my skills as a fiction writer, my effectiveness as an indie publisher, and my likeability as a person.
The self-doubt started to creep in.
I started watching TV again and scrolling on my social media sites without posting, just trolling, for hours and was appalled when I realized I was enjoying it.
But what had happened was
Then one night, I looked at the analytics page of my website again and stared at the zeroes with a heavy heart, ready to abandon the promising draft of the sequel of my first novel that I’d been working on, stung by the mocking blank page on my personal computer.
As if virtually poked, my eyes veered towards the bright red section of the web page and started reading the texts below the box with the zero percent.
And then it hit me.
As it turned out, the analytics app on my page had been disabled because my website already reached the free app’s visitor threshold.
The free app would only track a thousand or fewer visits per month but my website’s visitors had already exceeded a thousand visits which set the counter to zero and disabled the app.
And the only way for the app to work again was for me to upgrade and pay for the service.
As it turned out, I was just a depressed, sour cheapo who was so blinded by the big zero and what it signified I had failed to look at the “bigger picture”.
I couldn’t believe I wallowed in depression for a week when I was supposed to have been celebrating.
The moral of the story
There is more than one moral lesson to this story but I’ll pick the one that hit me the most.
Obsessing with numbers is foolish.
Had I focused on the zeroes I would have abandoned the craft that holds so much meaning in my life: the passion to write and tell stories that can change lives.
Art is not measured by the number of likes online, on social media, or any other counter available to us to gauge if we’re making traction among our audiences.
Art is about creating an impact on the lives of those who come in contact with what we have created.
It’s about providing inspiration, igniting passion and persuading our audiences to take action so they can be entertained by the stories we tell, pay attention and listen to the message we want to convey, learn from our successes and failures, absorb significant amounts of information we have already gathered for them, all for one important goal: to make their lives better.
Art just like life is not one dimensional
When I was focused on the zeroes, I neglected the uplifting messages my readers had sent to me after they’ve read my novel which should have trumped all the uplifting numbers on any analytics page out there.
A 68-year old lady felt like she was young again.
A Millennial was inspired to leap on an adventure even if she didn’t know where it would take her.
An immigrant was reminded of her core values despite being thousands of miles away from home.
A young mother marveled at the beauty of cross-cultural and interracial relationships.
A blogger was inspired to feel content with her life.
A child of hardworking immigrants was grateful to learn what her parents had probably given up to provide a better future for her.
This goes beyond artists
What I learned about the zeroes does not only apply to artists like writers or anyone who has created an idea, product or service marketed to a specific market in any given niche.
It’s for everyone.
I learned we have to stop compartmentalizing and focusing on our self-created barometers because life is too dear just to be measured and constricted by numerical figures.
Don’t get me wrong.
I understand we have goals and it’s wise to reach our goals through systems smartly set in place.
But that’s not the end-all and be-all of success.
To measure life through mere numbers is to inhibit us from enjoying the scenic routes throughout our journey in life because we’re too focused on solving the potholes on the road first.
That’s not to say fixing the potholes and cracks throughout our journey is not important.
But they’re not as important and satisfying as the warm sunlight and the gentle breeze kissing your face while you marvel at the breathtaking view along the pothole-ridden roads on your way to your destination.
I know the more idealistic, undoubtful, stronger and purer tick-marking 7-year old self would have agreed with that more than a hundred percent.