Zac Massey
5 min readOct 29, 2020

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There is No Number in This Headline

But this article still might change your life.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Starting this article by breaking a tried and true method to get you to read it probably is not the smartest thing to do, but here goes. Failure-1, Me-0. If we buck this trend and you read on , let’s explore how measuring our lives with experiences, emotions, and relationships is the far more fulfilling route, and that numbers are just that…..numbers.

Numbers are a paradox of life

How much money do you make? How many years of experience do you have? What’s your GPA? Is that girl or guy across the bar a 7 or a 9? Credit scores, 401k balances, QBR (that’s Quarterback rating for non sports folks)…the list goes on and on.

We humans have this nasty habit of reducing everything in life to numbers, and while they are helpful in providing relative success and tangible values so we are all speaking the same language, they also miss the mark in so many ways. The true paradox of this way of thinking is that we are social creatures, so numbers miss the mark in TRULY measuring ANYTHING.

Making less money might mean you have more time for your passions. That person with 1 year on the job might be a quick learner and have way more potential than the 10 year disgruntled underperformer. That girl or guy your buddy says is a 7 might be the most incredible person you have ever met (I might be a 6 on a good day, and the lighting is bad in that bar anyway). I’m sure you see where we are going with this.

Survey your memories

Take a minute and survey a few memories from your life. Joyful experiences, painful lessons, big wins, and incredible nights.

I’m guessing you can’t remember the numbers on the radio dial the first time you heard that song, or how much the tab was at that family dinner where you laughed until your side hurt. I would also venture to guess that you don’t remember how much money you lost when you got fired or missed that account, but you probably remember the feeling of hearing that voice of a friend on the other end of the line telling you they believe in you and this too shall pass.

Probably all pretty obvious huh? The hard part is putting it into action…..

Family minus Numbers

“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream”- George W Bush

I couldn’t resist that one. But the irony here is that I bet you a group of beautiful wings magically lifting into the clouds to “take dream” in front of an angel band, still creates a stronger image than “Our family brought home 175k last year.” (I’ll buy The first person to email me the two John C. Reilly connections there a beer by the way).

Here’s where family minus the numbers comes in.

Instead of spending 20 minutes in the shower fretting about that 10 thousand dollar bonus, hurry up and get out and build a lego tower with your kids and watch the look on their faces when it comes crashing down. (Mine like to play “buckin bronco”, where they basically ride me like a horse and slip disks in my back, but the uncontrollable belly laughs from my daughter can put a smile on a mortician.) I certainly don’t do it enough.

Instead of staring at the number on a bill, sit down with your spouse and plan that trip, or reminisce about your wedding day if you really want to remember why you’re still on this crazy ride together.

Instead of scrolling mindlessly at the numbers of phony instagram likes, call your mom just to talk. Ask her what her favorite memories of you as a child are, and like most mom’s do, she’ll remind you that you are special.

Work minus the Numbers

This is the hard one. Unless you’ve unlocked your inner Tim Ferris or Joe Rogan, most of us still trade our time, effort, and self worth to work with not nearly enough satisfaction to show for it. That’s where we let those soul-sucking numbers rule us.

If I could just get that next promotion. If I could just get extra 5 dollars an hour. If I could just hit that sales quota.

It’s all too apparent that 99% of us turn these wins (when we actually get them) into another liability that necessitates the next set of numbers.

Flip this on its head. Let us focus on relationships. Ask yourself, what if I could just create a FRIEND that would keep in touch with me when I’m gone? If I could have a good laugh with a co-worker today. If I could do something nice for someone or help them out with no expectation of reciprocation. What if I could learn a skill today that will stay with me forever?

When you leave, and you will leave, how will you FEEL about your time there, how will they FEEL about your time there? And most importantly, what will persist that a firing or resignation or change of heart won’t be able to take away.

Life minus the Numbers

It is said that prior to his 1914 Antarctic expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton categorized the 5,000 applicants he received for the harrowing journey into three categories- Mad, Hopeless, and Possible.

The Endurance expedition they were about to undertake could be the subject of an entire article on why focusing on numbers and probabilities is a terrible idea, but let us focus on the categories of his applicants for clues on how to live life minus numbers.

Focusing solely on money, likes, or the lack thereof might be the most common cause of driving the modern person “Mad”. Rising levels of mental health issues, and historically low levels of a sense of meaning and purpose whether at work or at home bear this out.

Being “Hopeless” in reference to Shackleton’s categorization would be similar, in that these souls lacked intelligence, mental fortitude, or physical capability. We often get categorized this way by ourselves or others in modern times using the same numbers that fail to tell our story. You’re SAT score is too low, your credit score is too low, you don’t have enough followers, or can you even bench-press your weight? None of them tell our story or define us.

But what about “Possible”? Is it possible to make money writing? Is it possible to take an incredible vacation with your family on a limited budget? Is it possible to pass on some overtime and fill your soul on a mountain or at the beach?

Is it possible that 40,000 is greater than 100,000?

Yes, yes, and yes. But it’s up to you, not the numbers.

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