Although I know there are men who feel this way too, I’ve met way too many intelligent women who are just plain afraid of numbers. Or maybe rather than a fear of numbers it’s more that they simply don’t like them. Words can help tell a story. But numbers? What can they tell us?
I’ve always loved numbers. As a kid, I did well in math (don’t hate me) and even used to follow stocks in the local newspaper. I’d pretend I had money invested in them. My own fantasy stock market!
A tale of two views
It was fun thinking about things in my own life like movie companies and sodas and cereal, and seeing that they had actual stocks adults could invest in. For me, numbers always told a story. Just like words did. Only with numbers, you had to connect the dots. Which I enjoyed doing.
But I get that MANY people, especially women, do not share my delight. When they see numbers or hear someone talking about them, their eyes begin to roll. And their fear of numbers sets off a brain alert: “Numbers coming. Get me outta here now!”
Why making friends with numbers really matters
Numbers affect your career, your financial success, and even how you live your daily life. Negotiating for a salary. Having retirement savings. Knowing if your bank statements have mistakes. Not looking like a deer in the headlights when you have to figure out how to split a lunch check.
It breaks my heart to see women letting their fear of numbers control them by giving it so much power. The more you reinforce the feeling “I hate numbers”, the more you push away life possibilities. Things that can help you on every level of life.
But making friends with numbers — I mean really taking the time to make this your goal — can open up so many doors!
I’m also a career coach. So I cannot emphasize enough how much of your career success depends on feeling comfortable with numbers. Time to stop leaving them to other folks, who are more than eager to step over you to the top. Time to stop letting them have the advantage!
Where would I even start?
Let’s say you decide to give numbers a try. Instead of being blocked by your fear of numbers, you want to really dig in and make peace with them. And you want to learn how to find beauty in the stories they can tell us. (OK. I know I may be pushing it now.)
First, take a deep breath. I’m serious. When we face things we don’t enjoy, we often tighten our gut and hold our breath. Breathe. Tell yourself “I’m going to finally learn to enjoy working with numbers.” Keep breathing. In and out.
Next, let yourself believe that it’s not that you can’t do numbers. It’s that you never were shown how to do it in a way that makes sense. And, in some cases, they really can tell a story. Keep telling yourself that you can get much better at understanding and using numbers. You can!!
Getting your hands into the numbers clay
Let’s look at a simple equation: 5 + 3 = 8
What? That’s ridiculously simple. I know. Well, once you practice working with numbers that seem more complicated now, it will feel that easy for you. So next, let me show you a simple project budget. Something that you will probably need to understand as you move up in your career.
Total money for the project = $1,000
I know. That’s simple also. The reason I used it is to let you see that your eyes don’t need to glaze over. And you can absorb numbers. It just might be that lots of them at one time can be overwhelming.
But if you begin by seeing them one at a time, you can start to make friends with numbers. Slowly allow yourself to discover what they tell you. It doesn’t happen all at once. So be gentle on yourself and remain open, even if it still feels hard. This takes time, but you can do it.
BONUS EXERCISE: Make up a story about that budget. What could the project be? Who’s doing it? What’s so special about it? Now think about anything left out of the above budget for your imagined project. Try updating it to include your changes. Hopefully the numbers come easy now.
A few final thoughts
If you do have a fear of numbers, it’s probably something ingrained in you since early childhood. No one article is going to magically make that disappear for you. Just know that it is not set in stone. You might even surprise yourself by how good you get at it.
But even if the only thing you take away from this article is “maybe I can” then I will have done my job. Learning to get past your fear of number s — or just dislike — really is a one step at a time thing.
And sometimes opening yourself to something you thought was impossible, can also opens other doors. Oh how much richer in so many ways life can be on the other side of fear!
Feel free to add your own thoughts, experiences and any solutions you found that can help others!
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