I have always considered myself a “numbers person.” I have loved math since before I can remember and if my degree and future job in accounting is any indication, I just really dig numbers! But there is one place in my life where numbers reign that I have begun making a serious, concerted effort to remove. Quite often, I allow numbers, a multitude of them, to determine my worth.
Whether it is a time in a running race, the number of pounds on the scale, a grade on a test (especially my upcoming CPA exam), or the number of pounds I can bench press, numbers have held a dangerous place in my life as far as my identity is concerned. I think I have gravitated toward this mathematical calculation of worth because it is just that—a calculation. And like any good mathematical formula or equation, it has a right answer and a wrong answer.
So often, I value my worth with this equation: if Kaitlin > x, Kaitlin = good. And occasionally, the lesser side is also true (if weight < x, Kaitlin = okay). This seems like a logical mentality, but the danger comes because the inverse means there is a very clear threshold of what is considered wrong. If a get below a 90 on a test, that is not what most people consider a “B” that is failure. A race’s success is not measured by my ability on the day given the circumstances and my training; if I run slower than goal pace, my value as a person drops.
Obviously, I see the illogical side of measuring myself like this, and I can honestly say I have made HUGE strides in this department in the last few years. It is heavily tied to this little bug called “perfectionism” that I have been trying to overcome. I have gotten to a place where I know I just need a 75% to pass the CPA exam and that is ENOUGH. I haven’t weighed myself in almost a year and that has done great things for me mentally and reduced unnecessary preoccupation immensely. I know that I know that I know that my value is in NO way tied to these numbers. But I often fear: do other people know that, too? Do they judge ME based on these numbers? Or even worse, do they believe that I judge THEM based on their numbers?
I think I gravitated towards valuing myself this way because it is quantifiable. What a great way to measure progress, strength, and value, right?! Wrong. Because my weight tells you nothing about my heart; my race times tell you nothing about my perseverance; my bench press tells you nothing about my true, inner strength. And the same goes for YOU. If we can uncover a way to judge value in a black and white way, to divide good and bad, and right and wrong based on a clear threshold, we feel we can control what we think about ourselves and what others will think about us, too. If my value truly rests in achieving a specific pace per mile in a race, weight, or grade in a class, you better believe I am going to do everything in my power to attain that. The problem is, even when we get there, we place MORE value on the next best number, and our self-worth is jeopardized yet again.
(I realize I keep using the “we” and “our” and other plural pronouns—if I am the only crazy that thinks like this, sorry!…But I honestly don’t think I’m alone in this).
I have thought about these things quite often over the last few years, as I wrestled to accept myself and my worth as I am without the constant judgment and pressure of perfectionism. I think it came to a head for me to ramble about it today because of the Turkey Trot I ran this morning. I went out to have fun, see some friends from high school, and just see what my legs could do after only doing long, slow runs for the past month and a half. I haven’t done speed work in a while, so I truly knew there wasn’t going to be a PR (personal record) this morning. I had a blast—it was cold and it was so fun to see so many people rocking this 5k. I crossed the finish line with a time on my watch that I was okay with—not ecstatic, but fairly understandable given my level of training. I shrugged it off and hung around the race with some friends, not really interested in checking out the results because I didn’t think I had done well enough to place anyway. Eventually, my friend wanted to check the results and so we did (she had run a great race and ended up getting first in our age group!). I scanned for my name when she checked her time and couldn’t find it…until I made my way much farther down the page than the time on my watch.
I was surprised to realize that the timing chips on our race bibs did not actually catch our start of the race—they only caught us at the end (sorry if this get convoluted and confusing here…). In large races, it can often take people several minutes to get to the starting line once the gun goes off. To ensure everyone’s times are based on their personal run from the START line to the FINISH line rather than just running a clock from the gun, there are timing strips on our numbers that start our time when we hit the START line. This means that even if you start in the very back, you have a fair reading of your time in the race. Unfortunately, the chips were not enabled for that or were not working this morning, so the 53 seconds it took me to get to the starting line after the gun went off were included in my time on the board.
Here’s where the inadequacy came to play. I was immediately disappointed. Not so much that the extra seconds bumped me from 2nd to 4th in the age group, missing out on a SWEET turkey trophy, but more so, I was uncomfortable because the little time next to my name on the long time sheet of participants showed me as running 53 seconds slower than I actually did.
Now, let’s lay some truth over this big, honkin’ lie. Will anyone actually read my time on that board? Unlikely, as there were over 1,700 runners’ names on that board. If someone I knew did look at my time and knew who I was, would they be disappointed in me? I highly doubt it—they’ve got much better things to do on their Thanksgiving than wonder why I had such a “bad” race or why I am so much “slower” than I used to be. Again, the words “bad” and “slow” are in quotations because these numbers have NO ability to value me as bad or slow. Was my time slower in relation to the person who won? Absolutely. “Slow” as a way to negatively label my identity? Never.
If you get anything out of this rambling slew of paragraphs, I hope it is this: your value cannot be quantified. No one can tell you (including YOURSELF) that you are any less worthy of love, belonging, and connectedness because you do not score properly against the numbers you use to measure yourself. Weight, race times, cycling MPH, grades on a test, GPA, deadlift max, the number of times you’ve been published, the number of friends you have on Facebook—it all reflects NOTHING of your worthiness, value, and beauty. Let’s live in that freedom.