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 for some people it’s simply that they don’t really connect to them.
Words can help tell a story. Words can delivery nuances of meaning. But numbers? What can they tell us? Well, they can tell us a lot. Especially if you make them your friends.
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. And watched the numbers (prices) tell me a story of value but also market psychology. My own fantasy stock market!
But I get that MANY people, especially women, do not share my delight. Instead, when they see numbers or hear someone talking about them, their eyes begin to glaze over. And their fear of numbers sets off a brain alert: “Danger. Danger. Numbers coming. Shut off brain. And get me out of here!”
Making friends with numbers 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 especially letting their fear of numbers control them by giving it so much power. And the more you reinforce the feeling “I hate numbers” or let it rule the moment, 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. Your level of “number friendliness” can either close doors in your face or open you up to exciting opportunities. Even running your own business.
So let’s decide that — even if this feels impossible as you read it –it is time to stop leaving numbers (and good career opportunities) to other folks. There will always be someone more than eager to step over you to the top. Stop letting them have the advantage!
Where to even start not to fear numbers?
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. Or you’re too stupid. Or some people are good with them but it’s not your thing. That’s all self-limiting talk. And it’s not true. Even if you never become a numbers genius, you can get better at using them. And better can also open up possibilities.
You have to let go of the picture you have of you and numbers never being friends, and open up your arms (and mind) to them. You aren’t lacking the ability to improve. It’s that you never were shown how to do it in a way that makes sense to you. Or in a way you can easily relate to.
Just so you know, numbers really can at times tell an interesting story once you start looking for it. With patience, tine, and determination after a while they almost start talking to you. Just keep telling yourself that you DO have the ability. And start letting go of that fear of numbers weighing you down..
Just know that you CAN get much better at understanding and using numbers. Because if you start to believe it — and slowly practice easing into understanding them — you really can!!
Getting your hands into the numbers
Let’s look at a simple equation: 5 + 3 = 8
What? That’s ridiculously simple. I know. But, once you practice working with numbers that would seem more complicated now, it will feel that easy for you.
So now let me show you a simple project budget. Something that you will probably need to understand as you move up in your career. Or your own busines. Or renovate your home.
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 feel more comfortable with them. Slowly taking the in and 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 — and practice — and patience — 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 more easily now. And you can start to see what I mean by numbers telling a story.
A bit more on fear of numbers
If you find numbers off-putting, 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 with your new “friends”.
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 numbers — or just dislike of them– really is a one step at a time thing. And it can get easier each time you try.
ALSO … sometimes opening yourself up to something you thought impossible — and facing a fear — can open other doors. Even if you fail this time, you dared to try. Oh how much richer in so many ways life can be on the other side of fear!
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