The Curse Of Being A Quantitative Person With A Qualitative Life

I find myself in a bit of a quandary. I have a quantitative mind. Like most Americans, I like to see measurable results. Numbers are tidy. They tell a clear story. In this country, we like our charts, percentages, and statistics. You don’t need to look any further than our school system to recognize that truth. Our kids’ successful futures seem to hinge entirely upon grade point averages and optimal scores on the SAT and ACT exams. I did poorly at standardized tests. In fact, based on my marginal scores on the ACT exam, the University of Colorado at Boulder predicted I would be a solid C student. I graduated CU, however, with a solid B+ average. You see, what CU didn’t count on is that despite my desire to be a person who is successful by quantitative measure, I am not. It’s only through subjective assessment that I excel. Standardized tests might tell you that I’m average. My professors might suggest something different.

I’ve been thinking this weekend about how much of a struggle I cause for myself by being a person who would like to measure my success with numbers when there are no figures that can assess my current career. Oh, sure. You could log the number of miles I put in driving my boys to and from private school. You could maybe record the number of hours I spend working with them on their homework per week. I suppose you could even run a statistical analysis on the way I manage our grocery bills. But, none of that is impressive. Grocery bills and carpool hours are not consequential. I’m not increasing sales or cutting corporate losses by millions of dollars. I’m not earning large bonuses or shattering glass ceilings. There’s no way to quantify my effectiveness in my current job, despite the desire my numbers-oriented mind has to do just that.

Because of this discrepancy between the amount of effort I put out and the lack of measurable results I see and accolades I receive, I often feel unsuccessful. As I have reflected on this over this weekend, though, I’ve realized that my need to feel successful has occasionally overshadowed the importance of what I do. What should matter the most is what I know in my heart, which is that I have followed through on what I set out to do. Eleven years ago I made a choice. I chose to stay home with my boys rather than to continue working. I did this because I know I’m an all or nothing gal. I knew if I was working, I’d be wishing I was home with my children; and if I was at home with my children, I’d be thinking about all I had to do at work. I didn’t want my attention to be scattered, so I made a decision. I chose to pull myself out of the numbers game. All this time, though, I’ve continued holding myself accountable to a measurable standard that cannot exist in the role of stay-at-home parent.

Certainly there are more things in this life that are measured in terms of subjective quality rather than objective quantity. Every day there is one sunrise and one sunset, but there is no way to determine which is more breathtaking. There are billions of people on the planet, but each one has unique gifts to offer and there’s no way to measure which of those matter the most. Why do I care if I’m not winning any awards? Would an award make my children love me more? Would it prove I’m a better mother? Does not winning an award prove I’m not worth my carbon matter? I think it’s time to pull myself out of the quantitative world I grew up in. I need to let my competitive mindset go and release my mind from the bonds of measurable assessment. I know I’ve never been great at standardized evaluations. I’m doing the best of which I am capable. By those terms, I am incomparable. That should be enough.


  1. Like, like, like. Wish this piece could be front page news, on a banner behind an airplane, plastered on the faculty break-room in every school, and the gist of it at the end of each
    political campaign message.

  2. I have been thinking a lot about this post for a couple of days. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we divide up our life into quantitative/qualitative, seeing one part of our lives as this and the other as that. Yes we each have natures that are endowed with various levels of abilities: quantitative, emotional, sensory, intuitional. I think it is all included in the one life we live, the one which issues from my proper relation to myself at the given instant and with regards to the quality of my attention to what is at hand.

    This is probably a case of semantics, how you have stated it, how I have understood or misunderstood what you have stated. I know, but the danger comes when we reduce ourselves to two or three when in fact we are in essence, one. It isn’t like ‘over here is the quantitative person and over here is the qualitative life’. The ‘qualitative life’ to my mind at least, is the examined life and that includes all areas of psychological functioning. And in the end I don’t think the well-lived life is a matter of measurable results, how miles logged in on the odometer for whatever purpose. I believe the life of quality is better measured by the peaceful heart that ensues when one is doing the right thing and that measure is of the instant. No need to wait for the pie charts.

    I think in the final analysis, the kind of job one is doing by being a stay-at-home parent is best left to the subjective verdict of that parent. I think if we are perceptive and attentive we know in our hearts when we are letting ourselves, and our significant others, down.

    I have a hunch we are on the same page here but coming from different directions. Thanks for the post, Justine.


    1. Ken…my main point, I suppose, is that what I do is not open to measurable assessment, at least not in terms of tangible rewards, accolades, or pay raises. Still…I’m struggling to feel worthwhile without those things. I’ll get through it. 🙂

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