I was in a state of shock as I drove home from the office, the contents of my cubicle packed into three cardboard boxes in my trunk. As I tried to wrap my head around the terms “laid off” and “unemployed,” the news came on the radio. “New statistics just out show that the national unemployment rate has risen to 9.8 percent,” a voice intoned. Great, I thought. I’m a statistic.
In the weeks that followed, I noticed again and again the new importance of numbers in my life: My social security number. My PSG ID number. My Visa bill balance. My Visa bill interest amount. The numbers on my tax returns. The number of weeks I had remaining on my unemployment insurance.
Now, I’m not much of a numbers person. Words are more my area. Numbers, in contrast, are mysterious and a bit scary. Even my own numbers can be overwhelming to me.
I think there’s a danger, when we’re in job transition, that we will allow numbers to define our situation. We pay so much attention to them that we run the risk of losing the words that define us. The nouns: friend, mother, gardener, artist, carpenter, grandfather. The adjectives that describe us: hardworking, dedicated, inventive, funny. Or the verbs that say what we can do: help, love, try, start over, accomplish, persevere.
I’m not going to totally ignore the important numbers in my life. Reality won’t let me, and I try to stay within hailing distance of reality. But I am not a statistic. And I’m not going to lnumbers—whether dollar amounts, percentages, or identification tags—limit my sense of who I am, what I do, and what I can become.