Friday, January 18, 2013

Being Your Numbers

I started my career in sales.  Some would say I have never left.  My first job at nine years old was shining shoes on a street corner in San Francisco.  I took my shoe shine kit and waited near the bus stop with a smile on my face.  The year was 1967 and I lived three blocks from the Haight Ashbury.  Not many people wore shoes and even fewer wanted a shine.  I soon discovered the only way I would get the candy bar or pack of baseball cards I hoped for at the end of the day, was to find another way to make money.  Fortunately the bar on the corner often had an after-school clientele that were happy to buy off this budding entrepreneur with a dime or a quarter.

Over the years I brought my skills for persuasion to many jobs.  I sold newspapers, I managed restaurants, I sold phones and DSL lines, I managed and trained sales people.  I spent two years studying  biology, economics, business, entrepreneurship, language and ethics so I could become a better sales professional.  I became a minister and have been selling transformation, hope and joy - on my best days - for the last decade.  I know the techniques, challenges and possibilities of sales.  And I know the joys and sorrows, hopes and doubts sales people live with every day.  Doubts that are not unique to sales people.

When you are in sales your financial well being, and your general mood, is frequently determined by how much you sell, how much you produce.  This is true in many parts of life.  One day, years ago, a mentor of mine, after hearing my angst and frustration, said "Ah, you're being your numbers."  Being your numbers.  How often do we let the production and activity of our life determine how well we feel about ourselves and our world.  When I was in sales I often battled the sense that how well I was doing was based on how many phones, newspapers, hamburgers I sold.  Over the years that battle has shifted to how many goals I achieve, how many people came to church on Sunday or how many people read this blog or how often I write it.  To name just a few.

I'm not sure who first said it but I first heard it from a minister almost thirty years ago.  "We are human beings, not human doings."  As someone who has been accused of being "Type A" over the years those words were a bit of a jolt.  As were "ah, you're being your numbers."  We are human beings and not human doings.  How well we nurture and affirm our beings might even affect our doings.  One of the invitations Steve Jobs and St. Francis, Silicon Valley and Assisi, calltrepreneurship offers us is the opportunity to be and do.  Meditation, prayer and time in nature help with the being, reminding us that we are connected to something deeper than our latest quarterly report.  Tapping into our creativity, connecting and working with others, serving something larger than ourselves helps with the doing, reminding us that the how is more important than the how many.

I have learned over the years a lesson that I can still forget.  I am more than my numbers.   Whether those numbers are how much I am - or am not - selling, how much I am - or am not - writing, how much  I am - or am not - producing, or how much love I am - or am not - remembering I have.  The danger in being our numbers is that our sense of joy, self-worth, our very being -  is based on something or someone outside of ourselves.  It's okay to like numbers, to enjoy the feeling that getting something done, and done well, gives us.  But when the doing becomes more important than the being we can get in trouble.   Be first.  Do next.  Easy to say, not so easy to live.

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