I was with my 9 year old niece recently and she was reading to me from one of her Choose your own adventure books (which I remember from my childhood and which I absolutely loved). She is reading and understanding pretty complicated words for her age. When I told her how great I thought her reading was she proceeded to tell me that she was only in level X (can’t remember exactly which number she said) but her friend was in a higher level than her. And it hit me! The bloody numbers game has already begun for her and she hasn’t even hit double digits yet.
It isn’t enough just to be able to read (which on its own is a pretty extraordinary achievement I think) – students are allocated a number which defines them in some way. These numbers rank them above and below their peers. While these numbers are often replaced with letters or even colours, our kids are smart and they know what these rankings mean. I know this is not the intention of our schooling systems but it has an impact nonetheless and I have to wonder about how positive this impact is.
As we navigate our way through our school years and through life, these numbers continue to float around in the background, determining where we fit in the world, or even if we fit. Everything from our marks and grades to the number of friends we have, and it doesn’t stop there.
There is the amount of money your parents earn and when you get older, the amount your earn. You are scrutinised if this number is too low and ironically you are judged sometimes even more harshly, if this number is too high. This flows on to what you spend. Are your clothes too expensive, too cheap? Do you spend too much on makeup, electronics, eating out… not enough?
I’m not even sure if I need to mention the number associated with our weight and how that impacts our self esteem and worth. Too skinny, too fat – the numbers that appear on a set of scales are not just numbers, they are an assessment of how healthy we are, how much self control we have, how little self control we have, how beautiful we are, whether we will be seen as attractive to potential partners and the list goes on. Eeeeeekkkkk, will it ever end???
Maybe not! Then we come to Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and all the other social media platforms out there. How many followers, likes, pokes and friends do you have? Believe me, I have been sucked into this web of false self worth myself. I am relatively new to Instagram but even in the few short months that I have been posting I noticed that I had started almost obsessively checking my page to see what my numbers were doing. I would compare myself to other pages and wonder what was wrong with me because my numbers weren’t growing very quickly. Let alone the not so lovely conversation that occurred in my head when my numbers started going backwards. “OMG I’m useless, they don’t like what I’m sharing, I’m not that talented… that negative little voice went on and on and on.” I had completely lost sight of why I started the page in the first place which was to have a place to express my love of words and images and share inspiring tidbits. It was no longer something I loved, it had become hard work and I realised this had to change. I had to change.
Of course numbers have their place but definitely not as a way of defining who I am as a person. The whole of who I am cannot possibly be squished into a few digits on a piece of paper – it would take an entire essay to effectively capture my essence – maybe an entire novel.
So put your numbers on the shelf and celebrate all of who you are.