love – hate relationship with numbers


Despite having worked for 7 years in an industry where numbers are used everyday, I must confess I’m not very good with numbers. Some friends used to joke that they should start selling shares in the company when I first joined, for how can someone who can’t do 1+1 without a calculator be a manager there?!

Well, somehow I managed. But yes, the company’s share price fell 50% over the last 7 years. I’d like to think I wasn’t the one who caused it.

However, it’s a fact that I’m coming to terms with. Numbers are simply not my strongest point. I flunked calculus and physics in school, and just could not grasp the concept of how to calculate momentum or redox actions. I failed the CFA Level I exam – twice.

To this day, I do not know how to calculate profit margin off the top of my head. I even have to google it to remind myself what the term actually means. Give me a financial report with cash flow statements, P&L and budgets, and I’d rather you shoot me in the head right here and now. Of course, I learnt to read some of the analysis, and know that something went up and something came down, and what were the important ratios when I was doing the job.

Perhaps I had no confidence in my ability for anything numerical and so just shied away from it all. On the contrary, I thrived with literature, words, language, prose, poetry! I’d actively sign up for debate competitions, essay contests and even book report competitions when I was a kid. I think I won quite a few of them too 🙂

Yet, I’m obsessed with numbers.

I looked everyday on my own spreadsheets back then, at how many client visits I had done, and chuckled when I topped the list of the department. I kept a tab on my sales targets, only able to manage a smile when I had exceeded them by 30%. Then of course, it was how much money I had in the bank account and how my funds and stocks were moving.

Even today, I worry my head off with numbers. How much have I spent at the doctor’s this month, how many people saw and read my articles and blurbs and blog, what is my bounce rate, how many subscribers, how many comments…

I became giddy when the line chart spikes up, and I get sad and disappointed when it drops.

recover from depression, improve self awareness, international executive, banking, hate numbers, disappointment, achievements, be me,

Somehow, I had let these numbers define me to my own detriment.

Is there a direct causal relationship between the quality of my writing and number of readers? Surely content is fundamental but it is not the whole story.

And does a larger amount in my bank account savings correlate to my happiness and inner peace?

Well, it has been proven that it doesn’t, at least in my case. If anything, these two seem to be inversely proportional to each other for me.

So I wonder, why am I putting so much emphasis on more, higher, bigger, larger, all the time? Numbers give us a benchmark of course, for improvement, for progress, for analysis. But, numbers should not box us up and control our directions.

So I’m just going to do what I love and write, and not let the number of views bother me, well at least, not bother me that much.

Be me.

25 Responses

  1. Nigel Chua says:

    Hey Noch

    I totally understand what you mean – I look at numbers and data every single day in all I do, be it in our business (if the marketing budget accounts for the sales, if the accounting is sound, if this, if that); in my online businesses (like yourself, bounce rates, hit rates, readers etc) and even in our personal accounts and finances.

    To live with numbers is tough. To live without it…also tough. Sigh.

    Perhaps, I need to learn how to balance and see which numbers are the most important ones, and ignore the not-so-important ones. Am thinking of dropping no-so-important stuff in my life too, and focus on what that matters.

    Create the best content you can.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Nigel

      I suppose that’s the real, decide which numbers are important for us, and those that aren’t, forget about them. And to not let the numbers going up and down affect our emotions so much
      I used to have a friend who would swear every time the market went down, but why the anguish, it will always come back up !

      Noch Noch

      • Nigel Chua says:

        Hahaha, i think it’s back to the previous conclusion we reached, which is to focus and dwell on things that do matters, after all, Noch.

        • nochnoch says:

          Hi Nigel

          Indeed – I sometimes think what matters is to eat good food. I lost my appetite for almost a year. These days I’m better. I loved eating. I’m trying to cook a bit more to revive my appetite. Trying my hand at desserts. I put some photos on my pinterest of food i’m making 🙂
          find me if u are on!

          noch Noch

  2. The Vizier says:

    Hi Noch Noch,

    I am also bad at numbers. I did badly for my math in school. Even though I have a degree in Banking and Finance, I have very little aptitude for things that involve numbers of any kind. I think the main reason for this is that I cannot appreciate the meaning behind the need for numbers. If I could, then I would apply myself more diligently.

    I think the key here is balance. While numbers are necessary and it is vital that we track certain numbers, we should not become too obsessed with it. The most important thing is to find something that is meaningful to us and to stick at it. That is where we derive the greatest pleasure and purpose from in life.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Irving

      Hi again 🙂
      Always love hearing from you. That’s well said, it’s balance, and also what Nigel mentioned too. Balance. What helps us; and what doesn’t, we need to get rid of. The meaning of our lives should come within us. That’s what I’d like to find 🙂
      Noch Noch

  3. This is a great point and a great post. When the cycle begins to get overbearing we have to step back and realize that the whirlwind is no longer serving our basic needs.

    But what about all those numbers? When you get the chance to step back and focus on the things you love, the numbers are going to pop back up. Maybe there’s a different focus or need for the numbers. They are clues to your own mindful life and perspective, maybe it isn’t as concrete in finances.

    Could the numbers be something else?

    And if they could, are you open to a change? I’m not talking about work or output.

    A change in perspective…?


    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Brian

      Appreciate the thought-provoking question. Perspective!!! Same numbers, different perspective, and different emotions. It could indeed be telling us a message. When we see the big picture, we can understand what it is about and why, but not let ourselves get hooked into it negatively. That’s a great addition, the numbers are “dead”, but we are “alive”, and it’s up to our interpretations!!!

      Noch Noch

  4. nochnoch says:

    i’m loving all the comments here so decided to leave one myself

    numbers send us a message. it’s what kind of numbers we look at – BALANCE, and how we interpret them – PERSPECTIVE!!!

    thanks for the wisdom guys!!!

    Noch Noch

  5. Antonia says:

    I’ve had an on again off again love affair with numbers myself, so I really enjoyed the post! I believe balance is important. Does it have heartfelt meaning? Is it of value to others? Are those who’d find it valuable able to find it? Cheers!

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Antonia

      How are you? Thanks for coming by! Those are great questions to ask, and questions I had not thought of asking. Is it of value to others? Perhaps a lot of times it doesn’t, and there is no soul in the numbers. Thanks for adding in the great thoughts to the post!

      Noch Noch

  6. Hi Noch!

    I hate numbers too… Well the kind that they teach at schools! And I’ve fallen for the data trying to analyze my life by numbers. But then I remember that on a deeper level, we don’t really own anything anyway.

    And I sure don’t want to be owned by the numbers and statistics! I want to limit the numbers to the fingers on my hands. At least that’s tangible! 🙂

    Thank you!

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Vlad

      haha that’s funny way of doing it – limit numbers to fingers on your hands. I like that. What about toes though? :p

      Thanks for coming by again!! Always count on you to add some interesting thoughts to the discussion!

      Noch Noch

  7. Mark K. says:

    Now that I know it will make you happy, I’ll stop by your blog a few dozen times a day!

    Seriously, I think the way math is taught, probably around the world, is like training mice by shocking them. It’s amazing anyone likes math.

    Where numbers matter to you, you enjoy them and find meaning and do fine, from the sounds of it.

    Any one person can’t be an expert in everything, leave a few topics for others to master 🙂

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Mark

      haha – pls, pls refresh your browser every 5 minutes on my blog, that way I get more views but also a low bounce rate ahahahhahaha 🙂
      Just kidding

      That’s true, it’s weird huh, those who like maths. But my Dad is a PhD in pure maths – whatever that means… It’s all a book of symbols. for them it’s language. And maths is the basics of music, and quantum physics and chemistry and all that. So I suppose there is some use to it. But not the way it was stuffed into my brain. Plus, if i don’t like it, i don’t

      fine, i’ll just be an amazing writer and leave maths to others hahaha j/k

      Noch Noch

      • Mark K. says:

        Some time ago I had bookmarked the answer to the question about what it feels like to understand very advanced math. You might find it interesting, at least in understanding your father. It’s

        I hate to embarrass you, because you are a humble person. That is one of the great things about you. But you are well on your way to being an amazing writer–and truthfully–I find your writing pretty amazing already.

        It’s true, the culture in the US may be quite different from your home. Here, our problem tends to be *overestimating* ourselves! 😉 But I think you should set your sights high and believe in your ability to do just about anything you set your mind to. Everything in your life tells me you can!

        • nochnoch says:

          Hi Mark

          You touched on a good point, I think the culture difference also means that I’m not very comfortable with praising myself as we were taught not to brag about anything, and there is always something to improve. But I will trust in your words, and thank you for your compliments. I will shoot for the moon indeed!! 🙂

          As for the maths question, that’s indeed interesting. It’s almost like an advanced understanding of poetry and words. I sent it to my dad, see if he agrees haha

          Noch Noch

  8. Annie Andre says:

    Noch Noch,
    OMG, you did it again. I had this same experience. I’ve been an analyst in various industries for over a decade and majored in economics. It was my worst class in school and i flunked my first macro and micro classes.

    Numbers havn’t been my strong point yet i was highly paid for my analytical expertise which i had to work really hard to acquire while other talents come more easily and naturally. I’m with you, i have not and will not let numbers drive me as much anymore.
    Let us work on our sweet spots. 🙂

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Annie

      Funny, we cannot by now, deny any more, that we are great minds for we think too alike ahhaha
      Yup indeed – sweet spots on we go!!
      Thanks for sharing your experience

      Noch Noch

  9. Justin Mazza says:

    Hi Noch,
    I was the same way with numbers when I started my blog. Always checking my stats and such. Now I don’t focus on numbers so much, instead I focus on providing real value to others.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Justin

      That’s great advice – thanks! It’s the value we create for others and ourselves thats more important. Like you also said on your blog – it’s about good content!!! 🙂

      Noch Noch

  10. Yuri says:

    Heck, if you hate numbers you’re really going to hate accounting. I’ve been taking accounting for nearly 3 years and each time i walk out the classroom door I felt like I was talking to myself in numbers.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Yuri – haha, that’s a funny imagery, to talk to yourself in numbers. Do you understand yourself? 🙂
      Accounting is the worst, I always failed that section in my CFA exams!!!!
      Noch Noch

  11. Katie says:

    I’m terrible with numbers. But I adore all things literature, music, and art. I’m dyslexic and depressive though. So I haven’t done much with my passion since High School because I have no energy.

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.