Build or burn?

‘I’m not good with numbers’

There are some things that even if explained to you a hundred times, it doesn’t make a difference.  No matter how many times it goes in, it comes straight back out again.  I come across a lot of people who say ‘I’m not good with numbers’.  I always think, ‘You are, if only you knew it’.  With a surprisingly small amount of effort they would soon pick it up and then be unable to fathom why it seemed so difficult in the first place.  It’s forcing yourself to try that’s hard.

When people tell me they are not good with numbers, they’re not joking.  It’s like asking them to write with their unfavoured hand: they can do it, but the result is ungainly.  But that’s not the whole truth.  What they’re really saying is I don’t want to be the sort of person that is good with numbers.  That’s not who I am.  My preferences lie elsewhere.  This is not a priority for me.  I’m not prepared to sacrifice other things to pay attention to this.  I don’t have the time.

Fair enough.  We’ve all got to decide what we can be bothered with, and what we can’t.  It is a shame, though, if we mistake a conscious choice for the idea that there are some kinds of people who will never be good at numbers.

On the first day of the first class of my first year of a degree course, the tutor told us accountancy undergraduates that, when standing at a train platform, he would amuse himself by adding up the departure times.  Reader, who would do such a thing?  And if they did, who would tell anyone?  I think he was trying to inspire us to become confident around numbers.

The idea that people divide into those that are ‘good at English’ and those that are ‘good at Maths’ is lazy.  In the first group the those we describe as a ‘people person’.  The others are scientists or engineers.  Where did we get this idea?  It’s nuts.  There are however plenty of people who prefer to think of themselves in this way, but they are making a choice.  Once you’ve ‘decided’ that you’re not good at something, the mental block that develops is powerful.

When I get a mental block about something at work, I put it of, and put it off, and find other lower priority things to do.  The longer I leave it, the scarier it becomes.  Eventually, when things are about to get rough, and I can no longer get away with pretending something is in progress that really isn’t, I’ll force myself to tackle it.  I’ll sit down and, in an act of pure willpower, I’ll force myself to do it.  Each time this happens, after maybe only a few hours or a day, the penny will drop and I’ll get the hang of it.  From then, I’ll motor through the work and afterwards kick myself for not concentrating on it earlier.  Last month, it was using a Content Management System of a website.  When I was an undergraduate, it was standard cost accounting.  I put that off for 2 years until my finals.

And that’s why finance frightens people.  Even maths teachers.  It’s something that people never bother to concentrate on.  If they did they’d discover how it’s easy it is.  The arithmetic is school level.  You don’t need to be good with numbers to be good at finance.

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