ANNA BELFRAGE

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The Numbers Game

Sometimes I wonder as to my choice of profession. I mean, seriously, numbers? (Ahem … Chief Financial officer, no less, that’s me. Sounds posher than it is.) How could someone who adores words and has a huge passion for history and books end up doing Finance? Okay, so I do get to use words in my job, but most of them are dry dusty things such as “profit”, “pension liability” and whatnot. At times I enliven thing by inserting a “lacklustre” or “ubiquitous” into the monthly comments, but mostly I don’t – the readers would generally neither appreciate the vocabulary nor notice it. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my job. Some days i even love it – strangely enough when things sort of fall apart around me. I like standing like a tower of strength in chaos – it does wonders for my ego. At times I see myself as a modern day Samson, bracing myself between two pillars to sort of keep the structure standing. (Wrong analogy. Samson brought the building tumbling down, didn’t he?) At others all I need is a fluttering cape to give me a super hero look, calculator in one hand and whiteboard marker in the other. Uhhh.. Qué?
“Behold the Number Hero!” I feel like hollering (which might come across as a tad fishy, as if I fix the numbers. I assure you I don’t. Two heavyweight female Luthers, one on each shoulder, keep me firmly affixed to the straight and narrow.)

Most people who work in creative jobs tend to have an aversion to numbers. Actually, a majority of people I’ve come across fall into that category.
“I’m not a numbers person,” they’ll say with an apologetic smile, while deep down they’re thinking that only boring people get numbers. However, by empirical observations I’ve concluded that very often people with an affinity for language(s) also have an aptitude for maths. My mother is an excellent example. She is multilingual, a grammar freak who will shine up with joy if one asks her to explain the basic differences between the use of “who” and “whom”, and for all my life she’s been a voracious reader. She is also the champion of mental arithmetic. I’ve never met anyone who can add up so many numbers so fast, but if you ask her she’ll shrug and say that she’s “not really a numbers person”.

To me, there’s an element of magic in numbers. They talk to me, and in a most economical manner they impart HUGE amounts of information. I can add them, multiply them, subtract and divide, and there’s a symmetry to each of those exercises, a consistency to how the numbers perform that you never find in words. Words are fickle, temperamental things. One day they’ll line up nicely and convey just the meaning you intend them to, other days they’re obstructive and the adjective will simply not collaborate. Numbers, however, are rational and reliable. One is one is one, it never shifts into a three (but it can, of course, go from one to one hundred and eleven). A number is precisely what it seems to be, nothing more nothing less. A word is coloured by the users preconceived notions. Take the words “a gorgeous woman”. Say those words to four men and ask them to draw this creature and they’ll all draw something different – very different. So “gorgeous” doesn’t have an absolute meaning, it only has a relative value. Not so with five. It can only mean – yupp – five.

So people, embrace the numbers person inside you. See how 2+2 always makes four ( even if sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but that is an ENTIRELY different discussion), how 7 consistently is less than 9. Enjoy the symmetrical beauty in the sequence 1 – 10-100 -1000 – 10000  and while you’re at it, why not some poetry as well? (Read the below slowly, one number at the time)

7 7 7 3
1 1 1 2
7 7 7 3
9 9 9 2

2 2 2 5
5 5 5 1
1 1 1 4
4 4 4 7

7 7 7 3
9 9 9 2
7 7 7 3
1 1 1 2

Ah…. Totally meaningless, entirely relaxing and quite beautiful, no?

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3 thoughts on “The Numbers Game

  1. Great work, Anna! I’m a bit like your mum. I say I don’t really like numbers but I seem to be able to pluck them out of the air when needed!

  2. Aha! Yet another undercover number lover 🙂

  3. Well, I have the affinity for language but not sure if “I have an aptitude for maths” would also be accurate. I fell in love with math during a class designed to teach us how to teach math. Translating a number from one base system to another, infinity, the endless fractions in between whole numbers, imaginary numbers–I still struggled with some of it but the concepts I found fascinating and it all encouraged me to read history of maths. A friend of mine has a theory I’m better off with physics (since I’m a little slow with numbers still), which I found sort of a scary thought. But even if so, I’ll never forget the numbers who stood by me through thick and thin!

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