The world is full of qualitative statements. Exaggerations. Subjectiveness that cannot be measured. The people that make such statements are easily forgotten.
Quantitative statements, on the other hand, leave an impression. They measure your place in life. My father taught me this at an early age.
When I was nine years old, I ran a fast 400 meter dash, which is no easy feat. The thing about the 400 is not a lot of people run it. It’s difficult, because it’s not quite a sprint and not quite a distance race. As such, few amateurs compete in it. At least that was the case when I ran it.
So my father encouraged me to run the 400. I did. All the way to the ’88 state finals. Here’s how it happened:
After winning my city and sectional heats—run, Blake, run!—I was invited to compete with the fastest runners of my age in the great state of Oklahoma, alongside some wicked fast Native Americans. To make it to the final race that day, I would need to place within the top eight in one of two semifinals.
I was so nervous before the start, I vomited under the bleachers. The time came. I got on my mark. I set. I quickly sized up the competition. Before the gun fired, I thought I had a chance.
After the trigger, it was obvious I was out of my league. I got roasted. Finished second to last.
Defeated, I hung my head and walked towards my father. He was elated. I didn’t know why. “Dad, I finished second to last.”
In response, his just smiled and pointed to the leaderboard. It read, “1st. Tommy Something. 2nd. Sean Another. 3rd. Who Knows. 4th…” all the way to, “9th. Blake Snow.” That’s my name.
“Blake,” he said, “You’re the ninth fastest runner your age in a state of more than a million.” Well when you put it like that, I’m kind of a big deal, aren’t I? “While it’s true you finished second to last in your heat and didn’t make the final, you competed well. I’m proud of you.”
His logic instantly lifted my spirits. Ever since then, the idea of quantifying my performance and contributions has stuck.
The first time I wrote a resume, rather than carelessly adding, “works well with others,” I said something like, “lives with five brothers and sisters, usually in peace.” You know, baby steps.
From there I started quantifying all kinds of results. “Contributor to half of the top 20 U.S. media. Two-time marathoner. Quadrupled traffic within 18 months. Finished school in four years w/ a 3.2 GPA (admittedly not that impressive, but here’s the kicker…) while working 20 hours a week. A 96% chess player. Pitched one of my biggest and most popular stories 20 times before it was finally accepted. Increased audience size by 15% in a saturated market where 30% declines are the norm.” Yada, yada, yada.
How do I do this? I lie. Just kidding. I work hard, run the numbers, and then highlight the successes.
I could easily quantify less impressive numbers and failures. We all have them. Here are some of mine: “Avoided marriage therapy for 12 months. Bit off $60,000 more than I could chew on my first big account. Neglected my first and second children for several years as a self-absorbed work-a-holic. Thousandaire. Got complacent after three years of growth and paid the price. Spent much of my 20s in poor health because I thought short-term work was more important than a lifetime. Arrived 30 years late to anger management class.” You get the idea.
The point is, quantifying results makes a difference. However trivial they sometimes are, they have served me well. Even for bonus reasons. You see, not only do quantitative statements help the measurer stand out. They show the audience that you know how to measure. That you care. That you aren’t afraid to acknowledge mistakes. After all, the person that fails to measure is usually ignorant of their mistakes.
So I can live with my mistakes and highlight the successes. With numbers. In addition to doing good work, it’s the best way I know to distinguish oneself.
This story first appeared October 11, 2013 on blakesnow.com