Numbers are an important part of our world.  They assign value and give meaning to everything from our calendars to our bank statements.  But what happens when we become obsessed with these numbers?  For example, how many Instagram followers do I have or how many people liked my Facebook post?  And what number is my podcast ranking this week?  It seems I haven’t been able to escape these questions about numbers for the past few weeks.

I have a podcast and I started it because I wanted people to feel like someone else out there in the world had their back and understood them. I, like many others, suffer from a number of chronic illnesses. This can be difficult to manage and can make life very complicated and limited. It’s often helpful when we share our experiences with others so we don’t feel so alone in our tribulations. So that was the point of me starting the podcast.  

Even though I’m a graduate of a technical school that teaches audio editing, engineering and voice over for radio and television, I have not worked in that industry in quite some time. It is a rapidly changing field in which equipment quickly becomes outdated and obsolete. 

I decided to take a podcasting course online to brush up on my technical skills. It was absolutely fantastic. It was very user-friendly and I sped  through the modules pretty quickly. At the completion of the course you’re invited to a podcasting community page. It’s sort of a support group for podcasters that are just starting out. Overall it was a really fun and stimulating experience, but when we got to the topic of marketing the podcast, I realized that I did not possess the same enthusiasm for numbers that my peers/classmates did.  The focus intensely became on gaining listenership and all the work that goes into that. Now, let me add a sidebar here.  I am completely aware of the fact that marketing is an essential part of any endeavor in which an individual wants to make money at or gain an audience.  I’m also not against people trying to make a living or even trying to get rich from an art form. There are, on occasion, people who feel entitled and think that you should be throwing twenties and fifties at them every chance you get just because they decided to be artistic, which, is a big turnoff.

Back to podcasting…

It’s difficult to maintain authenticity and integrity in one’s work when the focus becomes solely on the numbers. The number of listeners and the number of subscribers and the number of downloads and the number of followers, ect. It can be exhausting and can really suck the fun out of a project. I understand the need for it and again, people need to make money and eat. 

Here’s the issue I take with all of this,  besides the fact that I’m not really a marketing person. The hard truth is that not everybody is going to have the number one podcast or the number one album or the number one book on the New York Times bestseller list.  And guess what? That’s okay. That’s just the reality of it.  There’s nothing wrong with you doing something because it’s your passion regardless of who is watching.  Whatever happened to doing something just because it’s a part of who you are or because you want to reach a certain demographic to help them feel less alone or just for laughs? If you constantly equate yourself with a number and you count on that number to give you your value and self-worth, you will never be happy because the anxiety of looking over your shoulder at every turn to make sure there’s a crowd of people following you, will kill the joy out of what you intended to do in the first place. And a number does not define how successful you are. You define how successful you are. You get to decide what success means to you. It’s very important to keep in mind that we all are going to fail at some point, at something, and some of us will not make the cut in terms of the world’s standards.

I’ll tell you a quick story. There once was a sort of famous singer that I won’t name, that was playing an event in Asheville, North Carolina.  They had forgotten to bring something that was really important and their personal assistant had happened to come down with the flu, so they decided to hop in their car and drive to the local Walmart with a few friends to get this particular product they needed. At the checkout line,  the cashier happened to notice the singer and she gushed, “Oh my God, oh my God!,  I heard you were playing in town and I wanted to get tickets but I couldn’t get a sitter for my daughter…I sing, too, you know,” she said nonchalantly. The famous singer replied, “Oh really, do you mind singing right now or will your manager get upset?” “Hell no, I’ll sing you a few songs!” There in the middle of Walmart, this cashier belted out Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson and Whitney Houston songs absolutely effortlessly.  The famous singer said, “Well, I can’t make any promises but I certainly can you get you heard by a few people.”  She looked puzzled and said, “Babydoll, I sing for Jesus.  I sing in my church on Sunday. I’m not looking for a record deal. I just wanted to let you know that I’m a singer too and I know the joy it brings to your soul when that music moves through you. It’s a really spiritual experience. I sing for God and I sing for myself and oh yeah maybe a few people here on the checkout line, too,” she chuckled.

Here was a woman working in retail that had an opportunity to maybe get a better gig. Some people may call her flat-out stupid. But she was just singing because singing is what she does. It was a gift that was given to her by God and in return she gives it back to Him and, from time to time, some lucky people that happen to get on her line. No, she’s not concerned with Instagram followers or Facebook likes or going viral. After all the commotion on the checkout line, she shared that she was actually going to school to be a nurse. She loved working at the hospital and singing songs to the patients to brighten their day.

So while being Taylor Swift might be really cool and it’s fun to imagine ourselves with millions and millions of dollars, what I learned is that it’s the small things in life that really make the biggest difference. You don’t have to have a number one hit record and be performing at the Grammy’s to be someone. You can perform on a Walmart checkout line, or you can perform in church or a hospital room for someone who is scared and just needs a comforting song to get them through the night.

I can’t tell you what to do with the gifts that you’ve been given. That’s for you to decide and pray about,  but what I can tell you is that not everybody has to have the number one in front of their name in order to be successful or of value or of significance. It’s often the quiet ones, that sing their song in obscurity, that shine the brightest. 

Author: Stephen Fratello

Come read my mind...

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