Life by Numbers


Can our lives be quantified? Can our existence be recognized in grades, rubrics, time tables, and assessments? The first time I led a climb, I felt like a badass. Clipping my draws, pulling up the rope, dancing up the smooth rock to the sway of my heart beat thumping out a rhythm of encouragement and fear.  You got this, but don’t fall. You’re doing great, but don’t look down. It wasn’t a route to brag about, was it a 5.9? Or maybe only a 5.8? I don’t remember but I can still feel the cold carabiner in my hand as I anchored myself in at the top. I can still remember the expansion of my lungs as I finally relaxed into my harness and surveyed the golden cliffs breaking away below me.  I had reached new heights. To say more would devalue the experience, yet we live in this data driven world where we fixate on ratings, where success is only success if it can be measured and defined.  

Yes, I want to know the class of the rapid before I land my first paddle stroke. Yes, I want to know how many miles the route is before I tie my running shoes or clip into my pedals. Yes, I want to know how many patients are on my caseload, or how many drinks my driver had before picking me up. Numbers can be powerful. Information can be lifesaving. I think about avalanche angles when I look at each and every backcountry ski route. I use statistics to calm me when I run in mountain lion territory. In the last 18 years there have only been 3 cougar-related deaths in North America and none of them have been in Colorado, you’ll be fine, I tell myself.

Data can be helpful but as much as it can feel like knowledge, it’s all about how and when it is applied. In the wrong circumstances it is restricting, limiting, and confining. I don’t live in a paint by number world. But sometimes all the numbers, scales, and ratings make me feel like I do. It can be dehumanizing. Our jobs, our schools, our medical systems, financial institutions, and sometimes even our outdoor identities can be filled with arbitrary rankings that do not encompass who we are or what we feel. 

 I climbed a 10c once, but rarely lead climb anything, I can run 6 minute miles, I paddle up to class III rapids, I ski blues and blacks but roll down most moguls. Do you know me now? Does any of this measure WHO I am? If all those stats were different, for better or for worse, would I personally be different? I would argue that all my defining qualities come from something deeper, something more experienced than documented, more felt than discussed.  

My relationships with my best friends, my husband, my connection to the natural world; all would be belittled on a scale.  The most profound aspects of ourselves and our lives cannot be measured. When I take in the raw beauty of a night sky, an eagle soaring, or aspen leaves waving in the golden fall, I don’t compare or quantify. I stop and feel. How much more powerful would our daily lives be if we spent less time grading or more accurately degrading and seized more moments to feel and appreciate?  


Diana Davis

Diana's life philosophy is that it may be hard to take new risks, but it is harder to live with regret. Diana enjoys sharing her passion for wellness, adventure, and living life to the fullest through her written words and as a practicing occupational therapist.

Diana Davis