Numbers are everywhere.
Of course they are, Penny. You’re a personal finance blogger. It’s hard to talk about money without mentioning numbers.
But we’ve already established that your bank account is a poor measure of you as a person. In case you need me to say it again, though, I will.
In addition to talking dollars and cents, years and days, there are lots of other numbers floating around in personal finance. Instead of only talking page views and bounce rates, let me challenge you to answer the question differently.
What is your why?
Beware the Vanity Metric
This might come as a shock to you.
Or it might not.
It might actually be all the confirmation you need that I am a Bad Blogger. I don’t have Google Analytics installed on this site, and I’m not sure I ever will.
I know. I know. I know.
When I first started blogging, I was obsessed with my blog traffic. Or lack of traffic. To be honest, the interwebs path to my blog looked like a long stretch of dusty highway.
The day I broke 50 views, I was ecstatic. When I broke 100, I thought I was the Best Blogger Ever. (Little did I realize, my husband snuck down into the basement and clicked on my site four times to get me over the three-figure threshold that day.)
But the excitement quickly turned to something else. I would check my dashboard analytics in the morning. And again at lunch. And then more times after work and into the evening (OK, FINE, even in the middle of the night) than I care to admit.
I was obsessed.
I was also really unhappy.
I had be blogging for about a year by the time traffic reports were really in vogue. I contemplated shuttering my blog. Not because I wasn’t proud of what I was writing. But because I didn’t think what I was doing mattered. I didn’t have the traffic to show for it.
But what do those numbers really mean to a blogger like me?
I don’t monetize my site. My readers mean the world to me. (Truly. Sometimes, I contemplate sending thank-you emails when people leave comments. But I’m pretty sure that would violate the GDPR and push me from adorably awkward into just straight up uncomfortable territory.)
So of course, I want more readers. I want the kind that stick around. The kind the share pieces of themselves in the comments or even in follow-up emails. The kind that give me advice when I so desperately need it.
(All of the time. I need advice ALL OF THE TIME.)
It’s not that all blog traffic is a vanity measure. But for someone who isn’t inclined or savvy enough to monetize, obsessing over my dashboard amounted to navel gazing and not much else. So I stopped watching my traffic and doubled down on my commitment to engage with the readers I do have.
And this isn’t just about blogging or money. It’s about life.
There are so many metrics that mean a lot less than we think they do. For decades, virtually every decision that I’ve made around fueling my body and entertaining (as well going out for entertainment) was dictated by one thing: calories. Because my life was ruled by numbers on a scale and clothing sizes.
These are terrible metrics, friends. Not only do they not have much, if any, correlation with how healthy someone is, they also don’t make me feel any better about myself. Not really.
Why? Because the metric fades. And when it does, we’re left with the realization that maybe it never mattered. At least not as much as we thought. It truly was just a number.
Metrics That Matter
Maybe it’s combination of winning a Plutus Award (throws virtual confetti for self, egotist that I am!) and having just blown everything I thought I knew about dieting and scale numbers and clothing sizes out of the water to have a baby. Maybe I’m just a bit wiser. But I’ve decided that there are a whole bunch of metrics that matter more.
And it’s time to talk about those instead.
So what are the metrics that matter? It depends on the person. Just like blog traffic amounts to nothing more than a vanity metric to me, my idea of a meaningful metric might be totally pointless to someone else.
I know. Here I am closing in on 1400 words just to arrive at the conclusion that this, too, is personal.
That One Email
It was late summer, and I was checking my blog email. Usually it’s spammy offers of guest posts (“Dear She” is a dead giveaway) and newsletters connected to other blogs I follow…and not much else.
That day, I saw an email from Cait Flanders. To be honest, I thought maybe it was another newsletter. Excited to read about her summer adventures, I clicked.
Instead, what I found was a short note. She had been following my blog all summer and was hoping to subscribe to it.
Cait is an incredible writer who even narrated her own audiobook (not an affiliate link, just a reminder that you MUST listen to it even if you already read the book). I followed her blog for years. She inspired me to think hard about the life I wanted to live, not just with finances but with everything. And here she was asking to follow my blog.
Don’t worry. This isn’t going to get too sappy.
Instead, it ends in true Penny fashion. With the awkward truth. Once the shock of her email wore off, I got to troubleshooting.
After about an half an hour of cursing myself for not setting up an actual email list and relying on the WordPress default instead, I sent a reply.
It was a whole bunch of nonsensical thanks and gibberish. And the grand finale was the last line that was akin to “I really tried, but I don’t know why your email doesn’t work either.”
Readers Who Get It
I know that metric is the equivalent of my beloved Cubbies winning the World Series. It’ll never happen again (insert: soft weeping). But there are so many other ways that I measure success with my blog.
There are my regular readers who routinely comment weekly or monthly with advice for me or updates on their own lives. There are blogger buddies who I travel across the country to see (You didn’t think I went to FinCon just for the sessions, did you?). There are people who send emails to say thanks or to contribute to my Money Wins series. These metrics matter.
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These things don’t happen every day. But they mean a lot more to me; they measure my success and my happiness infinitely better than generic numbers on a screen. They keep me going.
What is Your Why?
In teaching, it is easy to find these other metrics. In a field where there are no merit-based raises or yearly bonuses, the people who stay in the field are pretty quick at finding things to keep them going.
RELATED POST: To The Teacher Whose Broken Bookcase Post Went Viral
A decade ago, I decided to dedicate a box to all of the letters and cards and drawings and photos that students gifted me. That box has been in two different school districts and five different classrooms. It’s nearly full.
I quickly replicated that box with an email folder. It’s simply titled Smile. When work gets overwhelming or I’m wondering if I’m really doing what I’m meant to be doing, I dig through my box and click through that folder.
Those metrics matter.
I can’t tell you how many students I’ve taught. I haven’t memorized their testing data. I don’t know the school report card off the top of my head. Why? Those aren’t the metrics that keep me doing what I love. The cards from students, the emails from parents, those are what matter most to me.
The challenge for me now is to move this out into my life as a whole. I have a handle on blogging, and I know what works for my profession. But life as a whole? I’m stuck. I know this is going to be a messy process that might even be lifelong. So that is why, dear reader, I’m asking for your help once again. What is your why?