Momentum Podcast: 365
Trauma With Numbers
by Alex Charfen
If you're an entrepreneur and you know dealing with numbers is hard for you, I want to give you some steps you can take to get past trauma with numbers.
If you find yourself battling with your numbers there's probably a deeper reason. Admit it and work through it to become the entrepreneur you know you could be. As the saying goes “If you don't know your numbers you don't have a business”.
Full Audio Transcript
Alex Charfen: It's been said that if you don't know your numbers, you don't have a business. Well, that strikes fear into the heart of many entrepreneurs because, whether we want to admit it or not, we have trauma with numbers
I'm Alex Charfen and this is the Momentum podcast, made for empire builders, game-changers, trailblazers, shot-takers, record-breakers, world-makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among of us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creative momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.
Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny, we define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few, who are willing the hallucinate there could be a better future. And instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters. Clearly, the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution and we always will be.
This is a topic that I don't think anyone talks about with entrepreneurs and I think so many of us really need to hear this to understand this and to move past this. I was on a call today with a brilliant entrepreneur. One of the smartest women I've ever met. Just an incredible writer and she does gifted work that some of the bestselling books in the world, she's behind them. We were talking about our coaching program and what she's done so far, and she said, "I just want you to know," and you guys should know, "that a lot of entrepreneurs have trauma around numbers, and that's why we haven't gotten on our coaching call yet because I'm getting somebody to help me with the numbers because they're so hard for me. I open up a spreadsheet and I freeze."
It dawned on me that that's something that I need to share with entrepreneurs, that I need to talk about with more entrepreneurs, because here's what happens to so many of us. We have a hard time focusing on our numbers. We procrastinate looking at financials. Some entrepreneurs ... I've known wildly successful entrepreneurs that don't even keep their books, don't even know whether they're profitable or not. They just know it kind of by a feeling, but they don't really have a monthly P&L. They don't have what they should have and here's why so many of us are like that. For one reason or another, numbers are traumatic to us. There's a lot of us who had a hard time in school with math and so numbers are something that make us feel dumb or make us feel like we're not as good as people or less than.
For some of us, we grew up households where there was a fight around money or numbers of some kind or spending, and so numbers actually feel traumatic. And for a lot of us, the terms credit, debits, gross, net, all of those things are really frustrating and we never really can figure them out. I think one of the things, as entrepreneurs, that we have to just admit and put out there is that there is a significant amount of trauma around numbers for entrepreneurs. In fact, one of the most famous entrepreneurs in the world, arguably one of the most successful and well-known, Richard Branson was in his 50s before he understood the difference between gross and net. And it was after a particularly embarrassing board meeting, where it was clear he didn't understand what was being talked about, that one of his executives pulled him aside, grabbed a whiteboard, and explained to him the difference so that he finally understood it.
Don't feel like you're alone if you've experienced trauma around numbers, if when the profit and loss statement comes out, you feel like you wanna go away. I can tell you for my entire career, I have learned to know my numbers but every appointment I've ever had with my accountant always makes me uncomfortable. I always wanna get into it and get out of it as fast as I can. I have trauma around numbers. When I was in school, I had a hard time with math. I couldn't pay attention to math because it didn't seem to matter to me, until I started working with my dad and then I was calculating taxes and commissions and sales in my head because then math mattered to me. Even I have trauma around numbers.
If you're one of those entrepreneurs who you know numbers are hard for you, you don't really keep your books, maybe you don't have good information on your business, maybe that phrase, "If you don't know your numbers, you don't have a business," makes you feel uncomfortable, I wanna give you some steps you can take to get past trauma with numbers. First is to acknowledge that this is very real and that it is a real situation, a real feeling you're having, and that there is trauma there. Sometimes, just acknowledging it, recognizing it, understanding that someone like me has been there, understanding that someone like Richard Branson has been there, might help you move in the right direction to look at your numbers, to understand more about what's going on in your business. Because the reality is the better you know your numbers, the better you can make decisions. Numbers are just data points that give you information that you can respond to you in business.
The second step I would give you is to start working through that trauma. One of the ways that you can do that is to, on your own, look at your numbers and spend time with it. Set aside time where you don't feel pressured, where nobody else is in front of you. Get a P&L from your accountant and spend time with it. That's what I did when I was younger. I learned how to read P&L statements by looking at mine and then looking at the P&Ls in public companies. I used to go look at public companies because I didn't know who to ask. I didn't have a support group. I didn't have a coaching group, a mastermind, anything like that.
When I was 21 years old, I started running a company and it exploded really fast and it got to the 8-figure, then 9-figure gross sales range and I was doing everything I could just to keep up, and I felt embarrassed around every conversation around numbers because I always felt like I was the only person who didn't understand it. I learned it by getting myself time and by separating myself, and that's a way that you can do it too. Instead of trying to learn in front of people, like Branson was in a board meeting, start to work through it, and another suggestion with trauma numbers is use the CEO secret weapon: EMDR.
EMDR is a very specialized therapy that I recommend to people all the time. See, I think people like us, talk therapy, just makes us annoyed. We are momentum-based beings. We are physiologically sensitive and highly reactive to constraint. If we get into a room and we have a therapist saying, "Uh-huh, how does that make you feel? Uh-huh. How does that make you feel?" Without actually helping us move forward, talk therapy can actually move us backwards. But EMDR therapy is different. It's Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and you can go to emdria.org, and it's the EMDR International Association dot org, and find a therapist near you.
It's a weird process. You go sit in a chair and you do a history of what makes you uncomfortable, and the therapist will wave their hand back and forth in front of you and it will help you process and walk through and release trauma. When I was 26 years old, I started doing EMDR after a particularly challenging breakup, a very abusive relationship that I was in, and I walked into the therapist's office the day that we did EMDR and my discomfort with everything at that point and with the relationship and how I was feeling was probably a 12 out of a scale of 1 to 10. 10 being the worst. By the time we were done with the first EMDR session, that 12 ... or 10 on a theoretically scale that can't exceed 10 ... felt like a 5 or a 6. With two or three more sessions, I had worked through so much of the trauma from the relationship that it wasn't like I forgot it or didn't have it around anymore, it just didn't bother me.
And since I was 26 ... I'm now turning 46 on Monday and for the last 30 years I've been in one way ... or, sorry, 20 years. See, math. This is trauma around numbers. For the last 20 years, I have been doing EMDR on and off to just release pressure and release trauma because I think every entrepreneurial personality type has experienced trauma of one kind or another. We are physiologically sensitive momentum-based beings. When we've been in situations where we've felt unsafe or held back or constrained or like we couldn't move forward, that creates trauma patterns for us and they're not just something you can snap your fingers and get over.
If you find yourself avoiding your numbers, if you find yourself not leaning in, if you find yourself not following your metrics and not really knowing where your business is, it may be because of trauma. Admit it, start working through it, and if you need to go get some help. Do some EMDR. If you feel blocked in any way, do EMDR. When I was 26, I started doing it. When I was 32, I finally admitted to somebody that I was doing it because a friend of mine had actually confessed to me and revealed to me that they had felt suicidal, and I remember feeling so exposed. I didn't want anyone to think anything was wrong with me. I was in an industry where you didn't let people sweat ... or you didn't let people see you sweat. You showed up like you were on all the time. You didn't admit that you would make mistakes or had any issues or had any challenges.
When I told him that I had been doing EMDR, I thought he might not ever talk to me again. Instead, he went. He got the therapy, came back, and told me I needed to start telling more people about it, and I didn't start telling everybody about it then, but these days I share it as often as I can, especially in situations where entrepreneurs are working through trauma. If you find yourself battling your numbers, there's probably a deeper reason and you should admit it to yourself, work through it, and become the entrepreneur you've always known you could be.
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