Data is important. A good analyst, motivated to collect and use data in meaningful ways, can provide recommendations and theories that could uproot an entire program, company, or continent. They can use data strategically in creative, statistically significant, and compelling ways.

Data is important, but it can be deceptive. A good storyteller can use data any way she wants to satisfy her own ends. She can spin a story that is true, but relies on her specific interpretation of the facts.

My mother was my first supervisor. My father was my second. I don’t mean this in the metaphorical sense. I mean that I worked for them, and I was compensated. All things considered, I’ve been working for more than 25 years. In that time, I’ve had more than 20 positions and more than 20 supervisors.

If grad school and volunteer work count, my total is closer to 30.

  1. I worked as a young beautician, braiding and unbraiding hair.
  2. I mowed lawns and raked leaves during summers.
  3. I worked at the library, sorting stacks, archiving files, and approving requests for Inter-library loans.
  4. I was a fifth-grade teacher.
  5. I was an Americorps volunteer.
  6. I sold life insurance (well, I worked for the company. I never actually made a sale).
  7. I was a receptionist for a mall management company.
  8. I was a stock associate with Banana Republic.
  9. I was a Title I tutor.
  10. I was a basic skills computer literacy instructor at a women’s correctional facility and a residential substance abuse treatment center.
  11. I was a GED instructor.
  12. I was a program coordinator for a workforce development nonprofit.
  13. I was a program coordinator for a special department at a theological seminary.
  14. I was an academic director and scholarship coach for a program that prepared high schoolers for college.
  15. I was a researcher with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
  16. I helped determine clients’ eligibility for expunging and sealing criminal records with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
  17. I was a life skills instructor, teaching resume writing and interviewing skills for adults in a transitional jobs program.
  18. I was a program manager of adult education & literacy programming with a city college.
  19. I was a reading and math tutor for students in a residential home and for young men who had been wards of the state.
  20. I wrote supplementary curriculum for basic skills computer classes and contextualized GED courses.
  21. I was a long-term sub, assigned as the 7th grade math teacher, at a charter school.
  22. I am a program manager for ESL, GED, and computer literacy courses with a local nonprofit.

I’ve had more than 22 supervisors. Six full-time jobs, 16 part-time ones. If grad school and volunteer work count, it’s closer to 30.

I’m 34 years old.

I don’t say this with pride or with shame. Data is important.

Sometimes when I get frustrated with progress, people close to me remind me that I enjoy change.

Change can bring relief and satisfaction, but it also comes with a price. You’ve had more than 20 jobs, more than 15 roommates, lived in more than 8 apartments (as an adult). Perhaps the issue is commitment, consistency, and relationships. The message is implicit, but clear: you are part of the problem. (More on that later).

This is the story the data tells, but I prefer a different story:

I have more than fifteen years’ experience in education. Seventy percent of all my work has been in education, and more than 85% has been in service.

Of all my residences, I’ve only lived in two cities. 22 years in one, 12 years in the other.

I’ve been a bridesmaid in 3 of my former roommates’ weddings and have traveled internationally with 2. Former roommates remain some of my closest friends.

I dislike change, although it is a necessary evil. My problems are not consistency, commitment, and relationships. They are patience and discipline.

Mind the gap.

Mind the gap between what the data tells you and what experience teaches you. Between what you understand and what you can successfully do. Between what you are capable of and what you have already accomplished. Mind the gap.

Sometimes this means analyzing the data in the way that your friends would. Isolate patterns of behavior that are troubling. Isolate patterns of behavior that produce disparate results. Isolate patterns of behavior that yield results antithetical to what you initially intended. Show you the gaps you aren’t capable of seeing. Use the data to tell the story that scares you. Tell the story that you don’t agree with, but might actually be true. To help you progress. To help you aspire. Mind the gap.

Mind the gap.
Acknowledge it.
Interpret it.
Then do all you can to close it.

What story does your data tell? What data is significant in your life?