The book Once A Runner has a great quote about why runners are so obsessed with numbers:
The thing is that in track we are painfully and constantly aware of how we stack up, not just with our contemporaries but with our historical counterparts as well. In that regard it’s different even from other sports.
A basketball player can go out and have a great day and tell himself he’s the greatest rebounding forward to ever hit the hardwood, but he’ll never really be troubled by the actual truth, will he? Maybe he’s just in a weak league. Maybe Jerry Lucas would have eaten him alive 30 years ago. But he’ll never know. He’ll just have to leave such judgments in the sorry hands of the sports writers, many of whom can be bought with a steak.
In track it’s all there in black and white. Lot of people can’t take that kind of pressure; the ego withers in the face of the evidence. We all carry our little credentials around with us; that’s why the numbers are so important to us, why we’re always talking about them, I am, for instance, four flat point three. The numerals might as well be etched on my forehead.
That’s why running has stuck for me: I know exactly how I’m doing. I know how many seconds I’ve shaved off my 5K PR since a year ago. I’m still slow, but I can see my progress as a line a graph. That’s addictive.
I used to have some of that in my job, and I miss it. When I was an engineer, I had some measurability. It was flawed but it was there: story points, PRs merged, whatever. When I was a tech lead, the measures changed into other flawed things like team velocity and deadlines met, but they still existed.
Moving into a pure management role has meant losing that black-and-whiteness. As a manager, what can I trust? Upward feedback can show me that my people like working for me, but that’s such a small piece. Performance reviews can show that my boss trusts me, but really what do they know (or not know)? Launches and outcomes can show that my team is winning, but is it thanks to me or despite me?
Maybe this is just a good old fashioned “wahhh, growth is uncomfortable” rant. But I spend each day wondering how I’m really doing (and worrying that the answer is “not great, dude”) and it’s exhausting. Am I improving at this? Would someone else be doing it better? I have no idea, nothing’s black and white.