Growing in NumbersMarch 23, 2012
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I am not a math person. By that, I mean in college I took one math course to fulfill my liberal-arts-heavy Political Science degree and generally, when people begin discussing numbers and calculations during conversations, my mind non-purposefully wanders. So when I was placed in the Financial Planning division at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) back in September, you can say I was a bit surprised.
Numbers… numbers?! How in the world could I perform—with accuracy, and for that matter, interest—a job having to do with numbers? To be honest, I panicked. I am a writer, I am a creative thinker, I am a philosopher, I am not a mathematician. There is no way this is going to work.
Well, in a way, I was wrong.
It’s not to say I’ve grown to be a math whiz or the future Harvey Rose, but I did discover that those very aspects about my personality that I thought made me unfit for Finance, now help make better at my job. Here’s why:
“I am a writer”
Whoever believes that writing in certain industries is not as important as other skills is simply wrong. Yes, in Finance we tend to number-crunch a bit more and read more excel models than policy reports, but in the end, writing is writing. You need to be clear, you need to be objective, and you need to communicate your ideas.
As a writer, you craft a sentence and determine a tone. In Finance, you do the same with numbers. Crafting a sentence becomes a calculation or formula. The tone, depending on the calculation, manifests itself as a projected increase or decrease in revenues or expenditures. And that, as anyone in Finance can attest, most definitely reveals a tone.
“I am a creative thinker”
Creativity has quite a lot to do with financial planning. Of course there protocol to creating a budget or determining a municipal rate, but the true creativity lies in the approach.
Often, I am asked to do research projects that involve many different factors. So many, it can be overwhelming. I found that the only way to attack seemingly impossible tasks is to use my creativity. Step back and think, if I was painting a portrait, where would I begin and how would I complete it? Financial projects are similar. All components have to be a part of a solid foundation and applied one step at a time so the report is complete.
“I am a philosopher”
I’ve always considered myself a philosopher with a mind that likes to see the dots, connect them, and ultimately reveal the bigger picture. In Finance, such attention to detail and broader perspective is vital to the job.
In the SFPUC’s various forecast models and budget items, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. Change a percentage ‘here’ and it affects an outcome ‘there.’ Because everything is connected, being extremely detailed and keeping sight of the bigger picture is a necessary trait. My philosophical mind keeps me constantly thinking of structure, components, outcome, and most importantly, meaning. Every individual decision should lead to a maximum solution for all—a philosophy, which frankly, is important for all local government workers.
Whether I’ve been converted into math person or not, I’ve learned a lot in the past five months doing something I had never done before. To me, that’s the beauty in my placement and working in local government. You often find yourself in situations where you are called upon to solve problems you know nothing about that challenge your comfort and skill. In the end, such experiences help you grow as an employee, a young professional, and ultimately, a public servant.