In elementary school it was the Best Christian Attitude Award. In high school it was my GPA. In college it was the annual poetry contest. For the past few years, it’s been blog stats.
…That is until I discovered Amazon sales rankings.
I’d been warned by other writers to avoid looking even looking at this enticing little number, which fluctuates several times a day depending on how many copies of Evolving in Monkey Town are sold on Amazon.
“Just one or two sales can make you jump hundreds of points,” they said. “Obsessing about it will put you on an unhappy roller coaster ride,” they said. “Don’t use it as a measuring stick for your self-worth,” they said.
Unfortunately, these good people are unaware of just how much I love my measuring sticks. From grade point averages to Google Analytics to numbers on the bathroom scale, I like to know exactly where I stand in relation to everyone else in the world.
Which is why I know that last Thursday, my Amazon ranking was all the way down to 4,222 in books (a mere 2,700 points away from John Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like and 3,500 points away from Donald Miller’sA Million Miles in a Thousand Years), but that by Sunday night it was back up to 19,501 in books (15,000 points away from Pete Wilson’s Plan B and 19,500 points away from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). On top of it all, I got my first three-star review because “the Christian life and walk is really about certainty” and my conclusions weren't certain enough for this particular reader.
This put me into a funk that lasted most of the day. I was short with Dan. I cried about our AC unit not working right. I ate an unhealthy number of Doritos.
The wake-up call came after I received a gracious, heartfelt email from a reader who said she loved the book because it gave her hope, made her feel less alone, and put into words what she had been feeling for many years. When my first thought was, “then why doesn’t she write an Amazon review?” I realized it was time to repent. I had to confront my addictive relationship with measuring sticks.
I’m not sure why I always default to metrics when it comes to judging my self-worth. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that instant affirmation is so reassuring. I long for definitive, concrete evidence that I matter in this world and am on the right track.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the people I admire most in this world, the people I most want to be like one day, do things that can’t be measured.
They don’t receive Google Alerts telling them that social justice has been achieved. There are no daily stats revealing the degree to which their children feel loved and esteemed. Amazon has no ranking for lives touched or prejudices reversed, no rating system for reconciliation or sacrifice or perseverance through trials. The fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control—have no numerical values associated with them, and living like Jesus is not always popular.
Perhaps my problem is that I’m aiming too low.
Perhaps goals that can be measured aren’t big enough.
I wish I could end the post with a confident proclamation that I’m done with my Amazon rank (which currently stands at 22,585) and that my insecurities and fears have all melted away. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to cling to concrete numbers than it is to go chasing after big, elusive, and important dreams…so this addiction is going to take some time to break.
But today I found myself thinking about my writing in terms of offering hope, starting conversations, and making evangelicalism more hospitable to people who ask a lot of questions. My goals got a little bigger, my ego a little smaller.
And I’ve only checked my Amazon ranking once twice…which I guess is a start.
What measuring sticks do you find yourself clinging to? And what big, immeasurable goals are you losing sight of in doing so? (Tell me I'm not alone!)
© 2010 All rights reserved.
Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites without written permission is prohibited.