Making Friends with Math

September always arrives with those unmistakable “Back to School” vibes: crisper air, muted gardens and a heightened sense of hustle. I always enjoyed the timeworn tradition of organizing wardrobes, shopping for clothing and supplies and moving into a new rhythm and schedule. I feel especially fortunate that school was a safe and welcoming place for me. There were no “mean girl” scenarios or bullying that I can recall growing up in Naugatuck, CT. Being allowed to wear pants in fifth grade was a very big deal and playing sports in high school with the passage of Title IX was a downright privilege, although I did not understand the underlying politics and policies at the time. Even though I held the title of “Multiplication Queen,” I was always daunted by math. In fact, we were barely on speaking terms.

I can easily recall sitting at my parent’s kitchen table trying to grasp word problems about different trains leaving different stations at different times or glazing over arcane algebra problems and symbols with my heart racing. I remember reviewing NC Theatre’s audit for the first time as a newly minted CEO and feeling like an imposter. My breakthrough moment came when a friend (who happens to be a CPA) talked about how numbers can reveal the true story behind any organization. How you invest your money reveals what you value. How your numbers change from year to year reflects your strategy. I dug more deeply into data; I learned to love Excel; I embraced the narrative behind the numbers. I truly believe that greater financial understanding and transparency can transform organizations by creating alignment and clarity.

Like anything in life, making friends with math required a strong intention, a shift in perspective, a learning mindset and dedicated follow through. This Labor Day weekend, I may be dividing my time between walking in the woods and delving into a webinar on “Understanding the Form 990.” What better way to stay grounded?