I recently learned of Iranian mathematician and Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani—a notable person for many reasons. What jumped out at me regarding her tragically short but illustrious career was the way she chose to describe her work:
“Of course the most rewarding part is the “Aha” moment, the excitement of discovery and enjoyment of understanding something new – the feeling of being on top of a hill and having a clear view. But most of the time, doing mathematics for me is like being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight.” – Maryam Mirzakhani
When I read this as a data analyst I immediately connected with these descriptions: “the feeling of being on top of a hill and having a clear view” that was only reached after “being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight.” I make zero claims about understanding the life of mathematician. But this… this is so relatable to me and my work as an analyst.
The clear view
It’s magical when clarity first arrives on any project or task. With analytical work it’s a reward and a relief. The feeling is sometimes fleeting though…
“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.” – Chip Heath
Still, the contribution an analyst makes to any organization is huge. We spend the time evaluating and connecting dots so others do not have to. We hit and rule out all the dead ends so others don’t have to. At the end we spit out only what is relevant or valuable so others can begin from that point. The analyst makes it possible for many to skip the long hike and instead begin with the clear view already in place.
The long hike
People do not always see or appreciate the long hike and the effort, time, and challenge it represents. When the result is simple and polished it is easy for most people to assume it was a simple and quick process to get there. Rarely so. What they do not see is the long and consuming process of finding data, making it usable, organizing and extracting it from wherever it’s stored, working calculations over it, noting factors that impact or skew the data, looking for patterns, comparing different sources, slowly (so slowly) bringing hundreds of small clues into a cohesive picture.
But ultimately, it is worth it. Slow, slow, slow progress is typical and normal. Every inch is a victory. So do not lose faith in your efforts. Keep up the good work.