Twice in the last week, I’ve had people say to me, expecting agreement,
Winners never quit. You know that, right? You’ve won a world championships, founded several companies, earned a Ph.D. You never would have done that if you quit.
I would like to go on record with my opinion.
That idea that winners never quit is complete and total bullshit.
I have accomplished a lot of things in my life and it would never have happened if I hadn’t quit other things.
- I started out as an Urban Studies major. I quit that and got a BSBA in business instead, where I was required to take Calculus and a couple of programming courses, market research and took an elective in statistics … all of which sparked my interest in software development, statistics and mathematics, which led to the career I have now. If I had followed the never quit mantra, I’d probably be a city planner.
- I had a job as an industrial engineer that I liked a lot. I quit that to take a job teaching computer classes in the corporate training department, because I wanted to live in the same city as my second husband. Then, because I really didn’t like that job, I quit it and got a Ph.D.
- I quit the marriage to my first husband and I am 100% certain that both he and I are much happier as a result. I certainly would not have had The Perfect Jennifer, Darling Daughter Number Three and The Spoiled One if I had stayed married. I doubt I would have gotten a Ph.D. or started a business.
- I quit competing in judo after I won the world championships. I had other things I wanted to do in life – have more children, get more education, start a business. I ignored everyone’s advice that I would regret it forever if I did not stick it out four more years and go to the Olympics. They were all wrong. I have not regretted it for one second.
- I quit my full-time job as an Associate Professor and moved to California to marry The Invisible Developer and start a business.
- I quit in the middle of a research grant to take a job that paid me a lot more money. Then, I quit that job for one that paid even more THEN, I quit that one to work for a university that paid diddly squat but gave free tuition to my children. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for Darling Daughter Number One to attend a university that costs slightly more than buying an entire small town, nor for Darling Daughter Number Three to train for the Olympics, nor The Perfect Jennifer to attend graduate school.
- Then, I quit the university because, did I mention my annual salary was approximately diddly squat?
If I hadn’t done that all of that, I would never have co-founded Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc., never founded The Julia Group, never co-founded 7 Generation Games, never written grants for tens of millions of dollars that paid for college scholarships, tutors for high school students, substance abuse counseling, vocational rehabilitation, development of online courses and educational software.
I’m pretty certain that everything I accomplished in life has come about because I DID quit a lot of things when they were no longer rewarding, productive or the right choice for me.
Yes, there are people who give up at the first sign of difficulty, and this is a mistake.
There are also people who go down the wrong path for far too long.
In fact, you cannot pursue an infinite number of opportunities. It would be nice if a new opportunity presented itself exactly when you had finished the previous one, if there were no dead ends and never a need to make adjustments in plans, but that’s not how the world works.
There is also the possibility that quitting is not final – but that’s a post for another day.
I try not to be a hypocrite, so after a long talk this week with someone about the importance of admitting mistakes and not continuing to go down the wrong path, I sat down and asked myself,
Self? What mistakes have I made?
Certainly, if you can’t see any mistakes you have made, you are delusional, because everyone makes mistakes. I think the biggest, stupidest mistake I made for many years was feeling like I always had to be the smartest person in every room and everyone had to know it, by God. This was stupid for a lot of reasons. Let me enumerate them for you.
- I missed out on making some good friends. I worked at universities much of my life with really smart people. I was so busy trying to prove how smart I was, that statistics was harder than history or some stupid nonsense, that I missed the opportunity to get to know those people better. When I look back and think about some of my former colleagues, I think, damn, Dr. X was pretty nice and interesting. If I hadn’t been so intent on proving I was smarter, we could have had some good conversations.
- It hurt my career. No matter how good you are at programming, statistics, grant writing, whatever, no one wants to work with a jerk. Yes, maybe Billy Bob wasn’t as good at something, didn’t go to as good of a school, didn’t write as many articles as me. So damn what? What was the point of constantly bringing it up so I could feel like I was winning? I never got fired from anything, but I’m sure I would have gotten promoted faster if I was better at getting along with people when I was young.
- I was being a jerk. What if I was right and Billy Bob was marginal at his job and I was super-amazing? Again, so damn what? He had a job. He was there before me. Who died and left me the God of pointing out everyone’s inadequacies? What did I expect people to do, pass out little post-it notes to me when I came in every day saying that I win and everyone else in the department should bow down before me because I brought in $ 6 million in grant funding this year?
- I was often wrong. Sometimes I really was the smartest person in the room. More often than not, though, there were a lot of really smart people and some of them knew more than me about certain things and less about others. Once I finally learned to shut up and listen, I learned a lot more.
I thought I would pass along this bit of knowledge because it was a hard, painful lesson. I had my reasons for always feeling that I had to prove myself, and if you are in the same situation, I bet that you do, too.
There wasn’t a particular day when I woke up and thought, “I’m acting like an ass and I should just stop.”
Oddly, (or maybe not), the more I actually accomplished, the less I felt I had to prove I was smart, competent, whatever.
I married well – twice. You might think that I mean I was married to people who continually reinforced me, told me how brilliant I am. You’d be wrong.
Both my late husband and The Invisible Developer had this in common – they (felt) feel comfortable in their own competence. They don’t have to put anyone else down to feel important. They don’t need anyone else to tell them they are brilliant.
That’s why it’s called SELF-confidence and SELF-esteem. You get it from yourSELF .
Role modeling. After living with someone for years who was brilliant and didn’t at all feel the need for EVERYONE to acknowledge it, maybe some of that just kind of wore off.
So, anyway, that is the biggest mistake I think I made over the years. I’m probably doing something equally stupid now that I can’t see, but five years from now, I will look back and wonder what the hell was I thinking.
Thirty years ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears young industrial engineer working at General Dynamics. The production line had been shut down a couple of times in the past few months and I was sent to investigate. I met with the division manager and he told me that they had run out of material X, a small amount of which was used on each missile. So, all the workers on the line were sent home until more X was procured, and since we were a union shop, they were all paid for the day. He explained that X had a very short shelf life.
I asked him,
How much does it cost? So what if it expires and we have to throw some away? Wouldn’t that be cheaper than sending everyone home?
I don’t know but it must be very expensive, otherwise, they wouldn’t be always cutting it so close and sometimes running out of it.
I concurred that he was probably right but recommended he check. So, just to placate the silly young woman (women engineers were even more of a rarity back then) the manager called in some ordering clerk from inventory control and asked just how much was material X anyway. The clerk went to a terminal and looked it up.
Five dollars each, sir.
The manager looked a bit surprised at the low cost.
Five dollars an ounce?
The clerk shook his head,
No, sir. Five dollars a gallon.
I will admit that I did not help the situation at this point by bursting out laughing.
It was what happened next, and later, that was really interesting. He proceeded to yell, swear at and berate that clerk up and down. The clerk was a middle-aged man who was kind of a mousy guy to begin with. He was on the verge of tears before it was over and ran out of the office.
I looked the manager in the eye and said,
You had no right to treat that man the way you did. He was just doing his job. There is an inventory control system with a program that determines lead times and orders. You didn’t think to ask how much material X cost, either. Regardless, no one should be talked to the way you just did. You owe him an apology.
He looked at him and snarled,
Who the hell do you think you are? I run this place and you’re just a little piss-ant engineer.
I told him,
Maybe so, but I’m right and you’re wrong.
I went off to my next meeting. Several hours later, the same manager and I happened to be walking next to each other through the same plant. We walked by Mr. Mouse and he looked like he wanted to duck behind the nearest plank mills. The manager walked over to him, cleared his throat and said,
I just wanted to apologize to you for the way I acted earlier. You were just doing your job and I was wrong to blow up like that. In the future, though, I would like to be sure that we don’t run out of X because it shuts the line down. If it hurts your performance numbers in inventory control or something like that, just go ahead and charge any expired product you have to throw away to my department.
Then, he shook the man’s hand, and walked away, leaving Mouse staring after him with a stunned look on his face.
He fell back in step with me – we were heading to the same meeting, and I turned around and said,
I’m really impressed, Mr. Rousey. It takes a strong man to admit that he was wrong.
Yes, that was Ron Rousey. Even though at that moment my opinion of him started to turn around, the feeling was not mutual. He told me later he thought I was a conceited smart ass who made him look bad in front of his crew by laughing at him, didn’t know that it wasn’t my place to talk back to him and that he could not believe that I was not impressed by his professional accomplishments but that apologizing to some guy who was scared of his own shadow earned my respect. He must have got over it, though, because a few years later, we were married.
I was thinking about this today because it occurred to me that probably everyone could have a better life by admitting faults and mistakes. If you don’t admit that you are wrong, you are going to continue to make the same mistakes and have the same problems.
It occurred to me because it brought to mind a mistake I made for many years …
… but for that you will have to wait for my next blog post.
Ironically, just after posting that I was going to get back to blogging, and my first post back on how grateful I am, I got really sick, didn’t do anything, fell behind at work and so didn’t do any blogging while I caught up.
So, here we are again and now I am really grateful that I’m not sick.
Recently, I went full circle, spending two days in San Diego, where my first daughter was born and where I moved away from thirty-one years ago, to attend a soccer tournament for my fourth daughter.
It’s been an eventful year. We received our third research grant, completed our second Kickstarter and our first accelerator program. Raised our first seed round.
Thirty-one years ago, I was an industrial engineer at General Dynamics. I’d just won the world judo championships. I’d also just gotten divorced. That was an eventful year, too.
You’d think after all this eventfulness I would have figured this whole life thing out. To some extent, I think maybe I have.
I have worked full-time since I was 15 years old, much of that time either going to school full-time, competing as an international athlete or working a second (third) job.
One thing it took me an unreasonably long amount of time to figure out was this:
The work will always be there. The time will never come that at the end of the day you say, “That’s it. My work here is done. I’m finished.”
Do a reasonable amount of hard work. Then quit worrying about it.
You are not going to run out of work. Don’t think you have to take every contract that comes across your desk, accept every job offer, even if it requires you to work until midnight six days a week. There may be intervals, say, when you need to do that to pay for your child’s college education or found a startup but those should be INTERVALS in your life, not your whole life.
You are never going to be good as you want to be. Even if I knew everything possible to know about a software language, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. There would be another language that I didn’t know.
Enjoy the accomplishments. We were standing in line in a restaurant in San Diego when I just happened to glance at the jacket my lovely daughter had borrowed from me. It had a the logo of a tribal radio station on the back. I commented, “That radio station exists because I wrote the grant to fund it. It’s been there for years.” There are a lot of programs and products that exist because I wrote the grant, wrote the code, designed the program. The second each is over, I forget about it and go on to the next one. I’m learning to pause every now and then, pat myself on the back and say, “That came out well.”
Strive to be better. Don’t strive for perfection or you’ll just make yourself crazy.
It’s been a pleasure speaking to groups around North Dakota this past week, in part because I was asked a lot of intelligent questions, which really forced me to think about the answers.
One young woman asked how I maintained a positive attitude when times were difficult, when my husband died, when there is a seeming unending pile of work to do, when my children are heading in what I think is the wrong direction.
The answer is that I try every day to wake up grateful, and it really is pretty easy if you are realistic and honest about your situation.
Read any history book – and not ancient history, either – about people breaking the film of ice on the pan of water IN THEIR HOUSE, as they started their day, to wash clothes or make coffee.
Even today, people wake up sleeping under bridges, on the ground in refugee camps. I’ve lived in old houses where the wind blows through cracks in the winter.
North Dakota is cold and for almost the entire history of the world there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. Yes, people discovered fire, hunted, had deer skins, tipis. However, it was nothing like the last few days when I woke up every morning, warm and comfortable, in well-insulated houses, on soft mattresses under a pile of quilts.
Being at Minot State University reminded me of my own graduate school days at the University of Minnesota. They had tunnels under the campus, connecting buildings, for which I was extremely grateful because I was a broke, graduate student and I didn’t have enough money to buy a lot of warm clothes. Any time I had to go outside between buildings, I was SO cold.
These days, buying long underwear, gloves, warm coats, is something I don’t even give a thought. If I need it, I get it. Half the clothes I didn’t even buy – my daughters gave me sweaters and coats for Christmas or because they had more than they could use.
Maybe you think it’s silly to wake up grateful that I have warm clothes and a soft bed in a warm house, but I think it’s objective. There was a point in my life when I had neither. Most of the people who ever lived on this earth had nowhere near the level of comfort that I wake up to every day. If they (or me, decades ago), could be magically picked up and dropped into my life, their first thought on waking up would be,
“Oh my God, this is amazing!”
After laying in bed with that thought for a few minutes, I get out of bed.
Years ago, a friend of mine was in college and had an old, beat up car that leaked oil on to the street where it was parked, which, for some reason annoyed her elderly neighbor. When we returned from a trip overseas competing for the U.S., there was a notice on her car – the neighbor had reported the car as abandoned and we got home just in time to stop the city from towing it away. As a joke, the coach got her a bumper sticker that read, “This is not an abandoned vehicle.”
It’s almost two weeks since I last posted. Contrary to appearances, this is not an abandoned blog!
I just this minute – hurray, tap-dancing – submitted a grant I’ve been working on for the past two weeks.
While writing the grant this week, I’ve been in North Dakota, first giving a presentation on Using Native American Culture to Increase Math Performance. You can see a bit of it that was shown on the local TV station here.
After meeting lots of students at Minot State, we headed over to the Minot Job Corps and I met with students and faculty, talking about our games, starting a company and life in general.
On to New Town, on the Fort Berthold Reservation where I met with the staff and students from the Boys and Girls Club, again, gave demonstrations of our games, and threw a judo demonstration in along with it.
Along there somewhere, I finished the final report on our Dakota Math project that once again found significant improvement in performance of students who played our games, hired two more employees, signed another consulting contract, had way too many meetings and squashed a few bugs in the games.
Tomorrow, I head home to Santa Monica, for two weeks, until I head out to Fort Totten, ND. In the meantime, I’m back to blogging. Did you miss me?
Many years ago, I was walking through the exhibits at the county fair with my late husband (he was alive then, that’s why he was able to walk with me) and I lamented,
Look at those quilts. My grandmother makes quilts. Look at those crocheted tablecloths. My other grandmother crochets. Look at me – what do I make?
My wonderful husband turned to me and said in his good-old-boy, country accent,
Money. That’s what you make that your grandmothers didn’t make. You make money, darlin’.
Everyone is posting pictures of the cute Halloween costumes their mom made for them or that they made for their children. I never made a Halloween costume in my life, but here is a copy of some code I finished last weekend that makes a graph with different types of pastries. Another function I wrote (not shown here) changes it from Spanish to English. If you get it correct, it takes you to another problem that does bar graphs with actual bars.
I didn’t make a costume but I did make money from working on this project which The Spoiled One can use to buy whatever costume she likes.
Funny how a random sight can jog a memory, like today when I was walking around the neighborhood, taking a break from the marathon push to get our newest game out the door.
It was November 11, 1985. I was about eight months pregnant, and about two months into my doctoral program at the University of California. I came home to a surprise – 11 dozen tropical flowers on my doorstep. I called my still relatively new husband at work. Nope, he hadn’t sent them.
It wasn’t my birthday. It wasn’t our anniversary. It was too early for Christmas.
A couple of days later, I got a call from my sister. She had sent them to commemorate the one-year anniversary of me winning the world championships. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t remembered.
In the year since, I had married, moved to a new city, gotten pregnant, quit my job as an engineer, started a new job as a middle school math teacher and started on my Ph.D.
That day, at the world championships, winning seemed the most important thing in life.
A few months before, I had been in Europe. I competed at the British Open and placed third. Then, I went to the Tournoi d’Orleans and placed fifth. Not only was it the only time I had represented my country and come home empty-handed, but I hurt my knee, again, in London and tore something in my thumb in France. These were not little injuries, either. I’d had surgery on that knee less than two months prior. By the time I was 50, I needed a total knee replacement. My thumb doesn’t really work. I’ve been putting off surgery on that for years because, I mean, who really needs two thumbs and I’m busy.
So, two career-ending injuries, a loss and in pain. I had a layover in St. Louis where I was supposed to meet up with my sister. I cried all the way across the Atlantic but thought, at least I’ll see my sister. I got to St. Louis, called her house and she wasn’t home. She’d forgotten I was coming. Cell phones were 20 years in the future. Did I mention that I was in the middle of getting divorced and in a custody fight?
I got back on the plane, flew to Los Angeles, couldn’t remember where I had parked two weeks ago, limped around the airport parking lot for half an hour carrying my luggage (roller bags weren’t a thing yet), finally, found my car and drove home. I’d lost, no one loved me and I didn’t know if I’d be able to compete ever again. It was the worst day of my life.
I hadn’t thought of that day in the past twenty-five years. You’d think it would make me depressed to remember that, but it actually made me smile at how naive I was in my twenties. There have certainly been worse days than that. I lost that custody battle – temporarily. My new husband died when I was in my thirties.
Now THAT should make me depressed, certainly. Oddly, it doesn’t.
What it all reminded me is that you get over things – or you should. My same sister laughed at me, in a friendly way, when I told her I was going to school to get a doctorate. She said,
You just accomplished something that would be most people’s goal for a lifetime and now you go and set another one.
That’s as it should be. As The Spoiled One brilliantly advised me one day when I was frustrated trying to solve some programming problem:
Life is long, Mom. Don’t worry, you’ll get there.
So, my thought for the day is this:
Whether you think today is the worst day of your life or the best day of your life, if you keep going, it will get better.
Feel smarter after reading this blog? Want to be even smarter? Check out what I do on my day job – adventure games that teach math and Native American history. Buy for yourself or donate for a child or school.
Your mileage may vary, your life may vary, but there are a few lessons worth learning . As a public service, I have decided to share with you things I thought I knew but was initially wrong about.
- Your children don’t actually consider you a person until they are nearly 30 (if ever).
Many years ago, when teaching adolescent psychology, I remember the textbook author saying that most people really don’t consider their parents as people until they are in their thirties. At the time, my children were very young, and I thought that was just a ludicrous statement. Now, I’m pretty sure that he was right. I can’t tell you the number of young adults I have seen treating their parents in ways that they would never treat anyone else. Doubt me? Consider an adult in his/ her twenties whose parent is paying part (or all) of their rent. I know plenty of people in this situation, some are employed but ‘want to live somewhere nicer’ than they can afford. Others want to ‘follow my dream’. Those same young adults would never expect their friend, boss or co-worker to pay their rent – because, well, why the hell would another person who doesn’t live with you support you? Maybe that other adult (your parent) has a dream to travel the world or open a knitting school or spend all their money on cheap women and expensive whiskey.
(For those who wonder if this is personal, I would like to note that all of my children are self-supporting except for the one in high school, and I have no interest in spending my money on cheap women – or knitting schools. I do like expensive whiskey.)
Speaking of personal, though, lesson number one was brought home to me recently when I was complaining to The Perfect Jennifer about something stupid and unimportant, like having to walk down to the bank to deposit a check. I apologized for rambling on and made a comment about being a complainer and she corrected me,
“No, Mom, really you’re not. You never complain about the things like having to take care of three kids by yourself after Dad died, while starting a company at the same time. I’ll bet that was hard. It sounds really hard.”
She was 29.
This is the first time any of my children actually acknowledged that it was difficult for me, too. I have to say, that made my day. It WAS hard. A friend of mine lost her father when she was in high school, and she was telling me that it wasn’t until she was in her forties and had her own children in high school that she thought about all of the things her husband does and how hard it would be to take care of everything without him.
My point isn’t that their father’s death wasn’t unbelievably hard on the children, nor that I expected them to feel sorry for me when they were little kids. It is simply this, as children, everyone sees their parents primarily in terms of fulfilling their own needs, basically in terms of how they can use them. Children see the world as centered around them.
We often don’t consider our parents as actual adult humans with their own feelings, aspirations, difficulties, strengths and weaknesses until we become adults ourselves. Sometimes, not even then.
—– Want to learn even more ?
Play yourself, buy it for your children (however they think about you!)