Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Albert Bandura, arguably the greatest living psychologist. To almost anyone who ever took an undergraduate psychology course, he is best remembered for his Bobo doll study, where he found that young children who observed aggressive behavior being reinforced (on a doll), were more likely to be aggressive themselves – that is, modeling and vicarious reinforcement contributed to aggression.

This talk wasn’t about that. It was about happiness.

Cow_female_black_whiteDr. Bandura was talking about one of his studies on happiness and I remember him saying that one of the strongest predictors of happiness in the subjects in his study was, “an absence of self-ruminative thoughts.”

I’ve always thought rumination was slightly disgusting. It’s what cows and other ruminants do, defined as “to chew again what has been slightly chewed and swallowed”. Turns out, not only is the physical kind of rumination a bit yucky but the mental kind is particularly bad for you.

We all do it sometimes – wonder what that cute guy in physics class thinks of me, did he notice I wore a particularly nice outfit today or that I got the answer right to that especially difficult question the professor asked, does he think maybe I’m too pushy calling out the answers in class, maybe that answer really wasn’t perfect even though the professor said it was correct. Maybe there was a more complete answer and I left out part of it. Would it have been better if I mentioned how it related to the section we just read on forces? And on and on.

I’m pretty happy most of the time and I attribute a lot of it to having missed home economics class on the day they brought all of the girls together and told them that they needed to evaluate themselves constantly and in parts. I have never, ever understood the women and girls I meet who say, “I think my nose is ugly. My butt is just too big. I’d be so much happier if I could just lose a few pounds. My hair looks awful like this.”  And on and on.

Here is what I think when I get up in the morning and look in the mirror.

I look fine.

Then I brush my teeth and my hair and go on with my day. The world of full of people both prettier and uglier than me. I’m over it.

What Bandura said is that the happiest people were focused outward. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said something very similar, that we are happiest when we are absorbed in an activity. When I am happiest is when I’m working – designing a program, reading research, writing code. When I was young, what made me happiest was when I was doing judo, running track, or yes, writing code which we called programming back then because we weren’t cool enough to call ourselves software developers.

I went to a start-up event a couple of weeks ago, and the very best comment I heard from any of the speakers was this,

“Quit telling  yourself that everyone knows more than you. First of all, they don’t and secondly it doesn’t matter. If you keep working at whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll get better.”

Quit thinking about you and start thinking about the task at hand. It’s probably the secret to success and it’s definitely the secret to happiness.

And that’s #18 of 55 things that I’ve learned in (almost) 55 years.



When I first heard the title of Sinead O’Connor’s song, “I do not want what I haven’t got”, I thought that she had identified the secret to happiness. Reflecting a bit, though, I realized I’m one of the happiest people I know and I want lots of things I haven’t got.

The secret isn’t not wanting what you haven’t got but rather being satisfied with what you have. This might sound contradictory, but it’s not.


Someone who is obviously much smarter than me made the comment,

“Young people are always thinking they will be happy – IF.  If they get a better job, make more money, finish this degree. What they don’t realize is that it’s their choice to be happy now.”

For a long time, I was afraid that if I was satisfied with what I had and enjoyed life that would make me lose my drive, that successful people have to always be somewhat unhappy. Let’s skip over the contradiction in that sentence ….

I can think of four couples I know who I am sure are happy most of the time.

One couple is older, has a very lovely home in an upscale enclave, with his and hers Mercedes in the garage. They are really nice people. After both having very successful careers, they retired comfortably, although he still does a bit of consulting to keep his hand in. They traveled a lot for a while and now they mostly chill out at home, with regular exercise at the country club.

One couple is in their forties and doesn’t own a car. They are really into biking everywhere. They live in a pretty nondescript apartment in a pretty boring part of town and both work at pretty mainstream jobs – that is, enough to pay the bills but nothing to impress the sort of people they don’t care to impress anyway. When I asked what they’d like for a present they both agreed,

“We have SO much. We really don’t need anything!”

While I (and the first couple) certainly have a whole heck of a lot more than them, they look at it in terms of how much the average person in the world has. By comparison, a couple of really nice bicycles, dozens of dishes, even more books, a computer, cell phones and all of the paraphernalia of American life seemed an embarrassment of riches.

The next couple that came to mind is younger, have good jobs for someone starting out, just bought their first car, expecting their first child, and live in a nice-enough apartment in a nice-enough part of a big city.

While none of those couples have children, The Invisible Developer and I have four. We don’t have matching Mercedes. We have a 10 year old mini-van and a new Prius.

What we all have in common, though, is that we think a lot about what we have rather than what we don’t. Today, I received two email messages from people who appear to be only slightly smarter than a rock. I was irritated for 10 seconds before I thought how lucky I am that the great majority of my life is spent working with really intelligent people and how good it is to have a career, family and circle of friends that are so intelligent.

2013-04-06 16.59.13


I am always a tiny bit annoyed when it is a lovely day on the weekend because then the traffic in Santa Monica is such a pain that it is way less trouble to walk than drive. The beach is crowded. The mountain trails are crowded.

So …. I work on the weekend and take Monday off. Except that tomorrow, I have a student who needs help with her dissertation, plus I need to get information to my accountant for the taxes so I’ll end up hiking in the mountains on Tuesday. In the same situation, I can name you six people off the top of my head who would be lamenting and wailing,

I didn’t get to go to the mountains this weekend because it was so crowded and I worked and now I can’t go on Monday, either!

So what? The mountains aren’t going anywhere. I live in Santa Monica close enough to everything I want to go to that I can walk when it’s a lovely day. I have the flexibility to take off during the week.

That’s why I’m happy, right? Sounds great. And it IS great. My point is that I have not once mentioned the things I haven’t got. I certainly don’t look like I did 30 years ago. Some days I think I am the only woman on the westside with her original face. I didn’t look like a twenty-year-old model when I was twenty and I sure as hell don’t now. I could spend all day listing the things I haven’t got, but what’s the point? I’d rather focus on what I do have and be happy.

I will tell you two things that all four of the couples I was thinking about have in common and that is love and work. They are all happy with the work they are doing/ have done and happy with the person they are with. Being happy with the work you are doing doesn’t mean you don’t want to do more, bigger and better things ever – or even tomorrow. It does mean you recognize the good in what you are doing now.

Be happy now. That’s the secret to happiness.

And that is #17 of 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years.

On a related note, see #9 – Don’t trade your life for stuff.




” … we may then define intellect in general as the power of good response from the point of view of truth or fact.” – Thorndike, 1921

Edward Tufte impresses me. His books on visual data show him as possessing in copious amounts that very rare commodity – truly original thoughts . So, when he tweeted the other day that this paper by Hill was “probably the best paper ever about making causal inference about human behavior”, of course I had to read it.

This got me to wondering about how we know something is true and led me to another thing I have learned in (almost) 55 years.

As I responded to a commenter on my blog the other day,

#15: Just because you believe something passionately doesn’t make it true.

Sometimes it might. If you believe passionately that you can earn a Ph.D. , win a gold medal in the world judo championships, run a marathon or swim the English channel, perhaps you can make it true. However, no matter how much you like your cigarettes, no matter how strongly you believe that tobacco is good for you because it is “natural”, the data are not on your side.

world championship

When a correlation between two characteristics is observed, it is common for people who don’t want that relationship to exist to object,

“Correlation doesn’t prove causation”

That is completely true. That is also not the same thing as correlation being unrelated to causation. Correlation can provide SUPPORT for a hypothesis of causation, although it is true that it cannot provide proof. In other words, we have more confidence to believe that some things  are good, more than others, from the point of view of truth or fact. Statisticians even quantify that degree of confidence in something called a confidence interval.

In his paper, Hill discusses the strength of the association found. If the death rate of the population of people in an area with a very high rate of air pollution is 14 times higher than in another area with a low rate of air pollution, then we have more confidence of a possible causal relationship than if it is 1.14 times higher.

He also discusses replication and consistency. If you can find one or two studies on a topic that support your belief, that doesn’t make it true. There is a lot more in Hill’s article. It’s both short and brilliant. You should read it.

My dissertation advisor, the late Dr. Richard Eyman, gave me  a lot of profound advice. One piece of it was

When the results don’t come out the way you expect, check everything over again. Make sure your measures are reliable and valid. Check for outliers and re-run your analyses without them. Go over everything again and look for threats to the validity of your design – the treatment was administered as you expected, the tests were administered according to the standard procedures. Run your study again and see if you get the same results. And when your results do come out the way you expect – DO THE EXACT SAME THING!

Just because you believe it, doesn’t make it true.

For lies (and data) about anchor babies, click here.

For #14 of the things I have learned in (almost) 55 years, click here. I’m trying to get to 55 by the time I turn 55 in August. I believe I can do it!




I’m not much for reading management blogs. Most of them are  just a collection of worn-out cliches, but the fifth of Cristina’s Five Things You Wish You Could Say to Employees, really caught my eye. 

5. Your Work Is Sloppy! OK, don’t use the “s” word, it has all sorts of negative baggage. Employees who have this problem are usually aware that they are not “detail-oriented” and a more gentle reminder will work better. Here are some goals to address this issue: “Focus on tying up all loose ends before closing out or submitting a project.” Or, “Regularly employ to-do lists and checklists in order to ensure peace of mind that no step was skipped or overlooked.

I don’t understand why many people  who would be terribly bothered if they had to admit, “I don’t read very well”, think it is okay to say, “I’m bad at math” . Similarly, I am confused by the number of  people who say, almost proudly, “I’m not a detail person.”  I THINK they see being focused on the details, like whether or not the punctuation goes inside  or outside of the quotation marks as one type of person and seeing “the big picture” , like coming up with an idea for a research grant, as two mutually exclusive possibilities.

Anyone who tells me, “I am not a detail person” better have some GREAT (and I do mean GREAT) strengths in other areas for me to overlook that. Cristina Parisi put it perfectly. When you say you are not a detail person, it means that you leave work for other people to clean up behind you. For example, I knew a programmer who invariably had two or three misspelled words on every page that he wrote – email, documentation, memos – not because English was his second language or any type of  disability – he simply didn’t take the time to proof-read. Because we did not want documents sent out to clients or upper management to be peppered with misspelled words, someone else would always correct his work before sending it on. He often had problems with getting applications to function correctly. He would write a program that the logic made sense, there were no syntax errors, but the program just did not work. Invariably, there would be some detail he had overlooked, like that the password to access the data changed every 90 days and he had not changed it in his code. Because he was such a nice guy, when I found those problems the first several times, I fixed them. After that, I started pointing out – “You know, the directory was changed three weeks ago and that is why your code isn’t working.”

He never did see that HE had a problem and he couldn’t understand why he didn’t get promoted faster. He was definitely intelligent and very knowledgable about technology. From his point of view, he did what he was supposed to do – wrote a program, wrote a memo – and got it done on time. He couldn’t be bothered with the details of knowing whether the passwords were changed or the data were moved. That was someone else’s job.

There are people like him in every field, people who write a grant proposal – except that it is five pages over the twenty-page limit, lacks a budget and has no references cited. In other words – you left the work of finishing it up for ME to do – and often, finishing it up takes longer than any work you put into it (but that’s a detail you wouldn’t worry about, now is it?)

What those “non-detail” people don’t see is that they are often perceived as arrogant, that they assume that other people will clean up after them. Maybe that is why people feel it is okay to “not be detail-oriented”, because from their point of view, the president of General Motors or Microsoft or the United States doesn’t know all of the details of what company manufactures the spark plugs, the name of every file in the operating system or the location of every tank.

That may be so.

But you’re not him – and you’re irritating the hell out of your colleagues.




Apparently, I skipped from #7 to #9, so here are two more things I have learned in 55 years bringing me up to 13.

#8 Kindness is never wasted 

Over the years, I have donated a lot of money, anonymously, to various causes. In more cases than I want to admit, I have seen signs that it was misplaced – the scholarship donor quit school, the athlete really did not train all that hard, the recipient bought a car or went on a trip overseas, making me wonder if they really needed the assistance . Maybe it is helping a person out who, when I needed assistance, didn’t lift a finger. Yet, I still give my time and money whenever I can.  Today, my darling daughter #3 did a mixed martial arts seminar that raised over $11,000 for a mental health clinic to assist people with eating disorders. Certainly some of the people who attended the seminar benefited. Maybe others did not. However, they may have been a partner for those people who did learn something.At the very least, they donated $200 to the mental health clinic as the price of attendance. Maybe some people who are in the Didi Hirsch residential program will not get anything out of the services and be just as ill as previously. There are five reasons kindness is never wasted:

The fifth reason is also

#13 You never know the reach you have had


After Ronda’s fight last month, darling daughter #2, also known as “The Perfect Jennifer” commented that she was the least accomplished of my children. Ronda is a world champion in mixed martial arts and Maria is an award-winning journalist who has been published in two languages and on three continents.

I told Jenn that nothing could be further than the truth. She teaches in an inner city middle school. Truly smack in the middle of the city. Her students respect her and really do their best to achieve in her class. It shows on their standardized test scores, in their behavior in her classroom and in their work adorning the walls. When I went to visit her class, I thought she had made the posters and flyers on the wall – “political ads” supporting the Magna Carta.

I told her that when you talk to people about who made a real difference in their lives, it’s seldom some sports or literary figure, and far, far more often a teacher. There are several teachers I can remember as significant in my life – my eighth-grade social studies teacher who told me that it was time to stop saying I could do all of the work and start to prove it by doing it. I’m still not a big fan of history, but I never forgot his lesson about no one having earned a reputation on what they were going to do. Pretty much every math teacher I ever had from sixth-grade on sticks out in my memory. Sister Marion, who I am sure passed away  many, many years ago was the first. She gave me math textbooks to take home after I had finished all of the sixth grade work, so I could learn more. I did very, very few problems in those books because – hey, I was in sixth-grade and there were more exciting things in life – but that confidence that I should be good at math has stuck with me for the next forty years.

I’ve had a pretty wonderful life, in part because I benefited greatly from scholarships to Logos High School, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Riverside. I wasn’t always the most rewarding student. In fact, until graduate school, I went to more parties than I did classes. Because of those scholarships, though, I am in a position now where I can give back. I am sure my high school teachers would have considered me one of those students on whom their kindness was wasted.

Which just goes to show, you never know.



This is number 12 of 55 things I have learned in almost 55 years, back by (believe it or not) popular demand. You can find #11, just accept that you can’t do everything, right here.

I’ve had a fair bit of success lately, as well as in my life overall – made some money, published a book, won some gold medals, had some lovely, accomplished children. When I look through the photos on my phone almost every one is the sort of thing some people dream about, from ocean views to famous people to five-star restaurants. Life is very good.

view from MalibuLike most people who start out with very little and have a lot of their dreams come true, I’ve found it to be different than I had expected.

A dear friend of mine commented wryly,

“I’ve found how interesting my opinions are to younger people to be directly correlated with my financial success.”

The more successful you get, the more “friends” you have. Like my friend, I’ve started multiple companies (back before serial entrepreneur was a thing. We were just in business). During years I made lots of money, I was the flavor of the month and everyone wanted some. When I would sell one business and start over, I was, like my friend, not nearly as interesting. These days, things are going well and I have a lot of new best friends. Few people are surprised to find that their popularity expands and contracts with their success (whether it is financial, athletic or professional). What will probably surprise you is the people who stick with you through thick and thin aren’t always the ones you expect. One of the benefits of lean times is that you can learn who your true friends are.

Success can lose you friends. I didn’t see that one coming. It can be for a lot of reasons. Sometimes your lives just diverge – you’re vacationing in the Bahamas, eating at Chinois, and your friend feels awkward always having you pick up the tab, even if you don’t mind a bit. Maybe you have a Ph.D. and want to talk about the latest book you read and your friend wants to talk about the hometown high school football team that you haven’t thought about since high school. Your friends get jealous of your success. It doesn’t seem fair that someone who was once in the same class/ team/ building as them is now doing whatever it is that you’re up to. Imagined slights – you forgot to call on their birthday, didn’t notice them in a crowded room, didn’t mention them in your latest interview – turn into full-blown arguments out of the blue.

You may start out determined to be successful to “show them” – the mean girls in your school, the five ‘elite’ families in your small town, or even the people who quit being your friends – but by the time you get to a point where they’ll envy you, you probably won’t give a rat’s ass what those people think. In fact, you’ll probably have forgotten they exist.





This is number 11 of 55 things I have learned in almost 55 years. You can find number 10 here , ten days ago, and that brings me to number 11.

“Just accept that you can’t always do everything.”

I’m very bad at taking this advice, as anyone who has ever met me can attest. Last night, Darling Daughter #3 had a world title fight in the UFC. That is mixed martial arts, which involves punching people and not actually art, as believed by a confused colleague who asked at what museum my daughter’s work could be viewed. It was viewed at the Honda Center where she won by an arm bar in the first round. I was so nervous that the fight was 24 hours ago and I am STILL nervous even though it’s over and she won, because I had nervous left over.

More people than I can count called or texted me and I did not get back to a few who I really should have gotten back to because they are good people and good friends, but I could only call so many people.

Also during the past 18 days we have had a Kickstarter campaign under way, which will (I am sure) come to a successful closure in less than three days. That has taken up a lot of time and it probably should have taken more but there was a proposal that I was writing that is really significant for our company, plus there was the fight. (I also had a book on matwork for judo and mixed martial arts released last week which I should have spent more time promoting.)

Since I am pretty certain the Kickstarter campaign will be successful, and I also have two proposals under review to complete further work on this game,  I should be working on game design and coding. Incredibly, I got a good bit done from Friday through today while stressing about my daughter, it gave me something to take my mind off of her fight. Still, I should get more done.

I have clients. Who pay me. Half of our income comes from consulting and I have had wonderfully forbearing clients over the past few weeks as all of this craziness has happened but I should be doing more to support their needs.



And my beautiful grandchildren are visiting from the east coast, so I should be spending time with them. At Disneyland. With princesses. Or so I have been told approximate 246 times.

Carl Rogers called this “the tyranny of the should”, saying that we make ourselves miserable by constantly feeling bad about the things we SHOULD have done, but didn’t. Often, he says, we didn’t because it wasn’t really what we believe but what we think we are supposed to believe is best for us.

In fact, there is no way on earth I could have done all of those things because there are simply not enough hours in a week. So, I figured out what I COULD do. I could only go to my daughter’s fight on Saturday because they’d sold 15,000 tickets so they weren’t going to reschedule it for my convenience. My grandchildren were only in town a few days. I did the 106 Miles demo in Santa Monica because, again, it was only on Wednesday and no one was moving it for my convenience. Doing the demo forced us to do a quality review on the game with a fine-toothed comb, so we did make some progress there.

The database I have been working on for a client can be modified later for the game, so progress is being made.

Still, I had to face up to that I could not do everything this week. I had to put off some of the database work and put off some of the book promotion. I will have to get together with some people in the weeks to come.

If you can’t always do what everyone wants when they want it, that doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human.

Speaking of humans, as in young humans, also known as children … click on over to our Kickstarter for Spirit Lake – an awesome adventure game to teach kids math – and please back us. You’ll get a fun game and other prizes. Your children will also get smarter. What more could you ask?




Christmas tree with presentsIn The Christmas Choir, a nun asks a Wall Street businessman volunteering at the homeless shelter what the meaning of life is. He guesses to be happy. She says,

“The meaning of life is to be useful.”

I thought of that this week when someone on twitter commented on all of the different activities I had mentioned lately.

The free rice group – this is the third time Ronda, has run a competition leading up to a fight. You go to the site, join her group and for every answer you get correct the sponsor donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme. To date, her fans have donated 83 MILLION grains of rice. The RondaUFC group for this fight alone is over 52,000,000. Mostly I just tweet and blog about that, ask companies that sell MMA and judo apparel to donate the prizes and then I mail them out, complaining all the while (I hate waiting in line to mail stuff).

Kickstarter campaign – we are making a game to teach math, with a MAJOR focus on students on American Indian reservations. We received $100,000 from USDA to develop a prototype under its Small Business Innovation Research program. With that, and a good chunk of our funds, we built and tested six levels, that had very promising results in raising mathematics scores. Now we are applying for an additional $450,000. A significant part of that evaluation criteria (20%) is your commercial potential. Which is why the Kickstarter campaign is important. Our goal is to raise $20,000 to tell USDA – see, it does have commercial potential. Go to Kickstarter. Pledge $35 – we’ll send you a license and give one to a student as well. If you pledge $50 we’ll throw in a signed photo of Ronda.

My book – yes, I wrote a book on matwork for judo and mixed martial arts. I doubt many people who read this blog are into matwork but if you are, it is called Winning on the Ground and you can buy it for the Kindle, Nook or Sony or other ereaders.  Here’s the Amazon link.  The paperback is out in March. Not only will it, I hope, teach some people matwork, but I told The Spoiled One to research charities for her Christian service credit hours and pick one to donate the royalties to. She picked a program for homeless youth.

I also teach judo at Gompers Middle School in south Los Angeles. I’m the evaluator for a project on the Spirit Lake Nation. I teach a doctoral course in statistics once a year.

I’m helping, a little, with the organizing of the Don’t Throw Up, Throw Down fund. Ronda is matching donations to the Didi Hirsch Clinic for outreach mental health up to $5,000 and to be sure they GET $5,000 she is doing a seminar at Glendale Fight Club in March.

When I run through all of this, usually there will be  at least one person who posts in the comments,

“Yeah, we get it, you’re great. You brag too much and …. “

and a lot more vituperation. My response is always to think, although I never respond because feeding trolls is definitely NOT useful,

“What the fuck is WRONG with you?”

No, my point is not I am great. My point is all of these activities I just mentioned have something in common – to be useful. To help feed people. To help teach people. To support programs that are doing good in the community.

That’s how the world gets better, you know. Each of those things I mentioned is not a major deal. It’s not the Gates Foundation. But it’s something. Too many people, because they can’t do something huge, don’t do anything. What most of the things I mentioned have in common is that ANYONE can help. If you are completely broke, you can go on over to the free rice site and answer some questions. If you are super-busy, you can go to the Kickstarter campaign and pledge $10 or $100, whatever. You can give to Didi Hirsch. Just put Ronda Rousey fund in one of the boxes on the form and bang, your contribution is doubled.

Or don’t do any of those things, but do SOMETHING.

Yes, I am busy all of the time, but I am busy doing things that are interesting and are useful. Otherwise, you may end up someone who has nothing better to do than write spiteful things to people they don’t know on the Internet.

There is never a day that goes by that I don’t turn to The Rocket Scientist and say,

“Don’t we have a great life?”

I think the secret to the meaning of life is this – If you’re useful, you’ll BE happy.




Let’s make a deal. Would you trade me 30 years of your life for this house in Malibu?


Say, you are 25 now, so, instead of living to 78, you’d live to be 48. Would you trade? If I threw in a really nice car, all the newest computers, iPhones, big-screen TVs and a new designer wardrobe every year, PLUS the house, would you trade me 35 years of your life for the whole package and agree to kick off at age 43?

If this sounds like a deal with the devil – I did meet the devil recently, but that’s not it. In fact, it’s the trade off that I believe most people make. I took the picture above sitting on a mountain looking down at that house. Several times a year, I go hiking in the Santa Monica mountains. I always look down or up at beautiful places like this and exactly ONCE have I seen anyone outside. While I’m enjoying the view, they’re in an office downtown.

Maybe they love their job and that’s exactly what they want to do. In that case, good for them. However, a great many people I meet start out trading their life for stuff at a very young age. I walked, biked, hitch-hiked or took the bus to class, to work and to judo tournaments.  I didn’t buy my first car until I was 23 years old, by which time I had a BSBA, MBA, two national titles and two US Open gold medals.

Many people I met had quit competing, dropped out of college or were still in community college. Most of them had bought a car at 16 or 18 years old, and their parents to “teach them responsibility”, had insisted they at least pay the insurance and buy their own gas. Some of them wanted a really nice car and also made the car payment.  Once they moved out and got their own apartment, that cost plus the car made it really necessary for them to work. At some point, they ended up dropping classes or missing practice because they had to work.

I also had to work while I was in high school and college, but because I did not have those extra expenses, when I needed to study more or train for a tournament, I could quit my job and live on savings for a while. That also meant I sometimes attended classes wearing clothes from Goodwill, surrounded by classmates in designer clothes. Yes there were mean girls in my school and a few of them made snide comments until I asked,

“How would you like to be punched in the face?”

Then the comments stopped. Wonder why they never try that in the after-school specials? I don’t know, maybe it is trading your life for being part of the “cool crowd”, i.e., the ones that would be produced if Abercrombie & Fitch made people.

All I know is that at almost every turn when The Rocket Scientist and I had a choice between stuff and something else, we chose the something else. Buy a big house or send darling daughters #1 and #2 to NYU and USC – pay for schools. Buy a big house or send darling daughter #3 around the world to train for the Olympics – Olympics.

The same is true for life – buy a new car every year and a lot of other stuff or put money in our 401k so we could quit what we were doing and work at making math games full time, at no pay, if necessary.

(Go support our Kickstarter campaign here, by the way. It’s awesome.)

You only get one life. What are you trading it for?

That, my dears, is#9 in the 55 things I’ve learned in (almost) 55 years.





This is number seven. You can find 1, 2 & 3 here and 4-6 here.

“I went to a strip club once. I looked around and thought, ‘All of these guys are complete losers.’ Then I asked myself what was I doing here. I must be a loser, too. I got up and left and I’ve never been in one since.”

This is a little more interesting take on the “You are the average of your five closest friends” meme that has been going around these days. (I am still puzzled by whatever motivated my extremely conservative friend to ever go to a strip club in the first place.) While Buford Taylor’s post was on software engineering, the same applies to life in general. Here are a few examples I have observed how my life has gotten SO much better since I quit associating with people that I frankly did not think were good people.

Honesty. I have heard too many times, “It’s just business.” If you work with people who bend the truth, cut corners and look the other way, eventually, you start to feel that is normal. When you find yourself in that situation, get out as soon as you can. Trust me on this one. Of my five closest friends, four are scrupulously honest, as in, wouldn’t tell a lie if they were under torture. The fifth – well, he might tell you he scored the winning run in the high school state championships when he was actually on the bench, but as far as anything that ever mattered, he is batting 1,000.

Courage. All of my friends have courage in spades. I have friends who were in the Marines, fire department and law enforcement. I also have a couple who have never faced anything more life-threatening than a computer virus. Courage is not just running into a burning building or standing in the line of fire. It is also standing up in a meeting when everyone else has agreed to a plan of action that you think is wrong and saying, “No.” It’s being able to withstand a storm of public criticism, ridicule and possible lawsuits to stand up for what you believe is right.

Intelligence. I don’t have any dumb friends. Everyone I know is smarter than me about some things and I ask their advice often. When I’m with my friends, I’m never the smartest person in the room. That’s a good thing. Both The Rocket Scientist and I are convinced we married someone smarter than ourselves and got a good deal.

Reliability. If you met my closest friends, you might think they are quite different. Some people, like me, work all of the time. Others might have a lot of days when they completely screw off but then pull all-nighters. Some get up at 5 a.m. and some, like me, only see 5 a.m. on their way  to bed. A couple of my friends don’t do a minute more work than they absolutely must and the others live for their work. None of them have ever missed a deadline.

One of the nicest things anyone ever said about me (it’s been a few years so excuse me if it isn’t exact) was when a friend of mine was defending me to someone who had criticized some position I’d taken,

“Look, the difference between you and AnnMaria is that if she agrees to meet you April 23rd, 2015 in front of the Eiffel Tower, when that day comes around, she’ll be there and you won’t!”

I’ve learned over the years that most people, when they say they will do something, mean that they will do it if the roads aren’t too bad, or they don’t get a better offer or they just don’t feel like it that day. Then there are people who when they say they will do something, will simply do it.

This is a super-important lesson and it took me a long time to learn it. You ARE the people you associate with. Don’t buy that line that you need to associate with unethical or incompetent people because you need a job, it’s only business, they coach your kids, you want to win – whatever excuse you have, it’s not worth it. As Carly Fiorina said,

“Once you sell your soul, no one can buy it back for you.”

If you are unhappy with your job, your friends, your love life, think about this – what are the non-negotiable qualities for the people around you? If your friends are people who are athletic, attractive, successful and funny, is that what you want? Before you say, “Yes, who wouldn’t want that?” take a look at the qualities I just listed and think again.

A couple of years ago, I made the comment to someone that I have better friends than I deserve. He responded

“I don’t think that’s possible. I think it’s an oxymoron. I believe people get exactly the friends they deserve.”

I sure hope he is right and I advise you to act as if he is.

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