How Twitter Helped Change my Life

A friend of mine mentioned that a woman had invited him to her apartment. Let me just say that my friend does not exactly rival Mother Teresa for celibacy. Astounded, I asked him why he hadn’t taken her up on the offer. He answered that his son had died recently and he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life having one-night stands. My friend is Dakota Sioux and they believe that what one does in the year after the death of a significant person – a spouse, a child – is how you will be the rest of your life.

I think the Sioux have a great deal of traditional wisdom when it comes to dealing with death. Maybe there is something to this part of it. I know after my husband died I worked from when I got up until I fell asleep from exhaustion. I taught psychometrics and developmental psychology at one college, drove 80 miles and taught evening courses in market research (I have an MBA along with an MA & Ph.D.). Then, late into the night, I did analyses of data for evaluations, research projects, needs assessments for grant proposals. I paid off the medical bills, funeral bills, put two children through college, watched a third compete in two Olympics, and kept working 70-80 hours a week.

Finally, this year, my daughter’s coach asked me out of curiosity,

“Do you really need the money? Because you have a little girl at home and you are teaching until past her bedtime and then doing whatever you do at the university on the computer all day and flying around the country doing that other thing you do.”

And I realized, no, I didn’t really need the money and hadn’t for quite some time. Three of my daughters are living on their own, my (not-so-new any more) husband has a job and if I quit working completely the main difference in our lives might be that there would be less useless crap that I have to box up and give to Goodwill every month. If the economy really is stalling, it’s not our fault. In China, there’s probably an entire Factory of Useless Plastic and Electronic Crap named after my family.

So, I politely declined the opportunity to teach at two graduate schools this year. Then, I was on Twitter one day and Eric Greenspan, who I would not know if he came to my house and fixed my plumbing, asked the question, to the world in general,

“If I could do what I really wanted ___________ “

I thought about it for a minute and I almost wrote back, if I could do what I really wanted to do, I would just work on research projects that interest me. I would write papers on aspects of programming that I happened to be interested in that day. I’d learn as much as I could about everything I could in statistics and satisfy my curiosity about some things. For example, I really am skeptical that generalized models or mixed models are that superior to a plain old GLM if you have a million data points or if there are very large differences among your groups. (Okay, well maybe you wonder about the meaning of life, but as my daughters always tell me, I’m not THAT interesting.) I’d only work on projects that I thought had the potential to make a difference – or that I felt like doing just for the hell of it. And I would telecommute because what’s the point of living by the beach if you are away at work all the time. Besides, my house is where all my stuff is.

I didn’t write him back, first of all, because he wouldn’t know me if I spilled my Starbucks coffee on him, secondly because that is way the hell over 140 characters and thirdly, as I thought about this, my jaw dropped open because I realized there was not a single reason in the world that I couldn’t do exactly that this moment.

Within the next 48 hours, I was asked to work on not one but two separate projects that I thought would be awesome (oh, I’m charging them money. I’m not stupid). I turned in my letter of resignation. Wednesday, I leave from my last day at the university to Boston, where I have a meeting on research design that I think will be totally awesome. (If you like that sort of thing, which I really, really do.) I’ll see my daughter for her birthday the next day and take my granddaughter to the aquarium and then fly home.

Don’t take everything you read on twitter too seriously though. According to @vwadhwa companies prefer to hire younger engineers and tech people. This may be true in general, but my two weeks of notice isn’t even up yet and I am already booked for the next six months.

Vwadhwa seems to keep working, too, and from his teeny little picture on twitter he looks to be slightly older than Justin Bieber, if you ask me, which, you shouldn’t because I haven’t the faintest idea what Justin Bieber looks like, but I’m going with what it would be like if Abercrombie & Fitch sold people.

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  1. Having followed you for some time and appreciating your view on our part of the world, I have to say that this is you most profound post. Go for it and follow your passion.

  2. Thank you!

    You know, I started out in statistics at Washington University.

    I took statistics from Dr. Spitznagel purely for fun as an elective my last semester. Even though I only went to two-thirds of the lectures – it was Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons and Friday afternoon is when the frat parties were getting started – it was one of my favorite courses ever.

    As a professor, I would sometimes remember that, that you may be having much more of an impact on a person than you ever realize. I think that is one of the reasons I stayed in teaching for so long.

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