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Aunt Pythia’s advice

February 23, 2013

I’m psyched to be back here at my weekly inane advice column. Glad you’re here too.

This week I had the hugest compliment payed to my alter ego Aunt Pythia, namely that in a domestic dispute her name was floated as the person who could solve the dilemma at hand. There was even a threat of writing to Aunt Pythia, mid-argument!

Now that’s what I call real-world impact, which as you know is how I measure all things.

By the way, if you don’t know what you’re in for, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia. Most importantly,

Please submit your question at the bottom of this column!


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What do you wish you had known when you were 21 years old? If you could go back and yell, “That’s not important, don’t think about that! Look over here!” what would you explain? I’ve got only one run through the early 20s and I need your help.

Gloomily orating, an undergrad not totaling plenty years turning humbug into acronym

Dear Goauntpythia,

This will sound trite, but here goes.

There’s one thing I figured out when I was about 23 or so that has served me incredibly well, which is something I call “death bed reckoning”. Namely, when I struggle to make a decision, I think about how I’d view this decision one way or the other on my death bed. For whatever reason I have a lot of time on my hands in this imaginary bed.

So, for example, if I think, “I’ll regret it (on my death bed) if I don’t try, because it’s actually something I want to have at least attempted” then my answer is obvious, and I do it. If instead I think, “I won’t give a shit (on my death bed) if I do this or not” then I stop worrying and just do whatever I freaking feel like.

It’s actually incredibly nerdy if you think about it: an asymptotic limit of whether it matters and which direction it matters.

I recently came across a list of the “5 top regrets of dying people” with interest, since I think about death bed regrets so much. And guess what? I can happily say I’m avoiding those top 5 by living my life via death bed reckoning. They are (according to this possibly totally unscientific article):

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I am going to restrain myself from giving you advice that’s more precise than this because I honestly know nothing about what it would mean for you to have the courage to live a life true to yourself. But the cool thing is you know what that means. Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been reading this blog by a total babe, and I love it. She is just so f*cking right all the time. I read her posts every day and I feel like telling her how much what she is writing comes from the bottom of my heart. It feels like having a mental hard on, but then I feel that it would be cheesy and cliche to say that. Do you know a good way to handle this situation?

Mental Hard On

Dear MHO,

I hear you, same thing happens to me. I feel like anything too overt would run the risk of giving her even more of a cult of personality – after all, I don’t want her to get all fake and/or self-conscious! What if she starts giving TED talks, for God’s sake!? That would be horrible.

Even so, I need to somehow feel close.

The best I’ve come up with to deal with my crush is to buy lots of t-shirts and coffee mugs that remind me of her so she’ll be with me in those stolen intimate moments I eke out in lavatory stalls.

Good luck!



Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’ve been dating this amazing woman, but there’s one issue that I feel uneasy about (I’m a man).

She’s a few years older than I am, and very successful and well-regarded in her field. Her independence and intelligence, which are doubtless big contributors to her success, are also huge turn-ons for me. I have a lot of ambition, but in my profession, being good at what you do does not lead to much money or recognition without, in addition, a big stroke of luck.

I worry that if things grow more serious, the status-income inequality will become an issue. It doesn’t bother me, but I get anxious it might start to bother her down the line. Is that the same thing as it bothering me?

I know there’s some ingrained, implied sexism here on my part that on a conscious level I disagree with–it’s not from her these worries come but from some past experience and general societal input re: gender roles. How do I get over this anxiety–which, I stress, I think is MY problem–and not let it damage what could be something wonderful?

R. Burns

Dear Mr. Burns,

I want to separate the issues here a bit.

First of all, you’re right that it’s your problem, so don’t ascribe it to her until she starts saying something like, “I feel weird that I make more money than you.” But second of all, it’s not about money.  It sounds like together you guys make enough. It’s really about status and recognition – outward success, if you will.

So putting those two things together, I’ll rephrase your question: Can I make myself feel like I deserve this sexy successful amazing woman who loves me even though my chosen field is difficult to break into and even though I have not yet achieved outward success? And the answer to that is, I hope so.

I’ll be honest with you: if you can’t figure out how to feel good about yourself, you might very well fuck up your relationship through sheer insecurity about your relative outward appearance of success. That would be a shame, but I’ve seen it happen.

There’s a part of us that wants to be able to parade our lovers in front of the world and shout, “look at who I’m with! I’m with a celebrity!” but there’s an even deeper part of us that wants to be with someone who has long-term goals, who is striving towards them, and who takes them seriously. I’ll bet you’re with someone who digs you on the second level. After all, she started dating you as you are.

As for myself, I’ve always been attracted to people who are really fucking good at something, but that thing could be playing the guitar, writing awesome code, or understanding politics. It’s the passion, the swagger, and the work ethic that matter, not the awards.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I am an undergraduate studying pure math and I can say with firm resolution that I love math and it will hold my intellectual attention for the rest of my life (no matter what I end up doing). That said, I will be 25 by the time I graduate and so I am more enticed by the prospect of finding a good job, being financially independent, and gaining real workplace experience once I finish rather than going to grad school for another 5-6 years (but don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want to get a PhD at some point).

How marketable could I be for those data science jobs with just a bachelor’s in math (even though I’m currently taking lots of grad math classes and have experience working in computational labs)? Would it be naive of me to think that I could find a job with just a bachelor’s, narrow down the potential array of dissertation topics I could undertake based on patterns/data that I see in real life, and then return to academia? I just fear being past the age of 30 with overly specialized knowledge of just one area of math with no other real job prospect than gaining membership to some Merlin-bearded, nerd-coven of mathematicians (again, not that I wouldn’t consider that awesome, I just want to have more than one option for the road ahead).

Absolutely Dreading Dissatisfaction

Dear ADD,

I don’t think one strictly needs a Ph.D. to get a job in data science, but one should certainly have the quantitative smarts to be able to get a Ph.D. in a hard science. It sounds like you have those smarts, and moreover you have experience in a computational lab (was that on a break from college?).

I think you should look for an internship with a tech data team over the summer and see how you like it and see how you fit in, etc. My guess is that your maturity and experience, combined with intense love of all things math, will go a long way both for you and for your colleagues.

I wish I had a place to send you for internships (readers, please comment below on where to find out how to apply to such things!) but start with a google search and some questions to your fellow nerds.

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Please please please submit questions, thanks!

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