People often tell me that I should answer more questions from readers. I do actually answer a lot of questions, but I don’t put them in a Q&A format. People say they like the Q&A format. But I don’t believe people like it as much as they say they do.

I confess, however, to really liking Dan Savage’s Q&A column. But I think he makes up his own questions. Which makes me feel free to do a Q&A column where I make up all the questions myself.

Question #1

Dear Penelope,
What should I do to look more like a leader?

Signed,
Penelope's old boss

Dear Sir,
Stop biting your nails! Remember that Monday team meeting when you tried to get us excited about sales goals? When we asked about looming layoffs, you started biting your nails in between the it'll-be-okay sentences. I remember you putting your fingers in your mouth, trying to get one more millimeter. Bloody tips. I knew I was going to be laid off.

You are a nice guy, and so smart, but you seem to have no knowledge of how you come across to other people. Biting nails does not convey self-confidence. And no one wants to be lead by a nail-biter. People who bite their nails at work amaze me: Do you think biting nails is any more appropriate than pulling out hair at work? It is psychologically the same thing: compulsive, nervous, unrestrained.

Do people keep up this habit when they are feeling great about themselves? No. In other words, leaders don't do this stuff (and if so, never in public). You think nail biting is small, innocuous. But really, you kill your credibility. And you did it way before the layoffs, mister.

Question #2

Dear Penelope,
How did you do so well in business when you got an F in my chemistry class?

Signed,
Penelope's high school chemistry teacher

Dr. Mr. X
First of all, you were so incredibly good looking that you must believe that I really did want to get to class. I just couldn't fit it into my schedule. I had a free period before chemistry and all my friends had a free period during chemistry. I was compelled to think of those two periods as a double-header block of time to hang out.

And thank you for trying to give me a D, really. Your efforts were valiant, especially when you gave me the smartest guy in the class for a lab partner.

Fortunately, study after study shows that kids who do poorly in school can do very well in the real world. The things that really matter in the real world are not chemistry lab tests (unless you want to be a chemist.) The things that matter are perseverance, passion and risk-taking – all attributes that, quite frankly, I exhibited as I ditched chemistry class.

Question #3

Dear Penelope,
You are so talented and insightful, but I am just a little more talented and insightful. So I'd like to mentor you. Can you please send your phone number to me so I can start investing my time and energy in you immediately?

Signed,
Your Fairy Godmother

Hold it. Why does no one send this mail? Getting a mentor is hard, even for Penelope, who constantly writes about how important it is to get a mentor and is always on the prowl. This shows why the Q&A exercise is a good one for everyone: If you write enough letters you'll discover what you’d most like to receive in the mail.

And you will realize that it will never arrive. But before you can reach any goal in this world, you have to know that you want it. So take the first step, and write yourself letters until one strikes you as especially important. And that will help you to focus on what you really want right now.