Advice from the trenches of my television trials

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I have been auditioning to host a reality show about work, and I’m supposed to fly out to Los Angeles for a test run in front of a camera. My friend Sharon, hair stylist to the LA jet set, told me that I have to get my teeth whitened.

I am a big fan of taking advice from experts instead of arguing. And this seems like a good time to tell you that if you think you can tweeze your own eyebrows or color your own hair, it’s because you have no idea what an expert could do. Once you see the difference between great and not great, you would see you do not have great and you would not want that.

But I was not happy to hear that I needed to whiten my teeth. First, I didn’t think they were that yellow. And second, it’s expensive. Maybe my teeth were really yellow compared to people on TV, but if I don’t dislike my teeth, then I don’t get that good feeling like I’m getting something for my money. And of course, I just got fired from Yahoo, so money is not exactly flowing over here.

But I have always felt that when you are struggling with money, it’s really important to not let that derail your career. Your career is your own small business, and like any small business, if you don’t reinvest profits back into your career then you can’t grow.

In the past, this philosophy has led me to an expensive haircut before a job interview even though I had to use my food money to pay for it. In a higher salary bracket this philosophy looked like me paying to get expensive coaching for public speaking before I had any income from speaking.

Please, don’t send me emails about how you got a great job and you cut your hair yourself. I don’t care. What I’m telling you is that you better have taken the money you saved on that haircut and reinvested it in your career some other way.

So, this is how I come to tell you that I decided to spend the money even though I am technically in not-spending money mode until I replace the income I lost from Yahoo.

So I say to Sharon, “Fine. I’ll whiten my teeth.”

Sharon says, “Don’t do it in Madison. Do it in LA.”

She says this about everything. I thought she was being a snob, so I did a little test, with my bikini wax. I figured, how difficult is that? Why can’t I just do it in Madison? But you know what? It’s difficult. You don’t appreciate all the little hairs that are gone til they are not gone.

So I made an appointment to do the whitening in LA.

But then a TV station called.

The producer said he googled something like Obama generation y business and my blog came up, so he called to interview me about politics. I bungled a bunch of questions, like I mispronounced Kucinich’s name. Twice. And I predicted the New Hampshire primary to go to Obama after that had already not happened.

I know you’re thinking that I’m an idiot. But it’s very hard to be on top of all things workplace. I can’t also be on top of all things politics. But apparently it doesn’t matter, because they scheduled me to go on-air anyway, with four political pundits on a pretty big TV show.

And then I thought, well, I should just have my teeth whitened for this show. Because maybe all four of the pundits have really white teeth and I won’t and it’ll kill my chances of getting invited back to the show.

So I got my teeth whitened in Madison. I am not going to tell you where because the place sucked. Sucked as in they made a mistake applying the bleach and they burned my lips and I looked like I got hit in the face.

But you know what? With a little Benadryl, my lips deflated enough to give me a hot little Angelina Jolie pout. And with my new lips and my white teeth, maybe no one noticed that I had no idea what to say on the show when they asked me how the elections will come out for the Democrats.

And so, that one day confirms the following career advice:

1. You should tell people you are on TV, but only after the fact because then if you screw up, no one knows.

2. You should spend money on your career even if you don’t have any.

3. You should get your teeth whitened (and your bikini line waxed) in LA.

Bonus: I got the teeth whitening for free since they ruined my lips. But now I’m thinking that maybe I should take the $400 to LA and blow my lips up for real with Botox.

Just kidding. Sort of.

73 replies
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  1. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    Forget the bikini wax thing — go with laser treatments down there!! After one of two times you never have to worry about it ever again AND it hurt WAY less than a bikini wax! ;)

  2. Marie
    Marie says:

    Tooth whitening is 1) valuable and 2) painful. I got mine whitened when I noticed that thanks to years of coffee, tea and red wine I was a little dingy when others were so very white. Got the trays to wear at night at home from my dentist – teeth look great, but the bleach burned my gums and I had tooth aches (sharp aches) from the bleach on tissue that kept me up at night. On a scale of 1 to 10 the pain was 25. I don’t ever want to retouch again, though I probably will. Ugh.

  3. Alexandra Levit
    Alexandra Levit says:

    That all sounds like so much fun, Penelope. I agree completely about not letting people know you’re going to be on TV until it has aired and you know you didn’t screw it up. That’s my policy too. Anyway, good luck with the reality show (let me know the details when you have them, I would love to help promote it).

    Alexandra Levit

  4. Single Ma
    Single Ma says:

    2. You should spend money on your career
    even if you don't have any

    You’re kidding right?

    * * * * * * * * *
    If you think of your career like it’s your business, then it makes total sense. Think of it the opposite way: Entrepreneurs borrow money against equity all the time. That’s what you do when you put a training class on your credit card. It’s a bet on yourself. You factor the interest into your ability to leverage the training to earn more money. And you factor in the time you would lose waiting to save the money — maybe you could use that time to get training and then earn double what you’re earning now and cover the interest and still have money left over.


  5. dawn
    dawn says:

    This has been a hard lesson for me to learn and I’m still working hard to learn it. Ugh. I’m such a cheapskate that I struggle with understanding that being cheap isn’t always the smart way to do things.

  6. thom singer
    thom singer says:

    That is your most entertaining post in a long time. I think you would be great on a TV reality show…especially with expensive hair and teeth. I am assuming you did not need the bikini wax for the TV appearance, or was it some late night cable show? he he.

    The strong lesson for your readers in this post is that even if you blunder a little, it will not derail your career. The important thing is to put yourself out there.

  7. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Teeth whitening is dangerous – it strips the natural enamel on your teeth and makes them more prone to decay. Please don’t get addicted to this!

    IMHO the time might have been more profitably spent making sure that you did your homework and knew your stuff so that you could talk sensibly about the topic at hand. I’m not suggesting that grooming and style is not important – it is – but substance and content is important too.

    As for spending money when you don’t have it, I agree that you should invest in your career, but there needs to be balance. Maybe you should get a haircut before a job interview and wear a nice suit, but maybe you can forgo the beauty treatment and borrow a nice briefcase from a friend. If you’ve got the money for the works, then fine, but moderation is important if you’re on a budget. Distinguishing between wants and needs and between nice-to-haves and genuine investments is important.

  8. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    Good Luck on your interview – Interesting post and I think everyone could afford to spend some money on their career. Anything from resume writing service, management recruiters, or just taking a class here and there to brush up. I should practice what I preach though…I’ve been close to getting some help but have yet to pull the trigger.

    * * * * * * *

    Thanks, Matt. These are all good examples of good places to spend money.


  9. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    A reality show with Penelope Trunk. One only needs to have had a converation with you on the phone to know what an entertaining thing that would be, especially when you learn after the fact that you’re the type prone to jumping jacks and headstands while on the phone. Hope that works out!

    I love the part about your career being a small business you should invest in. Money, time, strategy. Invest in it.

  10. klein
    klein says:

    Why did I enjoy this post so much? I think because it was all just you and your personal life and not you thinking that you have your finger on the pulse of every generation that has ever lived.

    I think you should turn this whole thing more personal like this and dole out advice. Ask Penelope has a much better ring to it that Brazen Careerist, I think.

  11. Libby
    Libby says:

    Umm definitely don’t Botox your lips. Botox is a poison you inject in your facial muscles to relax them so you don’t show wrinkles.

    For what it’s worth, I think people who inject their lips (with collagen) look really weird.

    * * * * * * *

    I really appreciate that there is such quality knowledge in this community about injections. I like that blogging helps me learn things I never even knew I needed to learn. Thanks, Libby.


  12. carla nomura
    carla nomura says:

    I have just read an article in an Brazilian magazine, actually, I am Brazilian and I recognized myself in your text… At his moment I have a crucial decision to make: option to back to corporate life in an office at regular and extensive day work or starting a master's degree in business administration in a very outstanding school that I have succeed been approved. This doubt is beyond financial issues – €“ not only – €“ but of be afraid to regret for not trying this challenge – I have to confess I have had a traditional carrier and I am trying to move to a different one that I can feel totally accomplishment.

  13. t h rive
    t h rive says:

    Nice! Now you’ve got some personal finance bloggers involved (Single Ma) – I’m always kind of partly annoyed by personal finance bloggers. But that’s okay, to each their own.

    I’m not going to lie though – one of my first thoughts when you had mentioned money or lack thereof, was ‘didn’t she at one point make a lot of money and save?!’ – then again, you’ve definitely been investing heavily in yourself in 2007, and that outflow could very well have drained you.

    And Stan Melfine sure is a fan of yours to follow you from Yahoo just to come down on you. ha!

  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I have to agree with Penelope’s statement “You should spend money on your career even if you don't have any.”

    I worked retail for almost a year after graduating college — not at all what I had expected after my $75K education. Finally, I decided to join a professional association within my chosen field, which I had balked at for several months due to the membership and seminar fees.

    At the very first seminar I attended, I got a lead for a full-time job that launched my career and shortly afterwards, my own business. I would never have learned about the job opening had I not spent the money to advance my career.

  15. J.
    J. says:

    I’m not one of the Yahoo-style Penelope haters, but this made me cringe: “The producer said he googled something like Obama generation y business and my blog came up, so he called to interview me about politics. I bungled a bunch of questions, like I mispronounced Kucinich's name. Twice. And I predicted the New Hampshire primary to go to Obama after that had already not happened.” It’s a sad commentary on journalism and faux expertise. I know it’s good for your career to get yourself out there as much as possible, but it doesn’t help our larger society when uninformed people are given a prominent platform to spout off on things well outside their area of expertise. Stick to what you know (which also, apparently, is not dermatology — one would never inject Botox into their lips; you’re thinking of collagen).

    This also makes no sense: “You should tell people you are on TV, but only after the fact because then if you screw up, no one knows.” In an age of YouTube, that’s patently untrue.

    * * * * * * * *

    I hear you on the political expertise. You’ll never hear me predicting an election again.
    Re YouTube. I’ve been on TV a lot, and I can find video versions of it online less than 10% of the time.

  16. Tom
    Tom says:

    you should spend money on your career! One of the investments I made was grad school a huge 50k investment.

    Of course, I was sure that I wanted to stay in the field, which is different from most people deciding to stay to do graduate school since they are scared of working or exploring the real world.

    The number of opportunities and advancement has opened way up since i finished grad school!

  17. JimB
    JimB says:

    Totally hear you on invest in yourself to put your best foot forward. I’ve just started a new gig and I know that I need to hit the ground running with a decent suit and the best shoes I can afford. If I don’t invest I’ll feel crummy going in, people will pick up the vibe, and course correction with your personal brand later on is not easy.

    Outstanding example of how some Yahoo! folks don’t get it.

  18. Monica
    Monica says:

    I entirely agree with your thesis about investing in yourself and thinking hard about self presentation. That’s why you’re on my RSS feeds.

    Should you ever want quick, cheap teeth whitening again, I have a hack. If you take one of the Whitestrips kits from the drugstore and apply all of the strips in two days (as opposed to the 7 or 14 that you’re supposed to do) you get whiter teeth for around $30. But, ah, don’t do this often, of course, since it makes your teeth sore and so probably isn’t good for them. However, my dentist didn’t remark that my enamel had deteriorated, so I’m assuming it’s not too bad. Try at your own risk, of course.

  19. EAC
    EAC says:

    Crest White Strips from the Dentist’s Office (stronger variety) work for me, but leave my teeth raw.

    For a cheap whitening fix, I prefer Go Smile tubes, which whiten as well as Crest but do not hurt my teeth (except perhaps by stripping the enamel away, but I only use then once a year, max)(

    What you really should do is shell out the money at the dentist’s office to get them whitened with the laser-light machine. It is the most expensive of all methods ($1k) but it takes an hour or two and is most effective and permanent. If you can’t find a reputable dentist in Madison, go to Chicago. No need to go to LA for beauty treatments!

    Don’t botox your lips. Just use a nude lip pencil, nudish lipstick, and lots of gloss. I like Chanel liptsick in tempt and gloss in magnifique.

    People who get obvious plastic surgery (and I think botoxed lips are almost always obvious) look like a new kind of “youthful” and “pretty” that our society is inventing. That is, they don’t actually look youthful (you can tell they’re old) or pretty (you can tell they look the way they look because of plastic surgery, not nature). It creeps me out.

  20. Rob
    Rob says:

    The other danger from teeth whitening is the increased risk of oral cancer. You’re exposing your mucus membranes to a highly caustic level of peroxide. Better to rinse your mouth daily with a low dose of hydrogen peroxide (drugstore grade diluted by half) rather than run the risk; plus, it lowers the chances of gum disease if you do it after flossing.

  21. Joan
    Joan says:

    Do whatever you want, people are over dramatic. Everything is bad for you. The Key is moderation. And, I know it was said before, but you wouldn’t Botox your lips, you could get restalin which is a lip plumper but it isn’t permanant or collagen, Collagen looks kind of fake though.

  22. Terence
    Terence says:

    As someone who has seen you live. You will be terrific. I hope all goes well. I agree with your image consultant. You are in front of TV, it is the face and the image. If you are behind the scene on the phone, than having voice training is important. It is how you are presented to the actual customers in this case the TV guests and audience. Spending money on teeth and hair when you are on TV is no difference than someone spending money on coffee because to them coffee will make them think better for the day. Hey, I buy a new shirt and a tie (well I go to TJMax) to get one every semester. It makes me feel like a new beginning. Just remember your first day of school and for us Chinese, during the first day of Chinese New Year, you are expected to wear everything new.

    Have fun in LA.. definitely beats the snow in Madison right now. Let us know when it is going live. I would definitely watch Reality Channel more often. And while you are there.. are there going to put you in Nip/Tuck or Dr 90210?

  23. Veronique
    Veronique says:

    I’ll echo Terrence. Having seen you speak on the subject of self-branding at BlogHer, I totally agree that a reality show with you on it would be vastly entertaining (and informative). Too bad I don’t have a TV — here’s hoping they stream it!

  24. rachel
    rachel says:

    I can’t understand how the thought of whitening your teeth bothers you more than coloring your hair? You should read “Going Gray” by Anne Kreamer it give great insight into the misnomer of “letting yourself go”. And the marketing machines that feed us all false insecurities on aging. Try some peroxide. On your teeth not your hair.

  25. Robert 'Groby' Blum
    Robert 'Groby' Blum says:

    Having lived in Chicago and in L.A. – Chicago does not come close in terms of beauty services. Probably because *everybody* in L.A. goes to those services ;)

    As for the lips – stay away from injections unless you desperately need them. VS has a very nice lip plumper, if you really need to have more lips after the bleach debacle ;)

    And if you need any help in L.A. drop a note – always happy to help out a fellow blogger.

  26. MadurasHentig
    MadurasHentig says:

    As you probably well know, at least 50% of any program on television is about entertainment, and that’s being generous. Being memorable is far more important than being knowledgeable. I wouldn’t worry to much about any little gaffes–if you are a good fit for the show (and don’t go all Rosie O’Donnell crazy), then you will do fine. Or maybe you should. That would be memorable.

  27. Roolf Wanna
    Roolf Wanna says:

    Heeeheeeheee. I just read some of the comments above about Botox injections in your lips (I didn’t catch that when I read the article). I’m just imagining how the interview would have gone…
    “Please tell us about Obama’s appeal to generation Y voters”.
    “Wrrrw, oy dynk hre uhpweows thoo zjgenawashun Wyyy omn mawnee wevohs”…
    Sorry–got the giggles.

  28. Nina
    Nina says:

    Apparently it’s also very hard to stay on top of all things Hollywood: The namesake of your temporary pout would be “Angelina,” not “Angela,” Jolie.

    * * * * * *

    Oh. Thanks for the correction.


  29. LaDawn
    LaDawn says:

    Sorry Penelope…I was horrified by this post.

    If you don’t have money, you can’t spend it, so don’t spend it. If you are telling me to take out a loan (via credit card or mother) just to get my teeth whitened, remind me never to take financial advice from you. Better advice is to polish your shoes not buy new ones.

    Blogging on the workplace clearly doesn’t qualify you to express opinions about politics given your lack of knowledge.

    Good career advice sometimes means knowing what you’re good at and sticking to it.

  30. Pam
    Pam says:


    Thoroughly enjoyed this post! And agreed with it as well. Fingers are crossed that the reality TV gig works out for you.

  31. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    Don’t forget to stay up on political matters too! :)

    Get yourself some feeds from some of the mainstream news outlets (AP, NYTimes, Washington Post), but also visit some of the big liberal blogs like and I personally like Try looking for stories that combine your specialty of career advice with politics, like the current job outlook and the cost of living.

    Nice lips and teeth are good, but they’re not going to save you from another gaffe like the one you made concerning Obama winning the New Hampshire primary AFTER Clinton won it. LOL That might work a couple more times, but after a while, they’ll start to notice such blunders.

    They WILL notice if you’re right AND have a well-formulated opinion on something. :)

  32. Cinthia
    Cinthia says:

    I’m wondering if you are a sincere person or if these blogs (or whatever you call them) are like everything else these days…designed to be overly clever, witty, sharp, but essentially pointless. I stumbled onto your articles via another article and because my chidlren are in their twenties I began reading them. Since I’m a clock-in and clock-out minimum wage worker, they rarely apply to me but I worry, will my children (after college–and no, they don’t get to stay in college forever living off of “Mom’s Dime,” she only has so many) sound so pompous, so ridicously self absorbed, or am I missing something in these articles that is for real? Sometimes you make good points but mostly, you seem silly, not related to actual life. I keep reading though, because I am hoping to find an article that shows that you’re a nice person. In your picture you seem quite pleasant, but your words seem sad and confused and even quite hurt–when reading between the lines–and I feel as though you use this space to express that without actually expressing it. My apologies if I am wrong.

  33. M.T.
    M.T. says:

    I’d love to get more food for thought about spending money on one’s “career enhancers”. All the finance guru’s talk save, save, save. I have become a cheapstake too like one of the posters above. I take pride in not needing a lot of things. But how/when do you know that you’re not wasting money but investing… can’t this be said about everything? After all, buying unnecessary but pleasant things are investments: they make you happier and a happier person is more successful etc etc. I hear you, I know you’re right to an extent but I’m conflicted about it. I just don’t know whether an expensive haircut will make me more successful. Is it really the haircut or knowing that you’ve just had an expensive haircut specifically for getting ahead in life and that shows and you do get ahead in life? I mean how does that work really? I think this issue deserves another separate post.

  34. Rob
    Rob says:

    Shallow. I would like to see you move past your own appearance (you dwell) and your individual and changing (day to day) circumstances as the reference point for all “advice.” Barbizon School of Modeling offers the same advice. So what? what is a goods investment or bad? Not what did YOU choose? Dang, that’s all this gets down to.

  35. Naomi Dunford
    Naomi Dunford says:

    Holy moly. People take things awfully seriously here. These people are like Digg commentors! My God, relax. It’s just a blog post.

    FWIW, I liked it. And I’d love to know the difference between a Madison bikini wax and an LA one, but somehow, I doubt that’s going to make it into a follow-up. :)

  36. J.
    J. says:

    You’re so cute. Keep crankin’ out your insightful tips. I totally get where you come from in all of your articles. Forget the stupid commentors.

    P, you say what I wish I could say online to these corporate ladder climbing suckups who are too serious for the air the rest of us breathe but my real name much like yours is soo…unique I’m sure I’d get real hate mail or worse.

    Keep doing you sweetie.

  37. Susan
    Susan says:

    Blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m sick of these veggie-weilding, patcholi-packing, eco-warrioring hippies weighing in on peroxide/whitening/darkening/colouring/injecting/plumping when it’s completely besides the point. Bugger off, you holier than thou twats. You’ve totally missed the point of this post. Argh. A person can’t even post about grooming/personal hygeine without it somehow becoming political/ecological/environmental. The woman wanted white teeth. Get over it.

  38. DermDoc
    DermDoc says:

    I laughed out loud at this post. Hilarious. Teeth whitening in SoCal, like other cosmetics, is done to extreme. My local newscasters teeth are so white that they burned an image on my plasma TV.

    If someone was to spend money before an interview, I would say go for Botox. Done well (read: by a derm or plastic surgeon) it can make them look 5 to 10 years younger. It needs to be injected about 2-3 weeks before that big interview though, because it takes that long to work.

  39. Liz
    Liz says:

    Not to be mean, but I laughed out loud at the comment upbraiding Penelope for lack of seriousness because, “Intelligent commentary is more important (on tv).”

    If you are a law school professor, yes. What you say is more important than how you say it. And your words will be suspect if you are someone who looks like she (especially if you are a she!) has spent time and money on appearance-enhancers.

    Outside the ivory tower, teeth whitening and other such enhancers have become the class dividers. The small tells that people use to divide the haves from the have-nots. Haves get hired for high-level jobs. Have-nots stay on a different track.

  40. Jeremiah
    Jeremiah says:

    Having your resume professionally done is one of the best investments. Luckily I had a seasoned HR executive as a friend who did mine for free :) After using the new resume I received SO many more calls that it would’ve been worth $150-200 bucks.

  41. Tony Tallent
    Tony Tallent says:

    Penelope, your post reminds me that we all have to stay open to suggestion in order to expand. Saying this, I have to state that I think you look completely uber-ready for anything that television could throw your way. Regardless of what happens with the TV option, you’re a real force in the movement of the switched-on crowd around the globe. You don’t really need TV, you’re a brand of your own.
    Dorky as is sounds, thanks for being you…keep doing that and we all benefit and grow from it.
    Tony Tallent

  42. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    If teeth-whitening were essential to TV careers, most British people would have none (TV careers I mean, not teeth). British people have the most god-awful teeth anywhere in the world.

    There are other essentials for preparing for TV or any other mass medium in my view.

    It is largely about the subject matter one will talk about. If it is a finance or politics programme, I – and I imagine most viewers – would prefer informed and timely commentary from an ugly presenter with thin or thinning lips, for all the whitened teeth in LA.

    Also, personality must match presentation. I often see very perked-up, well-dressed and groomed people and the problem is evident when they speak. They have awful voices, poor voice modulation and whiny high-pitched tones. Half the time, I am trying to save my ear-drums from collapse. In the absence of any substance, it would very hard to motivate myself to listen to such people.

    Just my tuppence.

  43. Dan Eustace
    Dan Eustace says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Being in full view, even on tape, is hard. You can do it.

    Please consider thinking about another alternative for your future: forecasting.

    Please contact me if you want a perspective.

    In any case, “move on”, don’t despair, you have created more friends and allies than you can imagine.


  44. Liz
    Liz says:

    PS – “I wonder if you are a sincere person…”

    I wonder who would psychoanalyze an internet commentator? What on earth?

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