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. Regina
    Regina says:

    I discovered your post by accident last month and was so intrigued that I have been reading past ones. As a baby boomer I wondered about the ideas you present -they sound so foreign to me – so I asked my 23 year old daughter. She agreed with many of the things you say and quoted examples from her work life. So this baby boomer will keep reading this totally new viewpoint and perhaps expand my own horizons.

  2. Viator
    Viator says:

    I have just now found your blog! I enjoy your style and sense of humor! I’ll be reading on a regular basis!

  3. Larry Kirtt
    Larry Kirtt says:

    > As a baby boomer I wondered about the ideas you
    > present -they sound so foreign to me – so I
    > asked my 23 year old daughter. She agreed with
    > many of the things you say and quoted examples
    > from her work life.

    Good idea. Particularly tell your daughter to pay attention to ones like don’t come in on time, take long lunches and unannounced vacations, and flirt with coworkers. That will get her fired extra-fast!

  4. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    The TV industry is one of the only ones that can discriminate based on your appearance. It’s common knowledge that viewers would rather look at someone attractive than non-attractive when the credentials are the same. I can see why you would want to whiten your teeth or get your hair done. There are many ways to get around it though if you don’t have the money. You’re teeth will look whiter with red lipstick on and you can get your makeup done at the MAC counter for free. Wearing red also looks great on TV, too.

    As for spending a small fortune on teeth whitening and botox, my suggestion would be to do one at a time and consider it a “reward” for accomplishing milestones, like getting the job. It’s not an investment if you don’t get the TV gig.

  5. Dave Atkins
    Dave Atkins says:

    I’m a frugal person in general…I would never pay someone to do chores for me (at least not at the going rates around here), and I am extremely suspicious of any scheme that is sold to me as an “investment in my career.” But if somebody suggested a $400 teeth whitening might make the difference in landing a gig as the host of a reality TV show…that’s a no-brainer.

    There are some “investments” that are really “probability enhancers” whereas others require more more effort from you than simply paying the bill. Joining a networking group is only a good idea if you actually use it to network. It’s obvious, but an important thing to ask yourself when someone advises you to spend money on something as a career investment: Are you willing to put in the effort to make it work? If not, don’t waste your money. Teeth whitening is great: all you have to do is sit through it. But it’s only relevant for TV…unless your teeth are so bad people can’t stop looking at them!

  6. Connie
    Connie says:

    I absolutely agree with the point that sometimes you need to tangibly invest in your career to take it to the next level. I’m extremely frugal so it is difficult for me to accept this advice but it is consistent with what I have found in my own career.

    An interesting corollary is that when you pay for the investment yourself you have a built-in incentive to ensure you receive a return. For example, when your company sends you to a training course you might be tempted to goof off or view it as a nice “break” from your real job. But if you’re physically writing the check or paying the credit card bill for the training you are more apt to ensure that you take follow-up actions that will turn it into a new job or advancement opportunity.

  7. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    What’s wrong with Crest whitening strips? I use them (only $50 at Costco for a month’s worth), and they work.

    I hear you on the “invest in yourself” thing but hmmmm…I would not have done professional teeth whitening @ $400 a pop…especially if I didn’t have the money…may be just me?

  8. Cinthia
    Cinthia says:

    A mother would wonder if this was sincere. I have four boys all either this age, or about to be this age–either in college or headed that way. This is the first time I’ve ever read an “internet commentator” and I honestly don’t know. Is this generation one that thinks only certain questions are okay? I taught my children that no question was dumb, all questions were necessary and valid. So, I asked a simple, honest question, that’s all. And yes, right here on earth.

  9. Suze
    Suze says:

    Would you say the expenditure on the public speaking coach was worthwhile? (I ask because I hear you are an excellent speaker: I don’t know how much of that is natural and how much learned.)

    You almost have to invest in tooth whitening and Botox for television. You did the right thing — but I’m sorry about the pain. L.A. next time, right?

  10. kathy
    kathy says:

    Good Luck with your TV opportunity! Trust yourself and your friend’s advice..You haven’t done and accomplished what you have by being dumb! Been reading you since 2003 and you only get better!!!!You go girl!!!!

  11. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Hey Penelope! I just found a video of you on NBC Milwaukee and can’t WAIT to go home and watch it tonight!

    Do you know about lip-plumping lip balm?? It irritates your lips and makes them puff up. Actually, I think I need some myself. I just saw myself on TV and could not BELIEVE how thin my lips were. You can click this link to see for yourself (that’s me at 1:28)!

  12. Stacy Armistead
    Stacy Armistead says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on spending money you “don’t have” when you aren’t working.

    I thought I would be slick and cut costs when I was unemployed by signing up for one of the free haircuts on Craigslist. Little did I know that signing up for a “creative cut” would result in the left side of my head looking like Sinead O’Connor combined with longer hair on the right side and a modern version of a rat tail (which I liked to call “the waterfall” since it was as wide as it was long) hanging at the nape of my neck.

    Needless to say, I didn’t schedule any interviews for a LONG time after that happened.

  13. marge
    marge says:

    Actually this should be posted to your divorce post, but anyways, I just wanted to say that the only thing in life that is steady is the Good Lord and His promises. That’s why, although I’m young, I just want to follow Him so I can have some stability in this life because I know by default I resort to the total opposite. It provides for good balance, and still room for plenty of excitement. :) I also wanted to express my condolences for the divorce- =( …I’ve been following your story for a while now and I love authenticity of your writing. And I also wanted to say that God loves you still!

    Best,

    M

  14. Leah Ingram
    Leah Ingram says:

    So whatever happened with the hosting gig? I found your blog after doing a Google search for hosting auditions, since I, too, would like to get such a gig. I’ve only been on auditions in New York and Philadelphia so far, with no call backs and no luck. I hope your outcome was better.
    Leah

  15. mary
    mary says:

    I’m so ill regarding yellow teeth; some people brush and brush; whiten and whiten (like me) and still have “yellow” teeth. Don’t mess with caps, etc. false teeth. cause you will only have to learn to talk again–I finally excepted my natural yellow ivory teeth–its hard because people think i don’t brush enough–hogwash only the opposite–i’ve been told i have a pretty smile regardless–i’m happy with that finally–but truthfully, i still think about the luck of the draw. it’s sad, though, that media presents white teeth as healthly–it is–but what about those like me who can never have pearly whites?

  16. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    Penelope,

    I love the Benadryl part, haha. With such a complicated situation, you always have simple solutions, lol. Perhaps sometimes the money that you try to save by purchasing lower quality products would actually double up. You’re an expert, you need to entrust yourself to an expert too. Yes, even if you don’t have a money.

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