9/11 didn’t change me overnight, even though I wish it had

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The slowest moment in my whole life was the time between when the World Trade Center fell next to me, and when someone broke a window and I climbed in to get air. In my memory this time span is about fifteen minutes. But from the historical record, I know it was about one minute.

I have been writing for seven years about how the World Trade Center changed me.

And I have been writing, too, about how much I want to change. Sometimes it’s about productivity, sometimes it’s about compassion, sometimes it’s managing my own money. I always want to change something.

I always thought that my success is due to my fast pace. My quick thinking, quick delivery, quick judgment, quick shift. I tell myself that I can get what I want if I try hard enough. And then I translate that to a faster pace.

Don’t tell me about meditation, and yoga, and being present. I’ve done all that. The problem is that a fast-paced overachiever can undermine even those being-present techniques. For example, I am sure that I’m better at Ashtanga yoga than you are: See. That’s how the mind of the fast-paced works.

There is the step you take where you change what your body is doing, and then there is the second step, where you change what you believe. So I have had a hard time believing that I’d be okay with a slower pace.

But this year, I tried going slower. I tried to trust that I’d change the most by changing my pace.

Changing my pace has been about trusting that good things will come from being slow, just as they do from being fast. It’s hard to trust in that, because if you’ve been fast your whole life, you don’t know what you’ll get from slow. Instead, you only see what you cut out of the fast life to make room for the slow life. You know what you lose but not what you’ll gain.

Some of you know what I mean. Others of you are sitting in your chair, smugly thinking that you are great at slow. But those of you who hate a fast pace, you still have a pace problem, it’s just the opposite: Speed makes you anxious. You might miss something. You might do something wrong. You might get lost. These are the worries of slow people that are foreign to the fast.

Pace matters. It opens doors if you use it well. I am not sure if I would be able to change my pace if I had not had an inescapable, defining moment that forced me to try slow. So today I am taking a moment to have gratitude to all the lessons I learned, during my slowest moment..

First-hand Account of 9/11

Two Months After 9/11: Trying to Make Work Normal Again

Wall Street After 9/11: The Support Group Starts at 5pm Sharp

9/11: Two Years Later

Lessons Learned from New Orleans

Digging Myself out of the Debris

My 9/11 Day, My Husband, and the Meaning of My To Do List

25 replies
  1. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:


    The weather today in Manhattan is eerily reminiscent of September 11, 2001. The temperatures are cool, slight breeze, sun beginning to rise and commuters heading to their various subway stops.

    As I came off the 5 express this morning at Bowling Green I could hear the news helicopters hovering over Ground Zero. There were extra NYPD officers and traffic people stationed around Battery Park to help direct tourists and mourners to the World Trade Center site. There was a large steel beam available to sign. The beam will become part of the memorial.

    I will take a moment around 8:45 to remember my friends from the FDNY that died. I have a painting of FDNY Rescue 1 Lieutenant Dennis Mojica, my basketball buddy, hanging in my office.

    From my work at the site I have a small piece of steel that rests on my desk as a reminder of what happened as well.

    I hope you are well. I miss your posts and twitters. Perhaps you are working on your next big project. Maybe you have run off to become a farmer’s wife! Or, maybe you are just taking some well deserved time off.

    Whatever the case may be I am thinking of you, and all of us that survived the events of this day seven years ago.

    Be well Penelope. Enjoy the pace.



  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “Changing my pace has been about trusting that good things will come from being slow, just as they do from being fast.”

    Very true and achieving a balance from either extreme is basically a leap of faith. I believe a good pace balance requires periodic reflection and adjustment as necessary depending upon your needs and goals. It requires you to step back away from yourself and look at yourself as objectively as it is possible. I think it also requires you to listen and be open to input from other people – especially those people who know you well and care about you.

  3. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Great post. Someone has convinced us that if you are a fast person, you should work on slowing down (and if you are a slow person, you need to speed up the pace). Who made this rule?? The truth is that everyone works best at a different pace, and if you accept the pace you were meant to live your life, you will be more relaxed and maybe even a little happier. No one can change overnight, even if you have lived thru something as horrific as 9/11. But you should stop trying to change what is inherently ‘you’. You can certainly slow things down a bit, but you will always be a fast personality type.

  4. Maya
    Maya says:

    I secretly love all the hardships I have been through, in retrospect that is. (I don’t wish them upon anyone else or even upon myself ever again). These become what you have called “defining moments” or events, when we have been forced to change the pace of our lives … and hanging in there has taught me that good things can come out of everything- slow, fast, good and bad.

    As much as I have come to believe and totally trust through my own experiences that a slow pace is as good as the fast pace for me, I cannot help but wish for the other at every point in my life … during slow times I long for the rush and high of the past and during the fast ones, I long for a day when I will do nothing. I wish I could switch between slow and fast within a day – like a lot of people seem to do pretty effortlessly, but that has been a hard one for me …especially with kids.

    I strongly believe that too much of one pace gets us jaded – physically and mentally. There is a lot that comes out of transitioning .. The key I think is to maintain fluidity in our lives – to have control over our the pace of our lives and not become a victim of it….

  5. Rob
    Rob says:

    Thanks for sharing and sharing your first hand experience one what was one of America’s darkest days.

    With regards to pace, the secret may lie in your ability to modulate it as needed.

  6. John
    John says:

    God you have an inflated opinion of yourself! How are you an overachiever? Besides the stuff you make up (all these “companies” you’ve founded; the reason you got canned by Yahoo) I can’t think of a single thing you’ve achieved other than writing a lame blog that’s all about yooouuuu. You’re a bullshitter, nothing more, who can take these gullible readers with you. You’re a “career expert” who’s never had a career. Before that you played volleyball–poorly. And you wrote online porn. If you think that makes you an overachiever, you need therapy.

  7. gt
    gt says:

    I have learned in my nearly 50 years of life that changing pace is my formula for success (and well-being).

    I can’t imagine the horror of being so close to a Hollywood disaster type of production being played out in real life. I was stranded at an airport 200 miles from home on that day which is extremely trivial compared to those who were present at ground zero.

    Such events truely puts every moment of the day into closer perspective, at least for me. I need to work on that bucket list….

  8. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers
    Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers says:

    Although I was safely sitting in my office at Emory University on that morning, when a student from NYC came in, looking stricken, and asked to reschedule her appointment because a plane had struck the towers and she was worried about her friends, all I could think about were my friends and former colleages in NYC.

    One who worked in the towers whose wedding I had just attended weeks earlier. One who had just started dating someone who worked in the towers. A childhood friend whose father worked there. Other former Wall Street colleagues who worked across the street, or in connected buildings. For years, my Wall Street office window overlooked those buildings. It was a connection no one around me shared.

    I raced home. Should I make calls? What if no one answered? For more distant friends, would I be bothering them when they’d want to be connecting with family and closer friends? Heart racing, I was so fortunate to reach everyone I could think of or their friends. They were alive. Their stories – €“ similar to your story. Running. Losing shoes. Many of their friends were not as lucky.

    Sadly, many of us rely on a horrible, defining moment in our lives – a catastrophic event, a death, an accident – to re-focus on what is important and real. It is hard to keep an eye on that everyday. Rushing around. Getting work done. Meeting deadlines. Looking at the big picture and always remembering what is REALLY important – that is hard work.

    Whether it is slowing down for the long term or just sitting down for a minute…Being grateful for the here and now is a lesson to re-learn everyday.

  9. mamaworker
    mamaworker says:

    Today, let’s remember. (I am in no way glossing over the importance)

    Tomorrow, I’ll need some advice, and here’s some possible topics. Maybe your twentysomething bloggers can help:

    1. How do you do a career change when you have a family? Where do you start?
    2. We all know how you feel about unnessessary graduate degrees, but what do you think of people going back to technical schools to further their skills?
    3. How do you cope if you know your job is a dead-end position? If you have already asked for more duties and your needs aren’t being met, is there anything else you can do besides leave?
    4. Is it ever appropriate to tell your employer you might be leaving, like a last-ditch effort?
    5. Do you still feel that women can leave the workforce when they have kids to stay home and restart their careers? If so can you interview someone who’s gone through the experience?

    * * * * * * *
    I’m going to answer these questions right here. In the comments:
    1. Career change with a family is the same as career change without a family, except with a family you have to be more careful with money. The posts on this blog that are most relevant to this question are
    in the money category (on the sidebar). People who don’t like what they are doing but are scared to change need to weigh the risk of cutting back on expenses vs. the risk of being unhappy in their job.

    2. Technical schools are good if you absolutely have to have a degree in order to do the job and you are certain you can get a job with the degree and the job is certain to pay enough to make the school worth it. Many times you can learn the technical stuff in an internship or in a low-paying job rather than spend the time in school.

    3. If you are in a dead-end position and you cannot find a way out then yes, you have to leave. Usually, the way out of a dead-end job is networking. Someone at the company has to really care about you.

    4. Don’t tell an employer you are leaving unless you are leaving. Relationships built on threats never improve.

    5. I stayed home with kids and then restarted my career, and I’m fine. The hardest part of the process was the time home with the kids. Taking care of kids day in and day out is much harder than re-entering the workforce.

  10. Sean
    Sean says:

    This morning I commuted into NYC from NJ. I took a later train to avoid rush hour and the time I felt would coincide with another terrorist attack. As I walked out of Penn Station in NYC, a group of police officers and National Guard soldiers were performing a salute to the fallen on 9/11. I exited onto 7th Ave and the city felt different. I began to think about what I would do if history repeated itself. Who would I call? Could I walk through the Lincoln Tunnel or across the GW Bridge? If I was lucky enough to survive, what would I change in my life? Unfortunately, I thought I would change a lot. I would take more risks. I would finally leave this city that doesn’t fit me. I would finally quit this job that undervalues my intelligence and experience. I would do the things that my own fear and risk-aversion prevent me from doing. Well, it’s 2:45pm on 9/11/08 and I’m dreaming of things to change in my life… the chances of another terrorist attack are probably slim… yet I wonder if those odds are better than those given to me making a change in my life…

  11. Ardith
    Ardith says:

    Thank you, Penelope, for your fine thoughts on the day. My compliments to those who commented before me, who offered such eloquent insights. My best wishes to the families and friends of those who perished that day.

  12. Joel
    Joel says:

    Since I was there, I wish you’d crawl out from under the self-absobed rock you grew from. I LOST MANY. Your account about the trauma is shameless. The towers didn’t “fall on you.”

    I’m too angry at your effort to exploit, I’ll stop. Go DO something worthwhile damn it.

  13. Noumenon
    Noumenon says:

    Hey, Penelope, I just read your column about Sarah Palin. I didn’t realize you’d had a baby! So congratulations, however long it’s been.

    When I Googled your name to come here and congratulate you, I clicked on the subheading “My name is not really Penelope Trunk.” Wow — what a story. I really like how you open up deep, true secrets that most of us would be afraid to, because of that critical inner “john” in our minds.

  14. Lance
    Lance says:

    Slow is good. Fast is good. The key is moderation. 9/11 was a way for many to slow down. It was hard not to. It takes time to deal with the enormity of that whole situation. Even if we wish that we could quickly change…some things have to be processed. Thanks for sharing you story from these dark days…

  15. Annie
    Annie says:

    Penelope, your post really resonates with me. Thanks for your writing. I’m surprised by the haters here, because I value what you’re saying highly.

  16. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    Why don’t we just chose any pace that is fitting to ourselves? Why is pace even in question? In physics you got Maxwell-velocity-distribution for a group of particles, you might want to take a look at it – there, fast and slow pace is seldom, most particles in the group move with a velocity somewhere between fast and slow.

    But in real life we should just go and DO stuff, with a purpose. Pace is not the marker to measure purpose.

  17. Neil C
    Neil C says:

    I read your 9/12/01 blog & it was riveting. I learned 2 basic things from 9/11:

    1) Live. You control own destiny so don’t be a victim, make the most of every day & don’t live in fear. I have an enormous amount of respect for my old boss but it really pissed me off when he sent out an email on 9/11 to all of the mgrs telling us we should fill up on gas. He gave into the panic. If you live in fear the terrorists have already won.

    2) Evil exists & must be crushed. Evil only can flourish only when good men do nothing. There are people in this world that believe that we should either convert to Islam or be killed. There is no compromise with these people-they must be destroyed. I’m not interested in understanding their motivations-it’s irrelevant.

    My therapy has always been doing, not thinking or meditating. I agree that taking time to reflect is important but changing pace alone may not help some people.

  18. Angie
    Angie says:

    On Friday I was thinking about just the subject of this post. I, too, like to do things quickly. As soon as I begin Step 1 in actuality, my mind as moved on to see how quickly I can move on to steps 2 and 3. But on Friday I really thought about this tendency because I have a little calendar of African proverbs, and the proverb for Friday said, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk with others.” I hadn’t really thought of it like that before. I had wondered whether I might enjoy life more if I did things more slowly, but I hadn’t thought about whether I’d be less alone if I did things more slowly. Thinking of it that way involved an interesting little paradigm shift for me.

  19. Yu Ming Lui
    Yu Ming Lui says:

    Insightful post on personal pace, Penelope. It never dawned on me that those who are fast in life have those fears which are identical to slow pokes. I have to agree that you should travel at whatever speed that suits your situation. Good luck with getting off the highway a little bit.

  20. Gordon
    Gordon says:

    If we need to change we are not happy with who we are, Change is required, if we know what we want to change into, and we do not loose our own eternal soul.
    Don’t sell yourself for “10 shekel’s and a shirt”

    Good luck


  21. shaw
    shaw says:

    I was not there when the towers collapsed. But I did work at Windows on the World in the kitchen a year before. It did put things in perspective for me.

    I too like to go fast. and I have a hard time adjusting to slow. But I’ve learned that fast can make you rash about decisions, and I’m working to make more controlled decisions.

    One thing I am also realizing is that fast can mean starting now and doing a little bit everyday. You can never go back and get something going and when age is important, sometimes you need to be fast to get things started, but just more controlled and steady with ongoing development.


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