Focus on learning in the face of recession

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I announced last week that I’ll be running a poll on my sidebar each week. I'm aiming for a new one every Tuesday.

The poll is a fun way for me to think about career topics. A new format always gets me going. But it’s also fun because even after writing about careers for ten years, I have a lot of questions in my head that I have not found research to address.

Today’s poll is one of them. I know the research about who is bulimic and what happens to them. Mostly because I was bulimic all through college and I thought becoming an expert on the topic would help me stop throwing up. (That didn’t work, but the mental ward did). But there is no workplace research. And I’m curious. So I wrote the poll question because I genuinely want to know the answer: What percentage of women in corporate America are bulimic? I think the answer is higher than anyone would expect.

I know that my poll would not pass scientific muster. But I like that we are at least going to start talking about my question. Well, that’s what I was thinking. But then I realized that my poll idea—while a grand opportunity for snark, and also an opportunity to fulfill my dreams of writing quizzes for Cosmo—is not the depth of conversation I am hoping for.

So maybe, I am thinking, I will write a post about the poll each week, to hear what you all think of the topic. I still want you to vote on the poll. Who doesn’t love a good statistic about sex (last week) or bulimia (this week) or the intersection of sex/bulimia/work (maybe every week)? So you all should love the poll archive.

Some of you will ask, “Why are we talking about bulimia and sex on a career blog?” Here is some career advice for you: The best thing to do in a recession is make your focus on keeping your learning curve high. Forget about rank —it’s going to be hard to get internal raises or big jumps from job hopping. But eventually the recession will end, and you want to make sure you’re in a good position to take advantage of that.

People who are always curious and always learning are keeping the recession from killing their career trajectory. You don’t need to have a job to be learning, you don’t need to have a great title to be stretching your skills. And really, really, you don’t need to go to graduate school and earn a degree to prove that you are learning. In fact, maybe you need to take a job you’re not thrilled with, but remember that no one can dictate your learning curve. You control that.

My curiosity about bulimics at work is a reflection of the curiosity that got me through the recession that existed when I entered the workforce. When I was unemployed, I worked in interesting jobs for free. When I was employed, I read outside my expertise at night. When I was out with a group of people, I looked for the people who could teach me something new.

So, some of you will go for the bulimia poll, and some won’t. But regardless, each of us should ask engaging questions each day. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s cheap, and it keeps our learning curve steep, so it’s a great way to face down a tanking economy.

62 replies
  1. Brandon Wright
    Brandon Wright says:

    Curiosity is trait not enough people express. When good, thought-provoking questions aren’t asked, bad things happen.

  2. Neil C.
    Neil C. says:

    I agree that we all need to stay sharp & keep learning in this recession but you’re losing me a little here. You have always put forth the notion that “paying your dues” is no longer necessary but in this post you talked about working for free & not worrying about rank. Isn’t that another way of paying your dues & isn’t that what the recent grads should be doing? Help me out here.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Great question. Paying dues is what you do when someone says, “I have nothing to offer you now, but if you do work that you get nothing from now, I will make sure it pays off later on.”

      Don’t take that kind of offer, because you don’t know if you’ll be around to get the pay off later on. Also, it’s insulting that someone would tell you that your time is so unimportant that you can waste it by doing something that you don’t learn from.

      When I worked for free, I learned a ton. In fact, each time I have changed careers, I started by working for free — doing software marketing for a small company for free in order to get it on my resume, writing a column for free for five years in order to get a newspaper to syndicate me, things like that.

      Try to make sure that what you are doing adds up to quantifiable experience that you can translate to someone else as a useful skill in their market. The dangers are when you learn something that you cannot use to create opportunities (a Ph.d in French literature) or you do something where you are not actually learning anything (paying dues).


    • Dorothy
      Dorothy says:

      I think its weird that the fourth option implies that you don’t “talk to people enough” to learn about their eating disorder. I talk to my coworkers a lot, I know a lot about their lives, it just happens that I have never know anyone in the office that has done this. Do I know professionals outside of my own company that engage in this behavior. Yes. But there was no way for me to vote with my experience.

      I also think the phrasing of your question is odd. High IQs and “high achieving” attitudes does not imply certitude that they are doing well in Corporate America. People are taking into account ones physical health now just as much as their performance in a lot of cases. A woman who appears to have such a serious self esteem problem is suspect to many bosses and hiring managers that I know. Is your statement “which probably means many of them are doing well in corporate America” backed up in any metrics or other polls? This to me would make your poll more interesting.

      I’ve known and met many bulemics, but am not one myself. I empathize with their self-esteem problems but this has not been the manner in which I myself have acted on them.

    • stephanie s
      stephanie s says:

      I disagree, I don’t think it’s always about paying your dues as much as its about expanding your skill set and keeping your current skill set sharp.

  3. Holly Hoffman
    Holly Hoffman says:

    This is interesting because I was just marking my office calendar for a meeting that is marginally, at best, related to my current role. I do this a lot, and I get invited to a lot of meetings, training & information sessions in my company because each dept head knows I’m interested in learning new things and being in the loop. My boss loves it because he doesn’t have to attend so many meetings, since I can just report back to him.

    How did this benefit me in the recession? I was promoted into a newly created role as 10% of our employees were laid off. Curiosity, reading, research, digging into new (even marginally related) fields… these things *are* noticed and they pay off.

  4. Kristin T.
    Kristin T. says:

    This is great advice. What I especially like about it is that it puts the power and control back into the hands of the individual. Too often in difficult times, like an economic downturn, we feel like everything is happening TO us, and there’s nothing we, as individuals, can do. This is at the root of hopelessness, which can really start a downward spiral.

    As you say, “no one can dictate your learning curve. You control that.” The fact that curiosity and learning are cheap (if not free) makes it even better.

  5. Alison Law
    Alison Law says:

    As someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder and who works with a non-profit dedicated to preventing eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder), I’m not sure what to think of your poll question. It seems like a reach to say that you’re posing the question in the name of promoting learning or sating intellectual curiosity.

    The way you set up the poll questions is also intriguing. It seems like in addition to asking if people are bulimic or if they work with people who are throwing up, you’re also asking your blog readers if they’re successful and have high IQs.

    I’m also a marketing professional who believes that what you do with survey data (i.e., the answers to the bulimia poll) is as or more important than the answers you receive. So I’m eager to see what you will do with the results other than letting them rest quietly next to other provocative topics in your blog archives.

    Thank you for stirring my intellectual curiosity today.

  6. Barchbo
    Barchbo says:

    Now I REALLY feel like an overachiever – 90% of people who make themselves throw up can’t quit?! I did – 18 years ago this Christmas. Nothing like 6 weeks on the mental ward to realize that I could not live and would not live with psychiatric patients as my peer group. That, and the misery was too painful a place in which to live. Not that it was living.

    I also find it staggering and yet not surprising that 65% of the poll respondents claim no knowledge of bulimics. It’s a disease of secrecy, and we’re very crafty…but it seems like the likely candidates are so obvious.

    Great post! You always challenge people to think…whether they like it or not!

  7. Nisha
    Nisha says:

    That’s an interesting tip, and it’s also cool to see Holly’s comment about how this has really worked for her. I’m also glad to hear “keep learning” doesn’t automatically mean “go to grad school” — because that seems to be what a lot of my peers are thinking: in a recession, they’re all rushing for grad school!

  8. Sara
    Sara says:

    Unfortunately, I will not be participating in your poll, as I do not know any bulimic coworkers (currently unemployed). This would apparently put me in the last category, where I should infer that I am a callous person for not asking any of my previous coworkers whether they were trying to overcome a very personal, highly secretive struggle like bulimia. Funny, because I know women who’ve struggled with bulimia, just not coworkers.

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        Agree. I work in an office with 1 other person. She’s not throwing up. So apparently I don’t talk to people at work enough? Because I knew all the people who were bulimic and recovered bulimics at my last job. A “I know a person(people) who are bulimic, but not at the office” option would have been perfect.

  9. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    “Vitally important for a young man or woman is, first, to realize the value of education and then to cultivate earnestly, aggressively, ceaselessly, the habit of self-education” – B.C. Forbes, founder of Forbes magazine.

    I have this on my cube wall along with a Steve Jobs quote from his Stanford commencement speech about the importance of not being trapped by dogma.

  10. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    Is it that I don’t talk to people enough, or that I don’t spend enough time in the bathroom? I suspect that if someone on my floor were bulimic, our bathroom trips would have overlapped by now.

    Basically, I think your choices are worded more for your amusement than for what someone is actually likely to answer.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, that’s an interesting point. I mean, honestly, the whole blog is for my amusement. It’s too much work to do a blog that is for anything else.

      But amusement in a vacuum is nothing. So I like to think that people will talk about stuff that I want to talk about. It’s a fine line, really.

      But, back to the wording of the poll. The way one offers up choices for a poll is actually an extremely complicated science. So any way that I word the possible answers would be extremely limiting and would push people to do what I want them to do (or not, depending on how little talent I have in this regard).

      Dan Airley wrote a great book on how to give people choices in order to get information from them. What I learned from Dan is that I could never, in a million years, publish a poll that was both interesting to me and scientifically valid. That’s why I’m a blogger and not an academic. :)

      Still, I am happy that people take a shot at answering the questions. I think it’s fun. After only two weeks of doing it, I love the poll.


      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        “The way one offers up choices for a poll is actually an extremely complicated science.”

        I know. I used to write multiple-choice questions for a living, and I’ve edited and written surveys. Personally I find real information interesting, though.

  11. The Office Newb
    The Office Newb says:

    I’ve always felt that reading, learning and continuous exploration are the essential traits of a motivated person. And who do business want to hire and promote? Motivated people.

    To quote from one of my favorite movies, Working Girl, when asked in a business meeting why she reads W Magazine, Melanie Griffiths character replies,

    “you never know where a good idea will come from.”

    So true.

  12. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    We can’t get off track by focusing just on what’s going on with the economy. There’s still an abundance of interior work to be done that will provide benefit now and later. Learning is portable – I’m going to keep doing it. Thanks for the reminder, Penelope!

  13. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    The choices don’t cover the universal set but as you said to someone above, it is about amusement. ;-)

    Statistically, each of us should know a few people who are anorexic or bulimic. Between 1/3 and 2/3 of anorexics and bulimics suffer for up to 15 years, and only 1/2 are ever fully cured.

    Published data suggest that in the American population alone, the % of binge eaters exceeds the % of bulimics and anorexics combined. Most of them (binge eaters) go on to be obese and 2 in 5 of these are men when fewer than 0.5% of bulimics are men. I _can_ tell you that my path often crosses this category of people mainly because it is harder for them to hide the ‘disorder’ (DSM-IV does define it thus) or its impact. Research also suggests that they abound in corporate America but are likely to receive lower pay, pay higher medical insurance and are more likely to be fired than their thinner counterparts.

    I am not throwing this here for my own amusement but because I have been wondering – and have blogged to ask opinions about it – what the effect of a prolonged recession will be on average weights and other metrics of public health, in general (link: Learning, like love, is a multi-splendoured thing :-)

  14. Stretch Mark Mama
    Stretch Mark Mama says:

    You make me proud to be a woman! Such a smart gal you are!

    I’m not currently in the paid workforce (at home with kids, home schooling, volunteering), but I appreciate the reminder to keep learning and growing. And it’s true what the previous commenter said — that most opportunities for an “education” are free. It’s just a matter of making the choice to learn.

  15. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    “When I was unemployed, I worked in interesting jobs for free.”

    Unfortunately, most of us ordinary people who are unemployed, can’t really afford to work for free. Somebody’s gotta pay the rent and buy the food, unless you like living on the street and depending on the local soup kitchen or rescue mission for meals.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Its assumptions like this that do people no good. Don’t assume that I had tons of money when I worked for free. In fact, last time I did a job for free I was raising two kids in NYC with no savings and an income exactly at the poverty line.

      You don’t need to have a lot of money in order to steer your career well. You have to have vision for where you want to go and self-confidence that you can get yourself there. Once there is food on your table and a roof on your head — which surely there is for every reader of this blog — the rest of the stuff is available to all of us.


      • jrandom42
        jrandom42 says:

        At least you had an income. Last time I was unemployed, I was in Los Angeles, with no income, no unemployment, and living out of my car for more than a year. Working for free at that point would have been less than useless.

  16. Erin
    Erin says:

    My curiosity is going to kill this cat.

    In an effort to keep my career going the direction I want it to, I sat down and taught myself everything I could get my hands on.

    Teaching myself landed me in a position where I’m now consulting the people who turned me down for positions. I’d love to turn that into business in and of itself.

    Ironically, another part of my life is taking off and I’m in a position to consult, teach and write about that as well.

    I’m so curious about which way I should navigate my career that I’m working myself into a frenzy trying to figure out which path I should take.

  17. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    You can place me in the category of naturally curious and always wanting to learn. It doesn’t matter to me whether we’re in a recession or not. That’s why I had to read this post a few times. The meaning of this post didn’t come to me until I focused on the following two sentences –

    “Here is some career advice for you: The best thing to do in a recession is make your focus on keeping your learning curve high. Forget about rank – it’s going to be hard to get internal raises or big jumps from job hopping.”

    In other words, don’t dwell on the negative aspects of the economy and current state of the workplace – you may find yourself taking a defensive, limiting, and wait and see posture. Instead, look for areas where there will be growth potential in the future when the business picks up, work on getting the applicable training, and work on improving your skill set in your areas of interest. You should be doing all of the above even more so now in these difficult times compared to the good times. That’s what I took away from this post.

  18. says:

    Nobody that I know has ever admitted being bulimic to me. So this might mean “….that I don’t talk to people to know if they are throwing up?” I feel reasonable certain that my friends are not bulimic..I feel certain enough to bet on it. Do people talk about “throwing up” at business lunches these days? Is this the kind of conversation, one has while waiting in the line at the grocery store…”are you going to take that food home, eat it, and then throw up.” Isn't secrecy one of the reason bulimia is so hard to treat?
    Is this just a poorly written question? When I read your posts these days, I am beginning to think of you as an @dooce for business people. Perhaps competing with each other for the most neurosis. Are you really curious about bulimic women in the work place? Or do you want to share that you were bulimic and on a mental ward. I get that it is important to be curious..I just wonder, if the poll isn't based more on clicks, attention getting, and comments than true curiosity. In the comments you talk business and give good advice..but it’s bulmia that brought people hear.

  19. Ashtacular
    Ashtacular says:

    As a recovering “bulemic who didn’t puke”, I am curious about your correlation between this level of control, or lack thereof and the corporate world. I’ve always found it riveting that anyone would truly WANT to be part of the corporate world. Is that about control as well? Or a competitive thing? I read your blog because I find you funny, not because I give a shit about the corporate world. I do think that it’s curious how control over food, and your relationship to food bleeds in to the rest of your life….Did you find that everything fell into place when you stopped puking? Weight Watchers has certainly changed more than my dress size…..

  20. Fermi
    Fermi says:

    I selected “I’ve never met anyone like this” although I have. I was best friends with her in high school, and I confronted her about it and then she tried to make all of our friends hate me. That was awesome.

    She is in law school now. I don’t work with her.

    I would have selected this poll choice had it existed:
    “I am unaware of intentional vomiting at my workplace.”

  21. Mark F.
    Mark F. says:

    So Penelope in regards to the recession, and things to focus on in regards to work, you know my credo is “You are the CEO of your own career”…You can’t control others only influence and occassionally manipulate them. You can control your own actions and learning. Learning should never stop nor be defined in a traditional sense. You may read a book on a topic that interests you, try new food, take a vacation to a an exotic local (Tahiti,Tijuana, or Tenessee)…take a class(at school or the gym). In the end you build knowledge capital that you can draw upon more and more as it expands.
    Times are tough for everyone, but learning doesn’t cost much except investment of time…Time is the capital expended for personal R&D. Everyone complains they don’t have any time to spend but most people are not being honest with themselves…we can all carve out a little bit of time no matter how busy we are…In business CEO’s make business and human capital decisions all day…in life as your own CEO, your capital is knowledge the more you have the richer you are (its your personal profit- or if you don’t have much its a loss on your personal income statement).
    One more thing for those who are truely strapped for $$ spend time at your local library…it’s a treasure chest of information second only to the internet and you can walk around and surf with your feet not just your fingers on your keyboard. I am still old school on occasion and enjoy reading a magazine and skimming an interesting book off the shelf before I buy it at the book store or take it out…I am passionate about this (can you tell!!!)

  22. Liz
    Liz says:

    I think your poll results are coming back screwy, with perhaps a high percentage of disgruntled voters skewing results.

    The fact is, no woman can eat three meals a day and look the way society says we’re supposed to. Anyone who’s thin is doing one of the following: Skipping meals (subsisting for energy on candy or soda or other small, 100-calorie snacks during the day); On an extreme vegetarian or other diet; Obsessively counting calories (“Oh my god! This brings me up to 689 – I’m so bad!”) Or they are throwing up.

    The whole “You can eat normally if you just control your portions and blah blah” is crap that somehow makes everyone feel worse about the whole thing. If you want the body of a Vietnamese peasant, you have to eat like one. Period.

    It’s interesting, especially at work, because it ends up dividing the world into two groups: women who are thin, a bit screwy with food, and know it; women who are fat, overeating but trying really hard not to, and know it.

    • Working9to5
      Working9to5 says:

      I’m actually offended by this.

      Nobody dictates how I look but me. “Society says” is a blame card that women play to justify our self consciousness and insecurities. These exist not becuase “society says” they exist becuase they always have. It is ingrained is us to care about how we look – it is survival of the fittest.

      When women in the office are treted differently becuase of their “size” it isn’t because “society says.” It’s becuase appearance, this includes size, reflects more than just what we eat. It reflects our attitude, our organizational skills, our preparedness… True to the person or not. Outward appearance, again… including size, is a reflection to others on how well we will perform in our jobs. (I know penelope has blogged on this at some point as well).

      This is my blanket statement with no supporting evidence in response to yours, which is the same.

    • Dara
      Dara says:

      “The fact is, no woman can eat three meals a day and look the way society says we’re supposed to.”

      I disagree. I believe youth, exercise, genetics and healthy (but not necessarily obsessively so) eating can play a role in being thin. If you mean society’s image as in runway models (or VS “angels”), then yes, it probably takes an obsessive lifestyle or some plastic surgery to maintain that.

      But to say “anyone who is thin” is a bit much. I’m 5’8 and have worn size 4-6 since adulthood. I don’t count calories/diet, eat what I want (3x a day), don’t exercise nearly enough and don’t have an eating disorder. I merely quit eating when I feel satisfied. Yet, I’m young (26), never had children, and don’t have a bunch of obese people in my family (“thin” genetics). Perhaps, it’s uncommon, but I still think a lot could be accomplished (maybe not model thinness) by just not overeating.

      I find it fairly offensive to assume thin women have to be fruitcakes. That’s like assuming all non-thin women are lazy, undisciplined slobs to not maintain a “thin” physique. In reality, they’re probably busy, genetically predisposed to a non-thin physique, etc.

    • Sofia
      Sofia says:

      I’m going to guess that you fall into the non-thin category, based on your assumptions about how people stay thin?

      I agree that thin women are a bit screwy with food, but isn’t everybody? Isn’t overeating a little screwy, too? I honestly think weight has more to do with who you’re around, which is what they found in this long-term study on weight gain among friends:

  23. Christina
    Christina says:

    If I did hear someone throwing up in the women’s bathroom at the office, I would be far more likely to assume that she was pregnant than that she was bulimic.

    As a consultant I was throwing up in office bathrooms all over town for months before I was ready to announce my pregnancy to clients. I tried to be discrete – using a bathroom on another floor, carrying mouthwash in my bag. Who knows how successful I was at that.

  24. HM
    HM says:

    Not me, not any colleagues (past or present), but my sister-in-law is bulimic. She hides it fairly well, but she’s now having dental issues because of it. She’s also an alcoholic, but a fairly high-functioning one in the education world.

  25. Kandi
    Kandi says:

    Oh wow. You’ve read my mind. Or perhaps I’ve read yours. That is exactly what I’ve done. Now is the perfect time to learn something new. I took a position on short-term contract (it started this week) to have the experience and learn something new. Similar to what you said, I’m thinking that when the recession is over and opportunities open up, I want to be first in line.

  26. Raven
    Raven says:

    Good points, Penelope. I just completed post that debated if people are still interested in learning about business the “old-fashioned” way (by learning in the workplace) and not going to business schools. I think people underestimate how they can pick up new skills by volunteering, interning or self-teaching (or blogging).

  27. Liz
    Liz says:

    I think when I was 24 I would have said something similar to the people who are commenting with offended statements like, “I just quit eating when I want.” In fact, I spent a lot of time insisting that I just had “a really high metabolism” whenever people commented. I ate a lot of normal foods – even french fries – so I thought it was true at the time.

    In retrospect, though, my 20-something friends and I spent a LOT of time talking about how many calories were in our food. In college, I passed out in the hall once, and realized that I’d only eaten a Snickers bar in 18 hours. (Even though I didn’t consciously intend to skip meals). And I wasn’t the only girl I knew to suffer a “fainting” spell from “stress.”

    When I finally landed in a live-in relationship, where I ate every time a guy did, I gained weight so fast it made my head spin. I still have to push away half my plate, or skip meals, and work out a LOT in order to keep from having to buy bigger clothes.

    Overall I can stay a decent size (not stick thin – probably a little smaller than Pink, who’s considered plus-size for Hollywood) if I eat reasonably and work out an hour a day. Yeah. ONE HOUR. When I don’t have time to do it, I eat less (a LOT less) and when I look at other women, it seems like that’s typical.

    I don’t know anyone thin who eats the way women who say they want to lose weight eat. The women I know who eat three normal meals a day (NOT veegans, NOT organic devotees, and NOT 19 year olds) always say they are bigger than they want to be. Every one. I had a roommate who was really cute, but probably a size 12. And she’d make healthy meals and go to the gym five days a week, while I ate popcorn for dinner and coffee for breakfast and oatmeal for lunch. She was healthier, and she looked great, but she was never going to be as thin.

    I didn’t feel like I could tell her why, even though she talked about it a lot, “I work out so hard and I eat right and it doesn’t help – it must be my metabolism…” That’s why I liked this blog post. Because I wish women talked about these things more.

    I’m not saying that the pressure to be thin is society’s oppression (at this point, I actually feel a bit sick if I see cottage cheese on my thighs). If anything, the pressure to be “healthy” is what’s really unfair. Because you can eat like a normal person, or you can be thin, but you really aren’t going to be able to do both after 25.

  28. Gurdy
    Gurdy says:

    I am still questioning the IQ etc. comment built into the question. Why is it there?

    I’m told it’s not true by a psychiatrist friend who said there are different studies for anorexia where the correlation has been found.

  29. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I have a friend who told me she occasionally made herself vomit when she was younger. Today she suffers from high anxiety, constantly talks about how bad food makes her feel, and visits the bathroom during every mean we share together more than once. I consider this odd behavior, and suspect she is still bulimic. Maybe a person always is? I don’t know.

  30. Maya
    Maya says:

    Penelope – love your Gravatar pic!

    I was bulimic – for a very short time I *think* – or maybe it was a long time and I was in denial for most of that time … so I’d be curious to know what you find out from your research.

    I like this – we should indeed learn about stuff when times are bad – we should learn all the time – but more so now. And then, when things get better with the economy, we can be experts and make a bunch of money.

    I am blogging openly about my start-up – giving away my idea – and asking people for input – so I can learn from the world while I do it. You think I am taking your philosophy too far? I am curious to know what you think about that?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Answering your question about the startup: I think it’s fine to blog about your idea. You can assume that you never have a unique idea for a startup — someone else has always thought of it as well. So startups are about execution. And the more people you talk to, the more advice you can get about execution.

      Good luck.


  31. Allison @ Entry Level Living
    Allison @ Entry Level Living says:

    Great post! I recently wrote about how in times like this people become *too* grateful for the jobs they have not pushing themselves in significant ways. What I am taking away from your post is that we still need to focus on the future and constantly be looking to better ourselves.

  32. HM
    HM says:

    ::Rant On:: It occurred to me that I deal with the flip side, the people who think I am “too skinny.” I am mother to a 3-year-old. I lost the baby weight immediately. I am 5-10 and wear a 4-6. I am on the lowest end of the healthy weight range for a girl my height, and I’m pale so that makes it look worse.

    People are concerned about me and it drives me nuts with all the “You’re SO skinny!” comments. Weird thing to complain about? Maybe, but it makes me feel very self-conscious. It’s not fair how it’s a societal taboo to say, “You’re SO fat!” but it’s OK to say, “You’re SO skinny!” How am I supposed to answer that, especially when there’s heavy-ish people around? Very embarassing to me, plus I tend to be a wallflower anyway.

    As a busy working mom, I do have to remind myself to eat, and I don’t always pig out. Lunch might just be Ramen noodles and veggies, but dinner’s always substantial and I always eat a good breakfast! I like cookies and cake as much as anybody, but don’t keep them in the house except every 28 days or so. What can I do?! I truly have good genes and a high metabolism, but I feel like nobody believes me. They all think I’m puking!!::Rant Off::

  33. HM
    HM says:

    Oh, I’m 26. (See Liz) Maybe that’s the problem and I won’t have much to complain about for long – especially if I have a second child. Nothing to complain about … hmmm, surely I can find something.

    • Dara
      Dara says:

      I’m 26 as well, but I’m also about 10 weeks pregnant so I’ll have to get back to Liz in a year or so and see how my natural (non-working out, non-freakishly health food eating) thinness works out for me then. Maybe it’s after having babies that it gets much harder, but I really think that there are just thin women who don’t have to stress out about it. Just like there are tall women, short women, fat women, etc. I just think Liz is overgeneralizing a bit much. She is right though, I know bigger women than me who are in much better physical shape…they just aren’t as thin. Yet, it’s not b/c I’m pursuing an obsessively unhealthy eating style to maintain.

      I’ve never eaten just a Snickers bar or less (unless fasting for religious reasons) in 18 hours! So little food, I would be starving!

  34. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    I think your pollers are full of bull. Remember your post about writing the thank you notes to the doctors who helped your son? Remember how you really were thankful, but you just couldn’t do it because you weren’t emotionally ready? I think more readers than not are just not emotionally ready to admit that their perfect exterior comes from sub-perfect behavior. I spent years on my own narcissistic podium.

  35. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I would like to take part in your poll but I can’t. I think you screwed up on the questions because there is no option for if you know bulimics outside work. It goes straight from ‘I know someone at work who is’ to ‘I’ve never met anyone like this’.

    I’m not aware of this going on in any of the offices I’ve worked in – and I do talk to people. I have known co-workers with slightly obsessive or odd relationships with food but that does not make them bulimic. If they were throwing up at work, I think I would know.

    However, I have known bulimic women in my persona life.

  36. devBear
    devBear says:

    Might have been better to do both bulimia and anorexia. I had to answer “no” to the poll, because I’ve known more anorexics than bulimics. Something about the throwing up that put people off from bulimia…

  37. Indrani
    Indrani says:

    Great article. Very good point about learning. For one thing, it never goes waste. On the other hand, it generates a lot of cheer and satisfaction, especially when you are feeling down and blue. In my last job, I was quite unhappy and spent many hours going through a plethora of online training. It helped, really.

    I love reading you. I have found you only recently. Anticipating many hours of reading pleasure.



  38. James
    James says:

    Penelope, I came across your blog quite by accident, and I have laughed so much from reading it. Not the “laugh at” kind of laugh, but the one that makes you giggle like a kid because your writing is so basal, and real and refreshing.

    I am an educator, of sorts, as I don’t teach anymore, but that’s like saying I don’t learn anymore either. And the whole Ph.D thing may well be overrated in this culture of rapid change that requires our thirst for… well, let’s use knowledge… but that’s not the most appropriate word, because it’s more about the thirst than it is about the knowledge.

    Enough graduate experience with course work and all the distractions that go with it inform me of the discipline required to get the letters… all learning is its own reward.

    On bulimia… anorexia… obsessive compulsive disorder… wait, I have to go shut the tap off again… The very fact that you expose it makes what you write powerful. That you have lived it and recovered adds the magic of hope.

    Your poll obviously attracted attention of all kinds. I have some wonders about your results. At one time in the past I was a Jr. High teacher. What are your thoughts on the predetermination of bulimia and the relevance of impact of puberty and social cliques – so wicked at that age level – on the onset of the disease at a later stage in life? lists that one to two percent of adolescent or young adult women meet the criteria for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. Some research suggests that the rate is higher for college-aged women–around 4%.

    Can you comment on a woman’s growth from puberty into the role she has now (let’s say in corporate America) and whether there is more that could be done earlier? You’ve lived it… what are your thoughts?

    Penelope, thanks… you’re brilliant.

  39. Resume Writer
    Resume Writer says:

    What an excellent (and timely) post. I am a resume writer and business in our industry traditionally slows down during the holiday seasons. After all, companies are generally not hiring during this time and people are more involved in finding gifts for everyone. Now, with the current state of the economy, there are more people forced to address the career change issue, but the flip side of it is that more job seekers are hesitant to pay for a professional resume. So I guess it is a wash in that respect.

    I said this to say that from mid-November until January, most resume writers take this time to “sharpen their swords”, so to speak. As owner of a service, I use this downtime to catch up on website work, link partnerships, forms, and anything else that makes the day-to-day easier for the next year. It is also a good time to plan out the next year.

    Where the problem for most people come in is that the current circumstances can get you down, making it difficult to concentrate on those things such as training that have more of a long-term payoff. It can be hard to concentrate on a Dreamweaver tutorial when you have three days to come up with the car insurance money.

    The key is mental compartmentalization – separating the circumstances from the task at hand in one’s mind. We see great athletes do it all the time. Any basketball fan remembers how well Kobe Bryant played during the Colorado assault trial. When he got on the court, everything else went to the back burner. It’s how job seekers (or business owners) must approach downtime. We have to take a “glass half full” approach and recognize the spare time as an opportunity to accomplish something that we’d normally not have the time to accomplish.

    Knowledge is in fact power, and sometimes the downtime is the silver lining around the dark cloud.

  40. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I just found your blog and have been doing a lot of back reading. I was bulimic in high school, and then became worse after leaving home. I think the pressure to do even MORE (all the cooking and cleaning on my own, on top of a heavier/harder course selection in university than high school, having to make new friends ect) really blew my head off.

    I’m not a corporate anything though.

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