Solve most of your problems by solving just one

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This month I broke my record for the most traffic to my blog. Ever. About 375,000 page views. Hooray. Ironically, I spent most of the month garnering high-traffic by writing about what a hard time I’ve been having. So I want to take a day to pat myself on the back, because if I only write about the stuff I struggle with, I start to feel one-dimensional here. Or three-dimensional, but a 3-D mess.

Anyway, for most of last year, I struggled to blog regularly and run the company and be around for my kids. Finally, this month, when the company has been more difficult than ever, I managed to start blogging four times a week again. This is the result of trying a new time management trick every week, for months and months, until I figured out a system for getting the blog posts done. What finally worked was examining the other problems I was having in my life, and solving those first.

That shouldn't surprise you. Because the research about problem solving is that if you start targeting any problem in your life, and nail it, all the other problems become easier. There are problem solvers and problem sufferers. And most problems are not unique, so you need to just start tackling them to fall into the first category.

So I started tackling. First, I fixed my company. Instead of stressing that we won’t get funding, we decided to fund ourselves with profits from consulting. We have a consulting business that helps companies attract and retain top young talent. That strategy has allowed us to continue to grow our network of bloggers, which is now about 700.

Next problem—yelling at my kids. I’m sure other people have this problem, but no one is blogging about it. Of course no one is, because it feels so crappy to admit. And my kids are young, so when I yell, it is really heartbreaking to see the reaction on the kids’ faces, especially my three-year-old. But this month I’ve been able to stop. It’s an especially big accomplishment because I’m sure my yelling is actually me taking my stress out on them, and there's been plenty of stress on me lately.

Once I stopped yelling, I felt more able to tackle the blogging problem. So now I’m on a roll. And I’m thinking about the next problem to solve. I think it’s going to be listening. I’m a terrible listener. I’ve been noticing myself not listening. And I've been noticing that it’s painful to have to wait until someone finishes a sentence. To make sure this problem should be next, I asked Ryan Healy, “Do you notice that I go on and on talking way after someone has lost interest?” He looked at me, to make sure I was really asking, and then he said, “Yeah.”

So I’m happy to have a day to toot my own horn. It’s been a month of success in ways that have surprised and pleased me. And I'm on a roll. Hooray.

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  1. Alan Wilensky
    Alan Wilensky says:

    We live in a society where most folks really do not have essential, real, physical or artisan-like skills. Many work in synthetic knowledge or service industries, and each real word situation is an opportunity to call an expert to deal with it. We have eschewed the daily living skills for the ephemeral.

    Quoting G.I. Gurdjieff (actually G. quoting his father), “if you can make a pair of boots well, you can do anything”.

    The satisfaction of learning one real skill, or the methods to unscrew our modern lives, gives rise to the knowledge to deal with other, multifarious problems.

  2. LisaNewton
    LisaNewton says:

    Congratulations on getting a few problems solved. It’s hard to do. I have several pressing issues, and started getting one done this week.

    Although it hasn’t solved all of my other problems, it feels good to have cracked the shell on one issue that been sitting on my shoulders for a while.

    On a side note, when I was thinking about names for my children, one of the requirements was that the names couldn’t be more than 2 syllables so I could get there names out of mouth faster. I didn’t yell at them too often, however, shorter names were useful to get their attention quicker……………:)

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    This is totally true. Even on a smaller scale. I can’t work at home until my place is clean for instance, and even now at work, I’m thinking about how nice it will be to go home tonight and pick things up. Ha!

  4. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I’m sure half your visits are me, because I can’t get enough of your blogs about parenting and entrepreneurship. I keep coming back to see if there’s anything else I can glean from your articles. I’m starting my own business this year and I’ve already learned a lot from you since I started reading your blog less than a week ago.

  5. Kat
    Kat says:

    I need to listen more too. I’ve been paying attention to myself (especially when on the phone) and I tend to ask people a question and just as they are beginning to answer it I jump in and ask them another question. I’ve got to stop and let them speak.

  6. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This is the best post I’ve seen from you in awhile. I like it because it’s upbeat and it’s focusing on the positive accomplishments in your life of late. It seems to me as though you’re reading your blog and taking your own advice (and may I venture our advice where appropriate). I’m referring specifically to the fact you’re not multitasking. You’ve identified areas you want to improve in, prioritized, and focused better than I’ve noticed in the past. Have a Riesling on me (in moderation of course)!

  7. Grace
    Grace says:

    Though we face many challenges, sometimes we only need to change one thing – our own perspective. Though the frantic stressed-out posts are engaging and fun to read, this post is a reminder that we all have the power to respond to our world, not just react to it. Well done.

  8. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    One of my engineering professors offered up perhaps the most valueable advice in problem solving, no matter what the problem.

    “If a problem looks unsolveable, look at its components, and solve the ones you can understand. Then take another look at the whole problem. Lather, rinse, repeat.”

    Sounds like it’s working for you.

  9. Teri
    Teri says:

    PLEASE tell us how you stopped yelling at your kids. Every time I do it, I feel like the worst mom in the world and vow never to do it again…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s how I stopped yelling at my kids.
      1. I started telling people I do it, so I could have conversations and get feedback.

      2. I thought a lot about location. People told me that it sounded like a lot of what determined if I would yell was location. For example. In the car, I get very frustrated. Also, it was important to notice that I can control it, because I don’t scream at the kids in front of lots of people.

      3. I asked myself what is more important in my life than stopping yelling at them, and there was nothing. So I told myself it was my number-one goal for January.

      4. I told myself that the repercussions of yelling at a child are huge. It teaches them that people who love them can treat them badly. It makes them less likely to engage in the world because they are always worrying that I will erupt. It teaches kids that taking your emotions out on someone else is fair game.

      After all this, I was able to stop myself when I could feel myself getting angry. But really, it’s only been a month. That’s not that much time for a behavioral change.


      • le
        le says:

        well done you – a month is a month … a group of us who do yell at our kids are experimenting with a ranting blog so we can yell at keyboard and deflect the negative away from those we love … may seem a glib effort / response but works for some – cheers le

      • EH
        EH says:

        I used to be quite a yeller, then trained myself to walk outside and scream in the garage. Now the need hardly arises anymore. I hated myself for yelling, too, so it feels so good to be free of it (until adolescence!). One day at a time.

  10. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    Penelope, good for you. It’s funny that you posted this today because this weekend, when I was melting down and feeling totally stuck, I thought of this: forget all the problems I can’t solve and have been banging my head against the wall about and just solve what I can. I’ve felt so much better since making that decision and have made more progress, too.

    About listening, I need to work on that as well. I feel restless if I can’t spit my sentence out right then and there and sometimes I can’t even concentrate on what anyone is saying. And I talk too much. One technique that’s been helpful to me (when I remember) is to listen to someone as if I were going to have to repeat everything they’ve said back to them, like I am a recorder. That really helps me turn off my thoughts and just focus on them.

    Your posts have been fantastic lately.

  11. Jenny Lee
    Jenny Lee says:

    I just wanted to comment how much I enjoy reading your posts and I really empathize with your life. I have run a business that was running out of money. I also had two small children at the time. I so understand that feeling of trying to be everything for everyone all the time and oh my God… what if I fail? The stress of it all is a killer.

    I still yell at my kids from time to time… but they probably deserve it! Kidding!

  12. Adam Rice
    Adam Rice says:

    The good news:

    Changing your life and solving your problems is wonderful! People who learn to be the solution to their own problems amaze me, and I feel some kind of connection with them since I change myself too.

    The bad news:

    This wonderful ephemeral state where everything looks solvable will pass. You’ll start changing something only to discover that your will and persistence to finish the change vanished.

    The advice:

    When it happens. Don’t worry. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay. You can only keep changing yourself for so long before you run out of will power. You’ll get a little down, but again, don’t worry about it. This is simply time to rest. Time to consolidate the gains and changes you’ve already made. So rest. It’s even okay that you didn’t finish the last change you attempted. No worries.

    The second bit of good news:

    After you rest you’ll find the strength and the will to change yet again.

    Personally, I get roughly 3 months to change whatever I want. Somewhere in the third month (usually middle to end of the month) I slow down and get tired. Then roughly 2-3 months later I’m ready to change things again.

    So here’s to you Penelope! Best wishes!

  13. Lance Stratton
    Lance Stratton says:

    Still can’t believe the way you treat the single guys you interact with up there. Piss poor.

  14. styleosophy
    styleosophy says:


    I’m sure your kids appreciate you not yelling at them anymore. And I really am glad for you that you have decided to start work on your listening skills. I’m sure that will help in all of your relationships.

    God gave us two eyes, one mouth. We are suppossed to do twice the listening and half the talking.

  15. FMB
    FMB says:

    Last night I found myself complaining and being tired of my 6 month old when he woke up middle of the night for no reason (well, there must have been some reason which I wasn’t interested in exploring) when all I wanted was to get some sleep to make it through the next day (and I don’t even have a company or start up). If he was any older I might have yelled at him unintentionally. All this made me feel guilty and ashamed in the morning.

    My point is, we all do things that we are ashamed about, but it takes courage to admit them. I love your candidness (even if it is too much to take at times).


  16. PCD
    PCD says:

    Congrats on the traffic and another interesting post.

    I must say though it drives me NUTS when you say “research shows” and then link to a single study proving your point. Even if there are others to back it up, rarely is an issue so simple that it can be definitively answered by a few studies. I’m sure some (most?) of the studies you cite will be laughed at in a decade, just like many of the studies before them.

    That aside, congrats and best of luck in the future.

  17. Chris Mahan
    Chris Mahan says:

    Yay on the accomplishments…

    Bad, HUGE mistake on the blog post though: Too much good stuff: You should really have spread this good stuff out into at least 4-5 posts. Dilute the Happy down… We’re in a recession you know. We can’t have this kind of exuberance displayed publicly…

    Keep at it!

    Congrats on the yelling at kids and cessation thereof.

    Quoting Colin Powel: “We can seldom get our children to do what we tell them, but they almost never fail to imitate us.”

  18. Erica Peters
    Erica Peters says:

    Penelope, I love your blog, and thank you for keeping it going all this time. Re yelling at your kids, I went on and off the wagon many times, but when I got really serious about reducing my anger (after one particular incident), two things helped:

    1) Keeping an anger journal, where I write down a short note about what made me angry enough to yell, and what the context was. That helps me track my anger, and see how it fits into my life. Lack of sleep, hunger, work problems, relations with my husband, they all have an impact, as well as changes in the kids’ behavior patterns, etc. etc.

    2) Reading the book “1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12,” which taught me to shut my mouth. I only get to say “One.” (Then I start thinking about what I’m going to do if I get to three). I can talk about other topics, but the next word of complaint I get to say is “Two.” And finally, “Three, go to your room” (Or, “Three, that’s no dessert,” whatever.) It’s a great system, because it teaches me to discipline myself first. And then it allows the kids a little room to learn to discipline themselves. The point is that you can’t discipline anyone else: each person has to take that job for him or herself. I was resistant to the counting approach (feels dorky, especially out in public), but it really helps me keep my cool and not start debating / negotiating with them.

  19. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Funny, I decided recently to stop yelling at my kids too. For me it helped to get more rest because I found I yelled at them when I was tired. And I imagine that look on their faces *before* I yell and that’s usually enough to stop me.

    It is really hard to admit this so thanks for doing it in such a public forum as your blog.

  20. Don
    Don says:

    Yelling at your kids? Boy, your personal issues are much worse than I thought. I believe you are a complete loser and a total fraud. Consulting? You gotta be kidding me. If you have a business, it’s doomed. It would be doomed in a full-employmwnt economy, but in this economy, consulting is the first thing to be dropped.

    You want attention, that’s why you blog. Good luck.

  21. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    Congrats on the traffic. Your blog’s changed since I first read “Bad Career Advice: Do What You Love” but I enjoy your posts just the same.

    Keep it up.

  22. Michael
    Michael says:

    Good on you, Penelope.

    I’ve just started seeing a chiropractor, and what’s cool is that rather than just adjusting me here and there, he filmed me walking and sitting and standing … and then went: your big problem is your weak legs. Let’s focus on that. And lo, my back pain starts going away.

  23. Craig Meidinger
    Craig Meidinger says:

    Dear P.Trunk; Hate to break your heart, but I read 350,000 of your pages this last month. ;-) Now that I'm up to speed on your world, I will get back to mine – Congrats!

  24. Bill
    Bill says:

    How does a company that was broke and couldn’t make payroll get “fixed” in less than a month by “deciding” to make money consulting?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a good question. I have been consulting with companies for three years on how to adapt to the new workplace and how to manage generation Y. Last year tons of companies asked us to consult and we said no because it was outside of our business plan. When we were funded. Consulting doesn’t scale to the degree that the rest of our revenue models scale. Now, to generate revenue quickly, we’re back to consulting.


  25. Anna
    Anna says:

    Wow, I admire your honesty about yelling at your kids. It is crappy to admit, but I think it really pays off – and you showed it.

    I think it makes you also a bit more likable to admit your imperfections, just like vulnerability.

  26. Anna
    Anna says:

    Well, I got thinking a bit reading the comments… Yelling at kids isn’t the end of the world for them – they need to understand that someone else can be tired and irritated.

    But I think the point where is does more bad than good is pretty low, so let’s do our best not to scream at them and keep it for the “special occasions”.

  27. Barbara Hunter
    Barbara Hunter says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Congratulations! I always enjoy reading your posts, but this is a nice change–to read something positive that is happening in your life.

    I grew up with a mother who yelled at me constantly because she was stressed at work, and I have to tell you…it is abuse pure and simple, and it has had a terrible impact on my adult life, career, relationships, everything.

    Since this is a career blog, I will say it really held me back in my career because I was afraid of interacting with people because I was afraid they’d yell at me. And sometimes I chose bosses that yelled at me because that was what I was used to. But it was so deeply ingrained that for years I was not fully aware of how it was affecting me. Plus, we did not have good therapeutic and self-help tools back in the 70s when I started working.

    I am taking responsibility for how I feel and my reactions to it all, and have been through a lot of therapy, which helped to a point, but what helped me most was the emotional freedom technique.

    Anyway, main thing I wanted to say is that stopping yelling at your kids is probably the single most important thing you can do for them and I am really proud of you for recognizing that and taking measures to stop.

  28. le
    le says:

    poor sad don ….such negativity in so few words … how does one do it … or more interestingly why does one do it … hmmmm

    Go Ms P and make February a cracker of a month. One of the many reasons you sustain your readership is the ‘real life feel’ to you … my best to you le

  29. LC
    LC says:

    The company I consult for wants to keep consultants because they don’t pay us benefits. They’d prefer to fill openings with contractors rather than hire. Like anything, you’ve got to find the right market.

    This is one of my favorite posts. I’ve enjoyed your new attention to blogging.

  30. Vanes
    Vanes says:

    This brings me back to a poignant memory. Stress in my life currently has consisted on what I may or may not get in terms of a job interview. Yelling at my son was when I had a stressful job. Now it is a wailing crying (during the day)because of lack of a stressful job. Now that I have a job offer, it brings me back to yelling again. Hopefully I have matured enough to tackle life’s bowling balls. I do have the ability to laugh at my crying fits these days. Laughing at yourself helps!
    But I am still a little vulnerable to remarks about the weight gained while sitting on the coach full time looking for a full time job. Ouch. Stings like a bee.
    Listening was a big problem, I did not talk and talk but had a tendency to being thinking of what to say while others were talking. Now I am in a wonderful relationship but he’s a talker, cuts in when I am talking. Now I have a tendency to talk right over him because…just because.
    I am glad I stumbled upon your blogs and love your articles in the newspaper!

  31. Janice Cartier
    Janice Cartier says:

    We are all works in progress. It is so great to hear one problem solved at a time and the rest become easier. There’s a great book on Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman. it’s about alignment like this so our lives are more syncopated. I like that.

    Happy for you. Congrats!

  32. Scott Woodard
    Scott Woodard says:

    Congratulations on beginning to get things in your life in order. Isn’t it amazing how stress in one part (work) can spill over to the rest of our lives (family and other relationships)? I can recall my father saying that the “secret” is to not let work interfere with family and vice versa. That may have been easy in the “Leave It to Beaver” days, but somehow, in the days of both parents with their own career issues, as well as single parent families, it ain’t your father’s career anymore.

    ~ Scott

  33. berry connell
    berry connell says:

    Your overcoming of yourself is the most phenomenal achievement, yet! Good going!
    Recognizing the stress within yourself will pay you dividends for many years to come, but….
    watch out for a flashback event.

    Sometimes, after recognizing the trigger for a stressful event, one is lulled into thinking they are king (or Queen) of their worlds….nope.
    It can, and most likely will come again.
    Just poke it right where it belongs….find something to get your center back to center.

    And, thank you for so many GREAT tips on life and living and…gosh, If I had a car, I COULD get a job!

  34. My mother was poor
    My mother was poor says:

    My mother yelled at us all the time yet we had the great outdoors to escape to and each other to commisserate with.
    Marriage works best when partners compliment each other. Divorce is no different. Give some kudos to your ex for being a compensating balance. I’m glad for your success. Next book title “there is a lifevest under your seat” ?
    Maybe soon you will be able to afford some nice furniture.
    I know where some is.

  35. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I used to yell at my daughter. Every day. Loud. Then I read What Do You Really Want For Your Children By Wayne Dyer. I yelled less and less until I quit almost completely. We would have a yelling fight once a year or so after that. She’s 28 now. And I have two little ones I rarely yell at. If I do it’s short and I apologize. It’s definitely a choice.

  36. Al
    Al says:

    It’s only a matter of time before the economy turns around and leaves many employers desperate to find and retain Generation Y talent. You will be in the catbird seat then.

  37. Lisa Gates
    Lisa Gates says:

    Penelope, I know I’m late to this post, but you have nailed it big time. I’ve just come from presenting a daylong workshop for 10 women on the subject of balance. Somewhere in the middle of the workshop we pose this one question: “Where do you need to come clean with yourself or someone else?”

    When we clean up something that’s nagging us or sapping our life energy, it often produces surprising shifts in other areas of our lives and creates the space we’ve been longing for.

    Thanks for being transparent and real.

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