Five steps to make yourself great

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The best way to get control of your career and stability in your life is to be great at what you do. Superstars are not out of work right now. Really. Even in finance. If you have an amazing track record in your field of work, you'll have a job. And if you need to change jobs, or adjust what you're doing, you'll be able to do it if you're great at what you do.

Here are five steps to follow:

1. Aim to be great at something that matters in the world.
The process of being great is long and hard. It requires you to try a lot of stuff to figure out the intersection of your gifts and what the world will pay for.

It's hard to be great at something you have to stop doing. But that's the reality you face if you are going to be a star performer. It's about self-discipline. When I was in graduate school, my writing professor was reviewing my writing, and he announced to the class, “She writes the best sex scenes I have ever read. Week after week she surprises me with her wry, funny, salacious approach.”

I had to look up the word salacious to make sure it was good.

Then I had to stop writing about sex. Because it was clear to me that being great at writing literary sex is too narrow. The greatness is so small it doesn't matter. Greatness needs context that has value.

2. Expect that being great will entail many levels of disappointment.
So I got a job in a marketing department in a Fortune 100 company where we spent lots of time talking about whether HTML accommodates a proper em dash.

I felt sad, for sure, that I had given up the process of novelizing my sex life. But at that point, I had also given up some other stuff that I was really good at but could not achieve greatness: Beach volleyball, for example. I was good enough to have games against the US Olympic team. But I was never going to be good enough to save myself from getting my butt kicked.

Since then, I have tried a lot of stuff that I'm good at, but not great. I wrote a book. It got great reviews, but you know what? I'm not going to write a New York Times bestseller. I don't have the patience for the long format or the long-term investment in promoting a book. (Warning to the uninitiated: It takes, literally, a year of preparation to promote a book properly.)

3. Try starting and stopping; we feel desperate to do what we’re great at.
I think what makes me great is something at the intersection of blogging and entrepreneurship. Both are time-consuming and most people fail at both, and because of that, I have tried to stop doing both. I can't stop.

But I still have to figure out: At this intersection of blogging and entrepreneurship, where am I special? Where am I a star? I am always searching and trying new things.

4. When you know what’s special about you, refuse work outside of that.
Some things fail. Like the polls on my sidebar. I wish it were working. Because I think that part of what makes me great is that I love hearing what other people think about the topics I'm thinking about. But the poll strikes me as disingenuous. The choices are limiting so I don't really find out what people are thinking. And then I feel like a fake running a poll. And I am certain that whatever I am great at will include authenticity of some kind. So the poll is a distraction from me figuring out how to be great. I need to get rid of that poll.

Another thing I've done is public speaking. I would say that I'm in the top 10% of all speakers. This is not scientific. It's my instinct. I get a lot of feedback. Including my fee. And my fee is high and my feedback tells me that I'm special. This doesn't mean that I am perfect, but it means that the greatness I already have in the field of public speaking, and the synergy it has with other things I'm great at, like, blogging (ideas) and entrepreneurship (sales) means that I should keep working on it. I need to speak slower. I need to stop using the F word. But working on that is a good investment for me. (Look. Here’s a speech I gave at Cornell University.)

5. Quit quickly if you won’t be great. You don't have time for mediocrity.
I thought that because I'm great at speaking and great at ideas, I'd be great at radio. So I agreed to do a radio show with Webmaster Radio. But here's something I didn't realize about radio: It's actually about social skills. You need to be a great conversationalist, and you need to be able to read what someone will do next in conversation.

You know why I write so much about social skills on this blog? Because mine are so sub-par and I have to work so hard at learning how to make myself less awkward socially. So radio is never going to be my strength.

And here's another reason I know: because people are, at their core, honest, caring, and supportive. And people will tell you, effusively, if you have exceptional talent at something. Because it's fun to see great talent, and fun to be a part of watching it bloom. And people do not say that with me and radio. They say they like the show, but I know what it is like when people think I have huge talent. So I am not doing my radio show anymore. Because maybe I'm good, but I won't be great. And I don't have time in my life to not be great.

108 replies
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  1. Sinead
    Sinead says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I love your blog and kind of hate that I’m the first to post a critical (but positively so) message but I have to disagree when you say you’re in the top 10% of all speakers.

    Yes you’re good but great? … I’m not so sure. Not yet anyway and definitely not in the top 10%.

    You’ll be great when you realise that it’s okay to relax on the stage … you know your stuff, there’s no need to sound uncomfortable or unconvince … speak slower, cut out the F words, tone down the hands and as of now get rid of whatever is in your hand … a purse? reminder notes? … because when you do, you will really be great.

    Keep up the good work,


  2. Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook
    Todd @ The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    “Where am I a star?”

    It may not be your first choice of where to be a star, but your blogging, when it’s at its best – is the best blog I read (and I read a lot of blogs). You’re a very talented writer and this format really lends itself to your writing style. It’s an area where you’re great. Your best posts are simultaneously honest and touching and inspirational. Keep up the good work.

  3. Sean Platt
    Sean Platt says:

    I love number four. I’ve tried everything from here to Mars, but I realize now my writing is infinitely better than anything else I do. I’m good at most things, I’m great at writing. That’s what butters my bread and I best not forget it.

  4. Vi | Maximizing Utility
    Vi | Maximizing Utility says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I love your blog and your writing style, but unfortunately, I felt that today’s post was a bit disorganized and not well-thought out. I feel as if you are writing about your own quest for greatness, perhaps feeling that you’re coming up short, and scrambling to put together some post about it. Obviously, I don’t really know what your thoughts or feelings are, but that’s my impression from the post.

    Yes, greatness is a wonderful goal to strive towards. But the advice of “Quit quickly if you are not going to be great.”? Really? That just strikes me as the defeating tone of a perfectionist. Like, if you’re not going to be perfect, then just give up. That doesn’t sound like good advice to me.

    Just my own thoughts. Don’t take it too seriously.

    — Vi

  5. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post. #4 struck me as a diamond. It argues slightly against #5, however. Finding out what’s special about you–more to the point, developing the techniques you need to master to properly reveal that specialness–can take a long time. In fact, I’ve seen quoted somewhere that true mastery in most fields takes 10 years. I’m sure there are many things for which that’s not true, but medicine–true. Writing–true. Also, tough to know when you’re not going to be great as greatness is, to paraphrase a cliche, 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.


  6. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Great post – but you look kinda nervous (with a lot of ummmms) in that clip of your speech. You put yourself in the top 10% of all speakers, I expected something a bit more polished…

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      I agree! I attended that Liminal Group event and was astounded by how unpolished you were. You were entertaining, but the “umms” got on my nerves. A good way to stop that, is next time you’re prepping for a speech, have someone flip the lights on and off everytime you say “um”.

      (Or perhaps you say “um” and flip your notecards nervously on purpose to sound more like an unpolished Gen Yer and therefore more credible as a Gen Y expert??? If that’s the case, its an unfair impersonation. We don’t sound like that…)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think I’m in the top 10% because of potential. I think I can get there. I should have been more clear. This is why I’m willing to work at the speaking.

      So deciding where one’s potential lies is really important in order to decide what to spend time fixing. Writing sex scenes, for example, isn’t worth trying to become best at because there’s nowhere to go with it. And radio isn’t worth trying to become best at (for me) because I can’t get there. Speaking, I think, there is hope.


  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I felt one of the main reasons you wrote this post was to give everyone the reasons why you felt the Webmaster radio gig was not working out for you and why you decided to not pursue it further. The radio show is normally scheduled for Thursday nights and today is Thursday. It’s a heads up and timely post.
    I just read the following quote this morning –
    "If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
    – Franklin D. Roosevelt
    It was a good idea to try the radio show, acknowledge it wasn’t your cup of tea, and move on. How else would you have known?

  8. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    About #1, are you still going to write/publish a book on entrepreneurship? I remember you mentioning that a long while back but never heard about it again. I was just wondering if the Brazen Careerist book will be it for you and books, at least for now. Because your novel is great, one of my favorites I read last year. Do you feel like it’s worth it more to you to promote a book about careers rather than go backwards to fiction?

    I don’t read any other career blogs or sites other than this one. It’s not that I don’t care about my career (I do; it gives me insomnia). It’s just, no one does it this way and as good. Everyone else is kind of boring. Your strength is, you’re never boring.

  9. JBow
    JBow says:

    No offense, but the most helpful reviews for your book on amazon were pretty abysmal and the ratings you list look mostly like blogger friends no?

  10. Chris @ Terrible Twos
    Chris @ Terrible Twos says:

    Really great article. My dad has always taught me that there are certain things we *really* excel at, and there are other things where we might be very good and better than others, but we should still only focus on what we are truly differentiated at. What is the one thing that nobody can do as well as you can? That is what you should do.

  11. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    I love this post and I agree with Joselle–this is the only career blog I read because they are all boring except for yours. I love that you do stuff like use your hands too much and use the F word yet people still pay you a ton (I’m sure it’s a ton, especially from my perspective) to speak.

  12. DT
    DT says:

    There is a corollary to your post, which is that people tend to think that they are better at things than they really are. This is the Lake Wobegon effect, named after the town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

    I have not listened to your speech, but previous commenters seem to think that you’re not as good as you think you are. That’s totally normal, but it does change the implications of only doing things that you’re “great” at.

    Wikipedia has a nice list of citations, so I’ll point you there instead of reproducing them all here.

  13. Olivia Mitchell
    Olivia Mitchell says:

    Hi Penelope

    You don’t need to speak slower. Speaking slowly is boring. You’ve got great energy when you’re speaking and there’s danger you might lose that if you try and slow down (would you want Gary Vaynerchuk to slow down?). But it would be useful to allow your audience more time to process what you’re saying. You’ve probably also heard that you should pause more often. But this can be very difficult to remember. My suggestion is to try “chunking”. Chunking is speaking in chunks of words with silences in between. Speak at your normal speed in the chunks. Develop a rhythm of chunking and the pauses will come naturally. You can find out more about this here: You don’t have to slow down to be an effective presenter.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      I have to disagree with Olivia. All of the most effective speakers and all of the best lecturers I have known in the past 40 years have spoken at a measured and relatively slow pace. When the speech or lecture was done, I was always amazed at how much they had said. If they were lecturing, I looked at my notes and said to myself, “Holy crap! He or she covered all that material, and said it so I could understand it?”

      Talking faster doesn’t make you clearer or more informative or more persuasive. It just makes people nervous.

      • Olivia Mitchell
        Olivia Mitchell says:

        First, not everybody is the same, so I totally get that you (and possibly many other people) prefer to listen to a more measured speaker.

        But I think advising people who naturally talk fast to slow down is not useful for them. They find it very difficult to achieve that measured pace without starting to sound boring and losing energy. But if you naturally talk fast, then you also need to find a way to speak that works for your audience – so that they can take in and process what you’re saying. It’s by leaving gaps that you achieve this. Another commenter, Le, talked about Terry Hawkins. She’s a great example of an energetic speaker who talks in chunks, so that her listeners can keep up.


  14. Clare
    Clare says:

    I’m not sure about #1. It would be amazing if what you were great at mattered and put bread on the table, but if it doesn’t, does it diminish your greatness, or your personal pride? Being a big fish in a small pond might be a quicker route to greatness than slugging it out in a larger context. Anyway, someone’s got to write those great sex scenes…

    • Teemo
      Teemo says:

      This is a Very old thread/post, but I have just read it, so I will comment.
      Sorry, but this is a rather mediocre post on greatness. isn’t it ironic??
      the post is full of problematic statements and contradictions.
      I agree with the Clare about #1 and was amazed by the ‘advice’. really? what kind of advice is that? if what you are passionate about is not “important” to the world, then don’t do it?? what is important to anyone anyway?? who cares if this x actor never acted or this painter never painted in his life? but it matters to the person. if writing sex scenes is what you are good at, then fkc it, do it. and to hell with the world, or where this can take you. what you said was very limited and shallow, I’m sorry. You are giving advices to your readers, and if what you say can mess up their thoughts then it’s really bad. How many painters are world famous for their nude paintings, or photographers who had major shows worldwide for their erotic photos? Ever heard of Ellen Von Unwerth? she is celebrated for her ‘erotic’ work, and fashion photography. Why? because THAT is what she is good at, and, more importantly, that’s what she is Passionate about. That’s what matters in life. Life is too short to spend it worrying about what the people will think or if what you do is prestigious enough. If you feel happy doing it, then most probably you will be very good at it, and even if it’s a small niche, you will still be known for being good at it.

      give up if you are not going to be great? I think you want to say that one should know what he is really gifted or good at. Or if you know deep inside that this career is not fitting with who you really are, then it’s not where you should spend your life? But if you are not great at something you Love doing, then keep pushing, keep trying. it doesn’t come overnight. Be determined. I will Be Good at This. I’m not great yet, but I will get there. THAT’s the attitude of a successful person.But quit once you face obstacles or fail? that’s the attitude of a defeated person.
      The whole post in general has an uncomfortable tone, and I’m surprised that people feel inspired by it. As a whole, it tells us: Be practical, see what pays well and do it. See what people think of you, and try to fit into this image. Limit yourself to one or two things and never try new things (cause you have no time for that). That is what your post says.

  15. Nathan
    Nathan says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and for the most part I usually find it enjoyable if not insightful. Today, I happened to be particularly moved by the end of this post…

    “Because maybe I'm good, but I won't be great. And I don't have time in my life to not be great.”

    Just wanted to say “thank you”. Perhaps it was unintended, but that little phrase has given me some needed motivation.

  16. Vulgar
    Vulgar says:

    Hey, Penelope ! The other day i was just thinking about this. Recently, i quit my 6 years old copywriter career (i’m 25, so in percentage is long), sold all my things (i used to live in Buenos Aires by myself) and came to NYC to see where life takes me. Now, i’m working in a restaurant (i’ve always like to go out to eat), and i think i’ve got the perfect match : love food and know how to sell. I don’t know why, but being a waitress makes me feel in the top of the world right now, cause i’m good at it.

  17. Gerty
    Gerty says:

    Penelope, have you ever done any courses on public speaking or ever attended Toastmasters? Cutting out umms and ahhs, speaking slower, tonality, rhythm of speech, body language, use of humor, effective use of notes etc are all covered.

    You definitely have the potential to be one of the great public speakers because you are articulate, have passion for what you are saying and are an expert in your field. Its the delivery that can be improved and that can be learned.

  18. nikola
    nikola says:

    Perfection is a very personalized matter.
    Selling it is rather tangible thing, OAH

  19. Kat
    Kat says:

    This blog entry, especially your statement “I would say that I'm in the top 10% of all speakers”, reminds me of this post (I’m doing a you by linking to your other posts) where you write about being the exception to the rule and comparing yourself to the average person.

  20. LPC
    LPC says:

    I would add that pick something you like to be great at. If you get great at something you don’t like, unfortunately people will keep driving you to do it despite yourself. Not a good life mode.

  21. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    Great posts lately.

    I love it when they are practical, brutally honest and somewhat logical.

    For mine, one of your biggest strengths is also being able to think in and out of the box – and yes, that is a bad euphamism – I love when you bring sex into the equation. It’s interesting, different and infuriates people who take themselves too seriously.

    Every now and then you will write a really emotively nutty, tantrum post and I think you must have written it right after someone has upset you. At those times I feel concern (genuinely).

    PS What’s the secret to writing a good sex scene? Any tips?

  22. Stephie @ Narrative Self
    Stephie @ Narrative Self says:

    So what’s your advice for people that really don’t believe they’re great/exceptional at anything? You could spend your whole life going from one thing to another, never committed, never content, never giving. Maybe if we’re always on a quest for something that, for the majority of us (we can’t all be great, that would be a contradiction in terms), is unnatainable we’d completely miss the greatness that life itself has to offer. I am learning that sometimes it is good to stand still and to appreciate the moment.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Each of us is great at something because each of us has a personality type we are born with that overemphasizes some traits. Find what is exagerrated in your personality, because that’s where your greatness lies.

      If you don’t see greatness, you also might need to try a wider range of things. I really truly believe that each of us is great at something. And it’s so so fun to discover it.


      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        There is something that each of us is better at than anything else we do. That doesn’t mean that there’s greatness in everyone.

  23. le
    le says:

    hello P

    really liked this post – it showed lots of ‘you’ to us :)

    for a top 10% speaker go see Terry Hawkins – – she is a fast talker (she just tells you to listen fast) and hands user and just amazing !! I have seen her three times and would go again any day.

    And I have to say on the vid you did not sound at all like I thought you would … it’s funny how we build mental pictures of people from image and words then when a voice comes into it I’m like noooo that’s not P …

    now really do yourself a favour and go see Terry – best le

  24. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    Along with the 5 steps, I wish you’d included 5 people you think are great at something and what they’re great at – not the usual suspects, but people who might make us think or see ourselves in a different light. Great post.

  25. le
    le says:

    forgot to mention Avril Henry – a great now aussie based generational speaker – google her – I learnt more from her in five hours that I have learnt from anyone in years !!

    BTW as well as doing the generational thing she also does some stuff with the male female thing. Can I note that a fair degree of your writting seems to come from a male perspective or with male directed overtones – not all as you do some great female and unisex pieces too – but say the last post about smiling women not making good hires … where was the male flipside on what makes a lousy male hire …

    have you got more guy friends than women friends … I have only been reading you for maybe a year and you talk lots of male work people and of course the men you are seeing, but where are the girls in your life ?

    I know I am off subject now but it just kinda struck me :) also maybe when you are referring to the women in your life you use unisex lables ‘the nanny’ ‘the house manager’ etc etc cheers le

  26. Amber Warren
    Amber Warren says:

    Can you write a post about how to deal well with criticism? You’re amazing at taking it with grace on this blog. I’m interested to know if blogging criticism really helps? I’m actually inclined to think the opposite. I think it’s stunts growth. I think positive reinforcement and better management of people is better for change, growth and development. Every time I read you’re blog I can’t help but thing: Who are these people who criticize you on your own effing blog? Are THEY any good at what they do? Do they think it’s helpful? Anyway, I would love to hear you speak – if you’re every in SLC, let us know!

  27. principalspage
    principalspage says:

    Good thoughts as always.

    In my business, I often wonder why people don’t put the same passion, effort, and thought into being a great parent like they do with their profession.

  28. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I think your general point about focusing on things you can be good at, and where there’s a sizable enough opportunity makes sense for the majority of us that need to support ourselves. I have to disagree somewhat with #5, quick quickly if you won’t be great. Greatness often doesn’t materialize overnight. It requires years and years of dedication, setbacks, disappointment and renewed effort. There are some professions, professional sports for example, where natural ability is also very important, but even that importance is grossly overstated. If immediate natural ability was what you needed to be great at something, all of the top professions would be held by MENSA members. This is definitely not the case. Malcolm Gladwell makes this point very effectively in his latest book, Outliers. It’s in the first few chapters and well worth the read. If he’s right and it takes 10K hours to be excellent at something, you’ll never get there if you quit quickly.

    • Marcia
      Marcia says:

      I agree. I play piano. I may have a talent for it, but I’ll not be playing Carnegie Hall any time soon.

  29. Steven Pofcher
    Steven Pofcher says:

    LOVE the last sentence!! “I don't have time in my life to not be great.”

    I am going to use it. (I may give you credit)

  30. Gigi
    Gigi says:

    Nice timing.

    I am a great videogame storyteller. Today I forgot that and let my work stomp on me. I sat back and listened as my boss proclaimed that I am a great narrative director but they really want someone with more experience, with at least one console title under their belt (not indie titles like me.) They are going to hire someone to fill my spot and I will get teach this new person the ropes.

    Perhaps it is time to move somewhere where my strengths are actually used.

    Again, fortuitous timing Penelope.

  31. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Hi Penelope!
    I haven’t commented in a looong time, but I have been reading ; )

    I also feel one of your talents is blogging. I hope that you will always blog, no matter what your next endeavor is. Your blog is one of the few career blogs I read. I may not always agree with you, but you always give me food for thought.

    Your post really resonates with me. I have been trying to make a career move for years now, but don’t want to really go on an existential journey trying to find what fills my soul because my soul is filled with fun, non-money making crap! LOL.

    Your post does remind me of the book, “Is Your Genius At Work”. The premise being that we are all naturally gifted in something and that we will be at our best when we find that something and use it in our work. Your post also reminded me of a matrix of sorts that Pam Slim often refers to. Forgive me, but I cannot recall the name of the creator of this matrix right now. Basically, you can find your career “sweet spot” when you can find the place where your passion, talent, and what people are willing to pay you for intersect.

    I always find so much in common with you. I slso always gravitate toward blogging/social media, entrepreneurship, and speaking. I am a natural presenter, but I think that what you don’t realize is that you are a natural teacher. Right now I teach K-12 school, but I am realzing that my natural talent is educating, and that can be applied in so many ways. Blogging is a natural education platform. It’s what makes it so different from magazines or books in my opinion.

    • Brenda
      Brenda says:

      I’d just like to share with you guys a piece of an article I’ve read recently in NYTimes.
      Genius: The Modern View
      “What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had – the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.”
      you can read the full article here:

  32. deedpoll
    deedpoll says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I have to agree with your list. Self motivation is a must and may I add that your readers should look into NLP. This has certainly helped me.

  33. DT
    DT says:


    I really like your posts most of the time, but you’re going to have to walk me through the math on this one. The reasons that I like you is that you’re logical and that you pay attention to research, although I think that you sometimes overgeneralize. But your writing is fun, and I think that you’re interesting. You generally make statements that you can back up, so that’s why I’m asking you to explain this: “I really truly believe that each of us is great at something.”

    There are 6.7 billion people in the world. Since we are defining greatness as being in the top 10% of something, that requires that there be 670 million categories of things at which one can be great if each person is in the top 10% of one of them. You defined something as broad as “public speaking” as a category. There are not even a million categories in this world as broad as that. So please, explain what you meant when you said that everyone could be great at something.

    I posted about the Lake Wobegon effect earlier, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only way to solve the puzzle. I, of course, am great at math puzzles…. ;)


    • Math check
      Math check says:

      Huh? As long as you’re arguing the math, I don’t see how you come up with that huge number.

      6.7 billion potential public speakers, 670 million of them will, by definition, by the best 10% at public speaking

      Assuming no overlap just for argument, you can take care of all the people in the world with just 10 categories since each one will cover 670 million people.

      What were you thinking?

  34. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    I’m probably not your target for this post, since I’m ok being great at something I enjoy, that doesn’t necessarily matter to “the world” (ie, in my hobbies), and being mediocre at what does matter to others (and what therefore pays the bills).

    Entrepreneurs (like you) have a certain obsessive drive to succeed and be great. But not everyone shares that obsession.

  35. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    To put my point better, for me, it’s not that, “I don’t have time in my life to not be great.” It’s that I don’t have time in my life to not be happy.

  36. Jrarmstr
    Jrarmstr says:

    Hi Penelope,

    A comment on your polls – I think a big part of why they haven’t worked is that they didn’t show up well on your site. I tried from a few different browsers (and computers), and the poll always appeared in this tiny, bold yet blurry font. It was just too hard to read. And the placement seemed odd. Having been raised in this left-to-right culture, the right hand navigation pane is not someplace that grabs my attention. And I definitely don’t bother with things below the fold. The polls were hard to read, on the right and below the fold. Maybe that had something to do with why they weren’t working, rather than the polls themselves being flawed.

    Just an opinion, since you said you were a fan of the polls.


  37. DeanLA
    DeanLA says:

    Penelope, I love your blog and appreciate getting it via email. Sure, sometimes I disagree. Your content can vary so much, from well-researched summaries and links, to “Whoa! This one set Penelope off! I’ll follow her unique perspective with an open mind”, to “Does she realize that it would require an atomic blast in the CEO’s chair to change the staid ways of 90% of organizations? Not even an economic meltdown has moved them from old ways.”

    I applaud your pluck (chutzbah?) and candor! Keep pushing.

    As for being great, you win kudos for the practicality of your advice. About Point 4 – you don’t need votes, Penelope; you’re closer to us, your audience, than that. Votes are dry and objective, you are neither, and that’s one of your strengths. And, Point 5 is too true. Move fast and focused while you are still young and energetic. Even passion will be tempered with the rigors and weight of aging.

    Finally, I like the video at Liminal Group and was thrilled when they alerted me to your presentation a few days ago.


  38. mark
    mark says:

    Top 10% as a presenter – after seeing that video, you have got to be kidding! How about being arrogant and self-absorbed – not that’s an area where you are already great :-(

  39. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I think you would be interested in the Scientific American article called The Expert Mind. Basically it describes various studies that prove that experts are made not born. It takes about 10 years of continuous, purposeful practice to become an expert at something and has nothing to do with any notion of “gifts” (much to dismay of athletic coaches who fully believe in such things).

    I’d be willing to bet that the things you are good at, like public speaking and writing, you’ve done for a long time, likely even way back to volleyball days where I’m sure there were plenty of promotional requirements placed on you.

    Anyway it’s a fascinating article and I think you’ll enjoy it.

  40. Angela Connor
    Angela Connor says:

    Penelope: I love this post. It is what I needed at this moment in my life. I just approved the jacket for my new book and I am pleased that I saw it through. I was able to do a lot of things during that process that I did not know I could accomplish and I actually had a great time doing it. So here’s my question. What about those of us who feel as though our star is constantly rising? I’ve felt that way for the last two years with the work I’m doing with UGC, and online communities, speaking engagements and now my book. I suppose I’ll wait and see if writing and promoting books is going to be something I’m great at..but I really feel like I’m at the start of something big–even of THAT isn’t it.

    Angela Connor | @communitygirl

  41. S
    S says:

    My god, how incredibly pompous.

    Are you sure everyone around you can’t see through the horseshit, and is simply keeping it to themselves?

    Shameless, really :) I have to laugh.

  42. Ranjeet Kapoor
    Ranjeet Kapoor says:

    Hi Penelope!

    I always get inspiration from your blog and it’s one of my favaorites.
    In this blog the point “Quit quickly if you won’t be great. You don't have time for mediocrity” is really of interest. I agree because It’s more practicle than the quote “Never never never give up!”
    At times we do need to give up and try something different out of the rut then only we feel that how much more is there outside to explore and we envision ourselves.
    It happened with me when I have changed my project recently after an year of struggle. I feel much better…rather say GREAT with my new assignment.

    Keep Smiling!:)

  43. dave
    dave says:

    I enjoyed this post. Ditto on the narrow focus problem.

    In 2008 I quit doing something that I started in 2003 and that I was really great at. It was a product that I invented and that paid the bills but not well enough. I sold it online (don’t worry, it wasn’t porn or a scam, it was a narrowly-focused language-learning product). I still get emails every week from smart, educated people who want me to start it back up, who are still reading the back issues of the magazine I created. It was a wonderful, it served a need and I loved the work, but, as you say, if it doesn’t pay the bills…

    Now I’ve found a completely different kind of work that pays well and, so far, it looks as if I’m pretty good at it…

    By the way, screw polls on websites. I agree. Get rid of that thing.

  44. Ben
    Ben says:

    I totally disagree about not doing radio…I have a radio show that started off great, then lagged as I hit a “dip” a la Seth Godin, forcing me to refocus, study, up, practice and get better at. It is too easy to get better to toss it just cause you’ll never be Don Imus…give it another shot!

  45. Dale
    Dale says:


    I propose a win-win. Why don’t you start a blog where you can write about steamy sex scenes? I’m really close to taking this blog off my RSS feed because I really don’t need to be reading about your 21 year old boyfriend who refuses to go down on you. But once in a while I get a pretty good post like this one that keeps me coming back.

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