The sign of a great career is having great opportunities, and saying no

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This is about the farmer. The guy I met last year, and I drove through tornados, twice, to see. He dumped me. But I kept his toothbrush in my bathroom for five months while other men paraded through. And the way you can gauge if you love someone is if you keep the toothbrush even after the toothpaste gets so crusty that it makes a mess on the sink.

So it was a big day in May when he sent me an email inviting me to Burgers and Brew. It took only one email for me to let myself be obsessed with him again. (The great thing about a Blackberry is that if you spend the day at the office reading a romantic email fifty-five times, you don’t look obsessed; you look like a hard worker.)

The festival is a big deal. Restaurants here in Madison, WI understand the draw of the grown local movement, and the Farmer's pork is the meat of choice for the most picky chefs in the city and also the best pizza places.

Last year, when I had not met the farmer, his first invitation to me was for Burgers and Brew, and I declined. It struck me as one of the moronic, provincial invitations I get for Wisconsin stuff every day.

But somehow, somewhere, I became a Wisconsin girl. I'm not sure when it happened. But I remember last year, when the farmer introduced me in his town of 500 people, he'd say, “She's from Madison.” And I thought it was ridiculous, because I felt like I was from New York. I don't even know what “from Madison” means, because it seems to me that everyone from Madison is not actually from Madison but from a farm and thinking they just moved into a big city.

When I came out of my giddy stupor from his email, I realized that Burgers and Brew was the same weekend as maybe the biggest schmoozing event of my life: Guy Kawasaki invited me to spend a weekend on the USS Nimitz with Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble and others.

I said yes to the weekend, of course. Because how can hanging out with these guys not be great for me? It's probably what I've been working up to my whole career: a weekend like that.

People always talk about how you need to give stuff up in order to have a fulfilling career and a fulfilling personal life. What people don't realize is that the better you get at your career, the more amazing are the opportunities that you give up. But this is a hard reality to swallow. So I said yes to the farmer and yes to Guy and lived in an alternate reality where there are no hard choices in life and I was doing both events.

Until finally I told Guy that I couldn’t go on the trip. Right after that, I was besieged by the greatness of the people going on the trip. For example, Charlene Li ended up being the source for a quarter of the statistics in my investor pitch. And someone asked, “Do you know her personally?” And I thought, well, I could. If I hadn't fallen for the farmer. Again.

And then I went to the airport for one last trip before Burgers and Brew. And I saw Pam Slim's book there. And first I thought, “She's amazing to have gotten her book such good placement.” And then I thought, “She's amazing to have such passionate views on the workplace.” And then I started to think that my career is going totally downhill, when I could have spent a weekend with her and I'm not.

But you know what? Burgers and Brew was great. And there does not seem to be fallout from my decision to pass up the USS Nimitz. And, in maybe a little message from God that the farmer is more important than my career, Michael Arrington cancelled as well. And then I felt like I had this great self-knowledge about myself, that somehow I know how to balance a boyfriend and a career. Like, one good decision begets many more.

So for our second date this time around, I cut out of work early, and we go to a state park. I don’t say, “This is ridiculous. I can go to a state park with a city guy and I want to be on your farm.” I don’t say that because I want him to know that I'm the new, agreeable me. And I know it's going to be hard to be agreeable on the tough stuff, so the state park seems like a nonnegotiable. I have to say yes.

I am nervous. I knew I would have to change in the car from my work clothes to hiking clothes, but it was a rushed morning and I couldn't make important decisions, so I brought every bra I own. I have to make the decision if I should wear a padded, looks-great-under-a-t-shirt bra, or a soft, lacy, your-hands-will-feel-good-here bra.

I go with the second one, but I tell myself not to be too optimistic. I tell myself that the key to keeping him is to let him do things at his own pace, and I need to not just say I'm okay with that. He'll see through it. I need to really truly be okay with it.

He doesn’t watch me change in the car, which is funny since we've been together for seven months before. And it's not funny because I think to myself, “Where are we now? What are we doing? We are not at the beginning but where is the middle and are we there?” I'm not sure.

We start hiking and I am nervous. I just want things to go well. I am not sure if he knows what I've been up to. He doesn't have an internet connection at his house, and he always has to be careful what he reads at his parents’ house, but somehow he always managed to read my posts anyway.

Now I wonder, did he read my post about the 25-year-old?

It turns out he did because he says, “Why do you need to write about oral sex in every post?”

I say, “I don't put it in every post. But it seems to just come up.”

“I think you force it.”

I am quiet. I think there is no right answer.

Then he says,”What's your goal with all that? Why do people need to know how much oral sex you're getting?”

I am quiet.

And he says, “What do you want to be known for?”

I can tell that this is his real question. So I had better have a good answer for him. I pause. Then I say, “I want to be known for being honest in my pursuit of a good life.”

Then we are quiet, while we hike through the forest.

Then we get to some rocks, but they are uneven, and I end up being taller than the farmer. Not by a lot. Maybe an inch or two. In this case, most guys would subtly move me over to the spot that is a little shorter and then go over to the spot that is a little taller. But he doesn't care. And he kisses me.

We hike to the end of the rocky part and he tells me he doesn't think I should write about our relationship because maybe it won't last.

I tell him if it doesn't last then I will write about being sad.

I tell him that I have to write to make sense of everything. But, to be honest, it's not making that much sense to me now why I was so critical of him before, yet I'm not now.

Here's an example: He's really erratic about touching me in public. Sometimes he will and sometimes he won't. Initially I told him he was totally immature and that this is the problem when a guy has almost no girlfriend experience and spends all his time eating meals with his parents.

This time around, though, I am more observant. For example, we went to the county fair, and I reached for his hand and he said, “We can't hold hands here. I'll look whipped.”

I laughed. I told him that's hilarious, but he didn't think it was funny. He told me to look around and see who else was holding hands. And honestly, he was right. It was dark, people were drinking, most people were with a date, and no one was touching. Really, I did not see one couple touching each other.

And then, in the dark, he put his hand on my back.

Me: Are you happy?

Him: Yes. Can't you tell?

Me: No.

Him: Well, I have a nice tone of voice to you. And I'm touching you in a nice way.

Me: Oh. Yeah.

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  1. Liz
    Liz says:

    I’m sure the Farmer is a nice guy, and he seems to make you happy. I just think that everything he says about your relationship isn’t necessarily the whole truth. I mean, he criticizes you a lot! If he can’t spend time with you without complaining about something you did or might do, then who is he to say that YOU’RE the less agreeable one?

  2. Alfredo de Almeida
    Alfredo de Almeida says:

    I’m a rather new member to your blog. First coming to understand your ideas of the new economy of working. Your talent verges on the sublime – your transparency is unusually affecting. I really don’t know how to react to you sometimes. In a way, you remind me of Edward Hall. He once noted in his remarkable book, On Culture, that the frustration we feel is more a reflection of our own beliefs than an understanding of the event itself.

    And you frustrate me. You challenge the foundations of what should be acceptable online. In a way, you remind me of Richard Dawkins in your almost militant stance of being who you are to everyone.

    I live in Tokyo – and there are two words here that reflect the human nature of living in Japan – Hone and Tatemae. It is the difference of who you really are and who you show yourself to be. We all do that – we hide behind walls and language and yet you do not.

    I don’t care for your reasons for why you do this. Most people that have suffered what you have, do not, as a rule, become what you have become. So in a meta-analysis of your statements I have found something that somewhat challenges me – and I think I spend too much time thinking about this – more recently, far too much. But I think you are right.

    We are too much careful of what we say, what we are too much worried about repercussion.

    I have felt that recently. I don’t fit well within corporate structures – being somewhat too complex in the way I see the world. I don’t think things should always be simple. But that is the very nature of most firms; I think you would agree.

    And I have questions, since you have done this longer than I have – and with that I am beginning to follow you not in the sense of most of your friends here, but in nature and stature. I will no longer hide who I am – or at least I will try to fight through the culture of my nature of hiding who I am. And to be more Hone than Tatemae.

    But I have one question, one serious question for you. But I think militant transparency could never be corporate and we must be entrepreneurs. Would you agree with this? Would you say that the very nature that your transparency arises more from your entrepreneurial nature rather than the pain of have suffered at the hands of your parents, mates or work?

    Let me ask this: Could some one at Apple rally against the policies of the App store? Could people at Amazon talk freely about work (they sign an NDA)? Can we be open in a culture where GE owns NBC? And Goldman Sachs profits when millions will lose their benefits at the end of the year?

    These are serious questions and far more important than the farmer. But the farmer is important too – I would never take what happiness you could find from you. But my question is the same as his: could you be this transparent if you were not your own boss? And is this a pattern that will work for others? That see value in this stance.

    Now, as an aside, let me explain his behavior to you. Men, as a rule, do not like the light on our actions. His constant requests to keep him off the blog is the very reason he is hesitant. He is unsure of your reactions – If he as aggressive and you did not like it, it would be here. In a very clear sense, he is playing it safe. I think though, that he sees you the way that we all see you.

  3. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    Forgive me if someone else has mentioned this but I am too worked up to read the other comments first. Since you like Men’s Health and Women’s Health and the other rags, please read He’s Just Not That Into You. I hate these kinds of books but that book is so damn right.

    I don’t know the farmer and I don’t know you and you’re going to do what you want but I just get heated when I read about him this time around (I sorta liked him at first until you started posting about how he threatened to dump you all the time). He’s not a bad guy but I just don’t understand why you think shapeshifting for him is necessary or, more importantly, possible. You can’t will yourself to change. Not for another person and not like this. You have to work work work to change and you cannot change the essence of your personality type.

    I think you guys are hot for one another but he seems to judge the hell out of you. You trying to be agreeable and dropping everything for him doesn’t sound like the new, more peaceful you. It sounds damn erratic and given what you’ve shared about your past recently, it makes total sense.

    There’s nothing wrong with ditching an important career event to be with someone you love and nothing wrong with checking out of work early to go on a hike with your man. I just don’t think dropping everything for someone who dumped you and sent you one measly email constitutes any of those situations.

    Keeping a toothbrush isn’t love. It’s obsession.

    None of this makes you bad. I just think you deserve better. But what do I know? Only what you choose to share here.

  4. Owen Richard Kindig
    Owen Richard Kindig says:

    Someone I admire wrote this once: “The good news here is that a large body of research shows that you will gain more happiness by being married than by having a good job. Yes, you should not have to choose between a good job and marriage. But this column is not about what is fair or what is just. It is about what is real.”

    Could it be that you could scale back your career and let him lead in the dance? How would that impact the kids? Do you trust him? Can he trust you to let happy intimacy replace unhappy transparency?

    I don’t have the answers, but my romantic side hopes for a marriage and a farm lifestyle there.

    Sorry to presume to offer a perspective on such a private affair… but then, you invited us, didn’t you?

  5. deannie
    deannie says:

    I sincerely wish you happiness. I was surprised to see the farmer pop back up in your life. I am glad you are not trying to go back but rather forge ahead to find out once & for all if this will truly stick.

  6. Ina
    Ina says:

    Then of course, there’s always the possibility that PT would have felt like a loser at that weekend, considering how badly things are going. The world well lost for love is a great way to spin this.

  7. Pamela Slim
    Pamela Slim says:

    I have to admit I was disappointed to miss you on the aircraft carrier, mainly because it would have been 2 full days to catch up without internet access, cell phones and twitter.

    But I am so glad you made this choice.

    And being mentioned in a post about the farmer makes my day.

    You rock sister, I am proud to know you.


  8. alyson
    alyson says:

    The difference between a blog and a peer-reviewed paper or a report with works cited is obvious. You don’t blindly believe or follow what is said because its in print. If you are interested in facts, you follow up on the writer’s statements and references. The biggest reason we read blogs is to inspire ideas or open us up to new possibilities, not to make up our minds for us. So yes the statement about hairstyles affecting rape statistics above may or may not be true but its up to the reader to form an opinion because the writer already has hers.

  9. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “And he says, "What do you want to be known for?"
    I can tell that this is his real question. So I had better have a good answer for him. I pause. Then I say, "I want to be known for being honest in my pursuit of a good life."

    I have a hard time with this question. What I’ll be known for will vary and be determined by each individual regardless of what I want so I try to live my life to the best of my ability.

    Now I just came across and want to share this great quote attributed to David Viscott, M.D. (1938-1996) – psychiatrist & LA radio talk-show host –

    The purpose of life is to discover your gifts.
    The meaning of life comes from giving your gifts away.

    Here’s a tidbit from his Wikipedia – one of his four surviving children is named Penelope.

  10. Kelly
    Kelly says:


    I was horribly disgusted and embarrassed to even be living in the same country as you after reading about what you did. It definitely speaks to your character as well as the caliber of your “company” (ha) to use a networking site to discuss a miscarriage and even take it far enough to bring abortion into it. As far as I am concerned you are a waste of space on this earth, and I truely wish that you could have died instead of your baby. Have you NO morals or values whatsoever? You literally make me want to puke – hopefullly your business will suffer from your nasty little publicity stunt. I can’t wait for the day when God judges you..

  11. Anne
    Anne says:

    I have to admit that I love reading about the farmer. This post especially has been a huge inspiration to me. I don’t know how you made it those 5 months! For someone who always wants to rush to fix things, it is so difficult to just give things time…

    I am rooting for ya’!

  12. Chris Grant
    Chris Grant says:


    I’m a musician (classically trained flutist) and one of a few dozen flutist in the world who are committed to playing on flutes from the late 1800’s (Paris). To play them well, you have to be sensitive to the nuances of the instrument and to get the flute to sing requires grace, not force. I couldn’t help seeing the similarities here with your post. You seem better attuned to both the Farmer’s nuances as well as your own. Congrads!

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