How to hit a wall at work, with grace

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I am lost. I have been lost before in my career. It's just that I did not write about it while it was happening. I wrote about it after the fact. That's much easier. But in the past, during the time I was lost, I simply stopped writing.

For example, I quit playing volleyball and went to graduate school for English. And, at the same time that I realized that English professors make no money and have no job security, I also got dumped by the guy I had been living with for five years. So this is what I did in graduate school: Nothing. I had already written two full novels, so I turned in a little bit of them each week. And I had to take literature courses, which I passed by reading New York Times book reviews (you'd be surprised how far back those go.) And then, after burning every bridge possible at Boston University, I left, one credit short of a graduate degree.

There were other times I fell apart. And stopped writing. For example, when I had a baby, I stayed home with it, every hour of every day, while I had an identity crisis. I still needed to support the family, but I couldn't write anything because I couldn't imagine giving career advice when I was having a total career meltdown. So I took columns from five years earlier and turned them in as new columns. And, after about three months of that, I got fired.

So I know it's not going to work for me to stop writing during my current crisis because it has not worked for me in the past. At this point in my career, I have a lot of achievements. I have played professional volleyball, I climbed the corporate ladder in Fortune 500 marketing, I was a journalist at the Boston Globe, and I've gotten three startups funded. There’s no way I'm going to go down in flames right now. I know that.

So this seems like a good time in my life to tell you what it's like to be lost at your job. Who else would do this? It would look like career suicide to anyone else.

I worry, actually, that it looks that way for me. For example, I think maybe I went overboard in my comment, in a discussion about whether I am managing my personal brand well. Dan Schawbel gave a great answer and I could have left well enough alone. But here's a rule about being lost: You make bad choices.

Last week, in addition to being lost at work, I was lost trying to cope with the farmer ending our engagement. So I flipped a grilled cheese with my bare hand instead of the hand holding the spatula: Insane pain. I drove myself to the emergency room, and they said I was actually at risk of going into shock behind the wheel. Okay. So it was bad enough that they gave me vicodin.

They gave me 20. Yes. Right here in Madison. You can get 20 vicodin for a grill cheese burn. If hospitals in NYC did this, there would be a run on grilled cheese ingredients all over the city.

I popped my vicodin. And I could not think. There was nothing. In only fifteen minutes, my head was a blank slate. The only thing I could see in my head was my hands literally trying to grasp for my problems. Where were they? Where were the things I was worrying about?

I hated the vicodin. I woke up the next morning excited to have my problems back.

This makes me think that maybe, somehow, I can enjoy being lost. To do that, I'm going to have to tell you my biggest problem: I have no idea what I'm doing at work and I am being a brat about it.

I think I have already made it clear that I'm difficult to work with. People cut me a lot of slack at the office. After all, I have this remarkable ability to know what works with social media even though clearly I am not able to use any tool the normal way. This must be valuable to a company. If they can put up with me in meetings.

Ryan Healy has told me not to write about him anymore. (This was his final straw.) So I'm just going to tell you that I have demonstrated for Ed, our new CEO, what Ryan does that makes me hate him, and Ed has said that I'm nuts. That he just doesn't see what the problem is.

And. Okay. Here's something disturbing: I have the exact same problem with my ex. The way he talks to me. And our nanny has heard him, and I ask the nanny, “Do you see how rude he is?” And the nanny says, “No, I don't. He sounded fine to me.”

If only the nanny and the CEO knew how closely aligned they are in my life.

So my problem is that I am not hearing people right. I am not a good listener. I try to be a good listener, but I do not hear things right.

So I have a tone of voice problem, (which is typical for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, by the way). I've been complaining to Ryan about his tone of voice for two years, and he'd probably divorce me if he could, but, let's be honest, the company would not do well if we did that.

So it’s not just that I'm lost at work, but also I’ve been a brat.

I cannot solve the lost problem right now. I cannot quite figure out where I fit at my company. I mean, I gave day-to-day operations to Ryan and I gave CEOness to Ed. And where am I? Yes. I am very good at driving traffic to Brazen Careerist. Look. I'm doing it right now. It's a game: Click.

But I need to do more than that. I am figuring that out. And I’m sure that Ryan and Ed would have more patience for me if I am not a brat while I'm figuring it out. Which means I have to:

1. Be patient when people talk. No cutting them off. Here is the post about how hard that is for me. I don't know how I'll stop. I have to have a rule. No talking until there is quiet space. But honestly, I panic that that space will never come.

2. Try out doing new things even if I don't like them. Like, webinars. I'm doing a webinar tonight. I should promote that now. Okay. Here's a link. Do you know what I hate about webinars? I can't stay on topic, I only want to talk about sex, and I have to make my hair look good.

3. Be positive. I am always telling people what is wrong. People do not like that. I mean, they like it in a blog. Look. You've read this whole post. But people don't like it in real life. And Ed and Ryan told me they don't want to hear why things won't work. They want to hear the most promising idea; I need to talk like someone full of hope and promise.

So I am being positive right now: I am thinking that I can decide what to try. And I can decide to think that what I try will work. And if I try something and it doesn't work, I can try again.

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  1. Sam
    Sam says:


    I think you should view your third point as a strength: you are able to anticipate problems early on, which gives you plenty of time to prepare and avoid them. I’ve found that it makes an enormous difference if you tell people “We should make it glow so people can see it in the dark” instead of “Tell me, how are people supposed to see it in the dark?”, or even the less snarky “What if it’s dark?”. Some of the problems you anticipate never show up, so if you can’t improve the situation perhaps it is better to simply not mention small problems that haven’t arrived yet?

    In your previous posts where you have told people to not go to grad school I think it would have been fair to your readers to mention that you left grad school without a degree.

    • Kay Teris
      Kay Teris says:

      Penelope, I think the wall at work is much bigger than you imagine, and no amount of better listening strategies will get you over it.

      Face up to it — you were “let go” some months ago, and it is fully documented in your blog. When your company ran out of money and was temporarily rescued by investors, you lost all operating responsibility. Like many company founders who lose control of their own companies, you continue to sit at your desk but get no work. You continue going to meetings, but no one wants to hear your opinions. No wonder you feel lost at work!

      Honestly, you need to start thinking about your next job, not clinging to the last one.

      • Thanh Lu
        Thanh Lu says:

        I like the direct honest truth. I would like to add that perhaps you’ve outgrown your position/involvement and your talents/strengths are better served somewhere else. For many people in similar situations, maybe it’s an indication that we all have to re-evaluate what skills/talents are valuable or not, and where they might be best served.

  2. M
    M says:

    As someone hitting a wall at work (and home and everywhere), I appreciate hearing what you are going through and how you are trying to deal with it. Maybe this is part of how you continue to add to Brazen Careerist – Gen Y’s who are working right now are probably hitting walls that they can’t get around. There are plenty of other people who want their jobs, and not many new jobs out there. What I and others need to know is how to hit the wall, and then productively find a door or a window through it–or to see someone else’s example of how they tried to do that.

  3. adam
    adam says:


    Maybe you’re too close to it all to see this, but you’ve been (more or less) saying this for the past decade: You’re incredibly good a starting companies and not so good at running them. Perhaps this is why you are having so much trouble finding your niche at BC.

    Something to think about: what we are good at is not necessarily something that makes us happy and what makes us happy may be something at/with which we struggle (which, ironically, may be why it makes us happy).

    • Marshall Wayne
      Marshall Wayne says:

      I can identify with being better at starting businesses than running them. I love the thrill of the initial conception, the grand ideas, and the risk taking.

      When everything is up and running it seems to become more mundane.

  4. jim
    jim says:

    Five years ago, my wife announced she wanted to separate and I got canned from my job managing software testers, all within a few weeks. The canning happened the day after I signed a lease on a really lousy one-room apartment, two weeks before Christmas. Whee.

    I don’t get office politics but I did something that was accidentally politically brilliant, and it caused a different job to materialize at that company. It didn’t seem right for my career but at least I wasn’t broke.

    And then a knock-down, drag-out divorce ensued, eighteen months of nonsense.

    I had no idea what to do at work. I barely had any idea what to do in my personal life. Looking back, I can see that I ended up focusing on things I liked to do and did well. I like to write so I started a blog. I liked to dabble in technical things so I did a little light coding at work. I wasn’t feeling any of it, if you know what I mean, but I kept at it, day after day. New, better work opportunities arose from that job that didn’t seem right for my career, and the blog introduced me to some people with whom I’m now working on some interesting personal projects.

    But I guess the bottom line here is that I just tried not to think about where I fit and what I should be doing, and instead kept showing up every day and doing the things I liked and thought I was good at. As things started to sort themselves out elsewhere in my life, focusing on these things paid off.

    • ed
      ed says:

      I really like jim’s comment… I’m kinda where he was several years ago…

      Penelope “Grace” Trunk, perhaps you can take your mind off your troubles for a bit by giving a random internet dood some advice on how to cope with the dissolution of a marriage.

      My interesting, well paying job (that I had worked my butt off for) dissolved this year, largely as a result of the financial meltdown. Also my wife told me that she had “given up” on the marriage 2 years ago and that I should move out. Problem is, how do I move out with no job? Also, when I do move out, after 2 years of being withheld attention & affection, I gotta go through 1 year of separation before I’m actually divorced.. Most self-respecting women don’t want to get involved with someone still technically married.. But I’m in the prime of my life! I have a lot to offer, and I want/need/deserve to love and be loved! WTF?!!

      Think about throwing a few wise words my way, babe.. I’m struggling here!!! I think you’d have some interesting insights that would benefit me and some of your other readers!!! Thanks in advance!!!

  5. Jon
    Jon says:

    Have you ever seen the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks?

    At its core, it’s a story about being lost and learning to deal with it. After being rescued, someone asks Tom’s character, “So, how did you deal with being alone for all those years?”

    And he replies with something along the lines of, “I kept breathing, and I waited to see what the tide would bring.”

    When you’re lost, sometimes I think that’s all you can do.

    Breathe in.

    Breathe out.

    Wait to see what happens next.

  6. Alexis Grant
    Alexis Grant says:

    Here’s what I would ask a friend (because I FEEL like you’re my friend, even though people reading this will think that’s odd because you don’t know me): Are you sure you’re not feeling lost at work because of the break-up? Because I don’t remember you mentioning this before in recent posts. Sometimes when everything’s going okay and a break-up enters the picture, it makes us feel like things aside from the break-up are going bad, too. Is it possible that you’re still really upset about the break-up, but not as lost as work as you think you are?

  7. Cat in Boston
    Cat in Boston says:

    Thanks God you are back, I Was minutes away from sending you a private message. This is what you do best, why stay away ? of course you just explained that brilliantly on today’s post. But really, why stay away? Do you know why we keep coming back? Because we love to hear someone else is saying the things we don’t dare to say; that someone else is having issues, feeling lost, is alone, is basically having a hard time dealing with it all. There is so much pressure to have it all together, to be in control, being in control is so overrated. I have learned the most about myself and life when I had no idea if I was coming or going, when the pain was so unbearable that could barely stand it. So what you are a brad (you are already determine to work on that), so what you are lost at work (most people-yours truly included-) have issues at work, might even dread the morning because yet again we have to appear poise, together, and like we actually give a penny (I am trying to stop my foul language).

    So my dear P, join the club, and know that many us wait desperately for the next update, where we can live vicariously through you and for a very brief moment deal with our own madness.

    Great post.

  8. sosympl
    sosympl says:

    What you do for BC is exactly what you did today. You wrote about things that we can relate to. You have people that believe in you because you are bold enough/brave enough to write about things that connect us all. I only wish i had the guts to write about the lessons i’ve learned over the years. Your operations guy and your CEO don’t do this.

    Peeking into someone else’s life to see how they cope, how they live, how they succeed… inspires your readers to keep trying. To try new things. And for one girl in a very small town… it shows me how much more is outside this area code that I never even knew about.

    Write more. Write about how to find autonomy at work, about the farmer, about how to network and build a community. Write about how people drive you nuts and about how you drive in circles. It’s fascinating. really.

    and about being lost… reading this today made me feel less alone in my own ‘lost-ness’.

    Today’s post at is about clarity. You might enjoy.

  9. alan W.
    alan W. says:

    Same here, darling, same here, hit the wall in current strategy, feeling forward, people cutting me slack as we fumble forward.

    Be a strategist – not in the bullshit life coach way, be the strategist you are already for BC.

    You are an amazing success already, keep the good working going and innovate.

    Now, I shall go and pull covers over my head at 11:15 AM .)<

  10. Nicole Crimaldi
    Nicole Crimaldi says:


    Your comment on my blog was NOT overboard, it was awesome. If it WAS overboard, maybe I am too “brazen” to notice.

    Thank you for putting this post out there. It’s almost impossible to write or develop ideas when feeling down or lost. In fact, I think this is many entrepreneur’s biggest set back- a depression of sorts that prevents them from moving forward. I feel this way all the time. I’m sure many others do too but never say it.

    I have no doubt you will embrace your temporary low and turn it into a high (or possible new venture?) in no time.


  11. Beckie
    Beckie says:

    “So I am being positive right now: I am thinking that I can decide what to try. And I can decide to think that what I try will work. And if I try something and it doesn't work, I can try again.” This is the gem in the this whole article. Like Dorrie says, in Finding Nemo, just keep swimming, Penelope.

  12. Erin A.
    Erin A. says:

    Not super related to your post but I want to strangle all the morons I work with today more than most other days. Some days its fine and some days (like today) I think I should have just stayed at home. However I am not self-employed so I come in and hate my moronic co-workers. The good thing is that they are great for my intellectual confidence, I am definitely smarter than them. I really appreciate when they tell me how to be because I haven’t had every thought in their little heads.

    Do you ever get over this?

  13. rich
    rich says:

    “How can I know what I think until I read what I write….”

    James Reston said that.

    Just keep writing.

    It’ll come to you.


  14. alison
    alison says:

    loved this post… I think there are a LOT of people lost right not (at work, at home, trying to cope with the holidays and the insane expectations…)
    I like your focus on what you can DO about it. I do the same things – I make a list of ways I should behave, and then I stick to it. But I also admit when things are tough, and hopefully the people around love me enough to help me get through it. That’s my strategy, anyways – try and stay positive, and surround myself with people who “get it.” and if I am around someone who does “not get it” then I just have to watch what I say, and listen more than I speak.

  15. Sosympl
    Sosympl says:

    Also, it seems that many brilliant ideas come in the wake of darkness… draw from it… When things are going great, it seems we don’t feel the need to search as diligently for answers.

  16. Donna Crain
    Donna Crain says:

    Your honesty amazes me. I’d be scared to death to publish that I was lost at work. Though the times I have been I’m sure everyone knew it anyway. When I’m struggling, whether it’s work, working out, or taking the laundry up the stairs, it’s a moment to moment decision to do or not do. And most of the time I make myself do it until all of the sudden it’s not a conscious decision anymore. When I’m really stuck, I try completely changing my environment. I personally love bookstores, so sitting in one and breathing in the book smell, flipping through European magazines, or books on architecture calms me, makes me happy and often inspires me as well. It’s like a mini vacation. Although, if you can take an actual vacation where you completely change your surroundings for a while and gain the perspective of distance from a current situation, that could really make a difference too. Good luck!

  17. Rob DC
    Rob DC says:

    My first ever comment on this blog. Two things: first, I agree with Alexis. You have just had an incredibly difficult breakup and that may be what you are really having a problem with more than your work issues. If you were really thinking clearly about those work issues you wouldn’t be seeing it as an identity crisis, but as an opportunity to provide value to a business that is running far better as a result of decisions you helped make (putting Ryan and Ed where they are).

    Second, on the patience-when-others-are-talking problem — I have the same problem. I think I may have found a solution that works for me. Rather than waiting for an open space to get a word in (which generally makes me both resent the person talking and also want to jump out of my skin), I ask myself “what am I learning from this person right now.” It may be corny but it is far easier to avoid interrupting someone when you are really listening to them (whether or not they are right) than to just try to hold yourself back.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. This is such good advice about listening. It makes me think there is honest listening (which is what you describe) and dishonest listening – which is not listening to the content, but listening for a pause.

      Honesty is so hard.


  18. Erin
    Erin says:

    One thing that I’ve gotten out of reading your blog is thinking differently about interpersonal communications at work. For instance, maybe some of the people I’m dealing with don’t have full blow Aspergers, but there is always a disconnect between the lens I see things through, and the lens others see things through. It accounts for a lot of miscommunication in the workplace. Perspective is key, and I’ve learned a lot about that from reading your blog. I’m fascinated by your interactions with Ryan and Ed, etc.

  19. Kerry Kimble
    Kerry Kimble says:

    “Yes. I am very good at driving traffic to Brazen Careerist. Look. I'm doing it right now. It's a game.”

    You said it, sister.

  20. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    I just spent 3 months with a coach trying to figure out what career I REALLY wanted, only to finally realize that I don’t really want a career. I want to be a stay-at-home mom.

    Only I’m the breadwinner and my husband is chronically ill. So that’s not an option.

    Bad news: I’m stuck. Good news: I’m only stuck if I see it that way.

    “Lost” is an attitude, not a situation. You can write your way out of this one. I have faith in you. :)

    • econopete
      econopete says:

      As previously pointed out, when a relationship suffers, everything else seems to as well. (I can understand the desire just to talk about sex immediately after a breakup; it seems that’s when it’s needed most. The act itself, I mean.) I started reading this weblog recently, but it seems that you and the farmer were a good fit. When you have a relationship that “just works” and when the other person adds so much to your life AND your family, only to fall apart, it’s crushing.

      I recently had a boss who taught me that people, in general, are very poor listeners. I found out she was, too! That said, Rob DC has excellent advice. It’ll help me out when I’m not in my caregiver mode.

      Finally, to expand on what Alan W. said: a lot of people who start companies end up taking non-executive roles within the company (such as programming) or go on to start new ones. The fact is, people who thrive greatly in the act of creation have much more difficulty maintaining that leadership role when things become “routine.” You can choose to act on that knowledge, or just understand that things are a bit harder for you now than they were. You will find your way :)

      “I’m not OK, you’re not OK, and that’s OK.” – William Sloane Coffin

    • Nancy
      Nancy says:

      Someone can’t “use” Asperger syndrome as a crutch, anymore than someone can “use” blindness as an excuse for bumping into things.

      So few Asperger people tell us this eloquently what they experience. Liane Holliday’s “Pretending to be Normal” is the only other one that comes to mind.

      The takeaway is in how we change the way we interact with the Aspies in our lives.

      Penelope, one listening device I get my son to use is paraphrasing. While he’s listening, he’s thinking about how he would paraphrase what he’s hearing. When it’s his turn to talk, he starts: “So what you said was…” and states it in one sentence. When the person agrees, then it’s his turn to launch into his version of events. It makes the listener feel good, makes sure the communication is clear, and gives both parties a full turn. This is similar to the other commenter’s idea of listening to learn something about the person speaking.

  21. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Thanks for writing this! I’m at a similar point in life and I’m waiting for the work to just click in. I know I should push through but I just can’t seem to do it right now.

    I get very dissapointed when I have something to say and there isn’t a break to say it in. At which point I’m actually jumping in my seat a little trying not to raise my hand but visibly getting overly excited to add my comment. And the person I’m speaking to has to stop in the middle of what they are saying and let me speak because it’s impossible to ignore me any longer. I really try to be more conscious of this, to wait for an appropriate time to speak, but more often than not one doesn’t come up and others jump in ahead of me. By the time there is an open space to speak, my comment is no longer appropriate. Very frustrating.

  22. Crysta Wille
    Crysta Wille says:

    Being lost is hard for drivers, especially ones who know most of the time where they want to go. A trusted mentor once told me “There are no bad decisions, just subsequent ones.” We all make a decision with the best information at hand and then proceed to make secondary decisions as necessary. Start with just one decision and go from there.

    I think you listen fine. What is the downside is your passion which drives you to be heard first—just in case no one is listening later. When you realize that you can always speak, no matter when and about whatever you want, you will be able to “hear” others in the discussion. It’s just that drivers are afraid they will be left behind if they don’t jump in right away.

    You’re fine. I am not trying to minimize your angst in relationships with home or work. Life is complex and messy. I will keep listening to you because you’ve always spoken the truth. I believe that you just have a fear that no one is listening.

  23. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I am lost, too. I cried all the way to to work today because I realized this morning that I left a load of laundry at the laundromat on SATURDAY. (it’s Tuesday) I went back and, of course, it was gone.

    I want to quit my extra-stressful job and move out of NYC. Only one problem: I have an employment contract until Aug 2011. I’ve been trying to transfer and the other office won’t take me right now because of the economy.

    Like you, I have been here before. I had a complete meltdown after a few years in the nonprofit arts. I did a 180 and am now in a very corporate job. I’m hoping to avoid the complete meltdown this time around, though.

    I love your blog because you talk about issues that I am dealing with that no one else talks about. Thanks for that.

  24. Casey
    Casey says:

    I think you are doing an incredible job of managing your brand. A basic tenet of your brand appears to be your unabashed honesty. I read your blog consistently (only one of two that I do) because I know I can count on that. I am certain that many people find it refreshing and reassuring because that level of honesty is so rare and your experiences are so relatable (although no one else dares to talk about them).

    It occurred to me while reading your post that there’s an interesting contrast that is going on between your current situation and that of Tiger Woods (bear with me on this). He created a brand that clearly was not consistent with who he truly was and became so trapped by that brand that he was forced to keep his feelings about his marriage (and his subsequent infidelities) a secret. Your career and brand would never take the hit that his has because your brand is consistent with who you truly are–painfully honest and kind of wacky.

    I think one’s personal brand should evolve based on who you really are, not a total fabrication created for the purpose of selling things. Your shocking candor in a very public setting works for you. It wouldn’t work for me because that’s not really my personality and would come across as contrived. But then I am incredibly savvy in highly political situations that require subtle finesse, while you have acknowledged that you are not. That’s part of my personal brand.

    All this is to say that I get a lot of value out of you just being you. For example, I have become much more tolerant and appreciative of my quirky husband and coworkers. I hope you are never pressured to the point where you conform to how others would prefer you to be.

    • Jess
      Jess says:

      Just a thought from a developmental theory-based outpatient therapist: 20-somethings (Gen Y or any generation) are still figuring out who they are. That’s the developmental task from adolescence up through young adulthood. The stage of trying on roles, archetypes, stereotypes, and brands used to be for teenagers. Now, it’s expanded well into young adulthood and combined with the stage of learning how to become intimate with partners.

      Translating that into marketing or “branding”: The Gen Y-er’s job (and anyone in that stage) is to try on brands and criticize other people’s brands until the individual finds what they will sustain. As you explained in your (not outrageous) comment– you are beyond that stage. You know who you are, you know what your ‘brand’ is, and you demonstrate this via the medium of your blog. I think Dooce is similarly successful through Heather’s use of the blog medium. You both know who you are, and you articulate that through your blogs and gain readership by focusing on what matters to you in your own specific voices.

      These young ones (let me get my walker here and wag my finger) don’t know what it’s actually like to have a solidified ‘brand’ or Self–it’s still developing. It’s not complete yet. They don’t usually have a sustained identity or authentic brand–or at least, not the way someone who’s lived for another decade or two could convey. They still think they can change almost every aspect of who they are to fit what they want to be in the world. You can’t change your personality type all that drastically, re-brand who you truly are. But in your 20’s you don’t necessarily know that yet.

      Anyway–just wanted to add a spin on the branding subject.
      I admire and enjoy your work, and wish you comfort while you face the rocky waters. Maybe it’s time to start a new company? No matter what–keep up the yoga. Blessings!

  25. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I haven’t even read this entire article yet but am already compelled to comment. I have been/am currently lost too. You stop writing? I haven’t even begun – imagine justifying yourself to people, saying you want to be a writer, and then just not writing. Believe me, I realize how pathetic I look! And then I just stop telling people what I’m doing because I’m not doing anything. At some point, I am going to complete my Brazen Careerist profile so that I can link in to your groups. Because I think you’re cool and honest, and we might have a lot in common. And I’m a really good friend – and as weird as it sounds – I’d like to be your friend. How insane I look! I’m going back to reading the rest of your article now :) Please take care of yourself, because you are inspiring me every day with your refreshing and ever so slightly irreverent take on life.

  26. Sophia
    Sophia says:

    Penelope — thank you so much for this post. I feel lost at work and in my career, off and on, and it is highly frustrating. And sometimes, I just want to curl up in a ball and hide…but that doesn’t seem to work — it just makes me more frustrated and confused. I think what you touched upon is really, really important –> sometimes, we just have to keep doing what we have always been doing, what we are drawn to and wait for everything else to sort itself out. Not that we are not having an impact on our lives, but so many of us cannot afford (financially, emotionally, mentally, etc.) to just withdraw from the world. So, just sticking with what we know and continuing to show up each day — that is really the only way to persevere, huh?

    And that is what life is about, right? Perseverance. That is the only way we get to our goals, the only way the tortoise beats the hare in the race, the only way that we can look back and be so proud of our accomplishments. Perseverance. So thank you for spelling out what perseverance looks like when someone hits a wall. Just keep getting up every day and handling each day as it comes. Thank you for your honesty. :-)

  27. Scott Bravard
    Scott Bravard says:

    Hokey smokes, I've been lost in my career for going on 20 years now. At this point, the problem may be that I don't know what NOT being lost would feel like.

    I also have the "tone of voice" problem – €“ I often hear hostility when it is not intended. I tend to go to the opposite extreme and never speak up because the quiet space never seems to arrive. A lot of what you write about the Asperger's experience gives me encouragement, so I'm glad you plan to keep writing.

  28. Wiana
    Wiana says:

    mm, I have the opposite, love my job but my friends and my husband hate it because they salaray is `ridiculous`, meaning very bad, low. So is it really a crisis, well yes if I live beyond my means. But I am happy when i get home at night. I was having a crisis when I was unemployed, just before I accepted the low paying job. So new challenges are essential. Take on something brand new…

  29. murphy
    murphy says:


    i love your transparency; i too feel lost this holiday season..i am still trying to understand why i dont have a partner when a partner is all i want.

    my career is at a standstill..i thought i would be way ahead of the curve by now..

    the only solace that comes to me at this time is this line by viktor frankl..

    “what is to give light must endure burning”


  30. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I sent you an email a few months ago because I felt so lost it was consuming my every thought. What you wrote me really helped and so I guess I just wanted to remind you of your own advice:

    “Be patient with yourself. You have a whole life ahead of you. Being lost for a few more years is fine. Really. And you’ll learn so much about yourself through the process of trying to find your place.”

    I think once we stop beating ourselves up about being lost, it’s easier to figure out what to do next. Learning to be patient with myself has been so critical to my peace of mind. I hope your advice helps you as much as it helped me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a great moment. Sometimes I tell myself that I’m insane to answer every single email I get. But I do it, and I think, somewhere, it is making the world a better place that I do that.

      And now, Victoria sends my email back to me. At the perfect time. Thank you, Victoria.

      It’s so much easier to see the help that other people need. It’s so much harder to see what we need for ourselves. That’s why doing life together, in a community, is so fun and so interesting to me.

      And I’m going to keep answering all those emails…


  31. neko
    neko says:

    Thanks for highlighting the need for more people — like me — to keep quiet when others are talking. I’m a fast talker & thinker and sometimes “talk over” my direct reports when theyre speaking (much too slowly for my taste) to me. Thanks to RobDC, I think I have a new strategy to try to correct this unproductive habit at work.

    P.S. How the H. does someone even manage to flip a grilled cheese sandwich by hand/sans spatula?! (The life skills I’ve learned about on this blog never fail to amaze me …)

  32. Kate
    Kate says:

    How about, no talking until there is a quiet space, or the person starts to repeat themselves.

    Some people have conversation styles where they wait for another person to interrupt them. These people are often men (or from New York, or not Anglo, or any number of groups) and this means often women feel shut down in conversations, when actually the men are waiting to be interrupted. When they start to repeat themselves, that means they’ve said what they wanted to say. If you aren’t sure, maybe you could interrupt at that point and clarify the point they just repeated – that way if they are repeating it for a different reason (like, they’re not sure you understood it, or they can’t quite articualte it right) you won’t come accross as rude.

  33. mj
    mj says:

    You may brood over problems a lot. This seems to make you understand yourself exceptionally well. I wonder whether your perspective allows you to keep the whole picture in focus. Are you not really lost only if you remain stuck in a bad place? It would be hard to believe that someone so resourceful cannot push through it.

    Are you hearing people right? Well, of course the fact that someone disagrees with you doesn’t necessarily make them right. There is certainly a problem with some, more outgoing people being blind to abrasive behavior. You do seem to monitor your own behavior as well as others’.

    I am sometimes unpopular at work for pointing out why something is not going to work. I don’t see much virtue in embracing problems. I often lose the battles, but there really are things which are best avoided.

    We all have our good and bad points. If you’re good at what you do, some degree of eccentricity is tolerated. I am sure that others you mention have their rough spots as well. The mix of people may make the organization better.

    Is the lost feeling work related? Is it possibly just heaped upon whatever is going on from the broken engagement?

    You know, you’ve done some really interesting things in your life. You’ve accomplished a lot.

  34. alfred
    alfred says:

    Hi, Sounds like you are going through a rough patch. Don’t worry. Its the season. Everyone does from Thanksgiving till after the New Year.

    Take some time off. Stop writing. Enjoy the holidays, recharge and bounce back next year.

  35. Brad
    Brad says:

    Kathrien Ahn wrote “How to be positive… when things suck” for ChangeThis.

    Bob Sutton (“The No Asshole Rule”) wrote about the psychologist William Schutz in a recent blog. His recommendation is to concentrate on keeping things simple.

  36. Livvy
    Livvy says:

    In work situations, I’ve tried to avoid talking about what’s not working to a superior or colleague, at least until I could pinpoint “why” it’s not working. Because for some reason, a feasible solution is usually included with the “why,” a bit like getting that second ShamWow for free. It’s not magical, but it sort of is.

  37. Annette
    Annette says:

    This post’s appearance was timely for me. I was just looking at an online job board for my “old” profession (me being a slightly-lapsed librarian; I’m working in a different field at the moment). I hadn’t reviewed the board in awhile. When I did, my reaction to all the qualifications and requirements for various positions was “WTF!?!” What they were asking for was way over my head– and gosh I sure don’t know how I’d get smart enough to even think of applying for any of them!

    Regarding your comment about Aspergers and mixed vocal signals: I think you’re already ahead if you realize it’s a problem. I had a similar thing happen to me with my Aspie friend– I responded to something he said in a firm but polite voice, and it was interpreted as yelling. I didn’t know what to do after that!

    Anyways, best of luck getting back into the game. You sound like a survivor; I’m have no doubt you’ll pull through, and will continue to amaze us. Be strong! :)

  38. Marsha Keeffer
    Marsha Keeffer says:

    Though we’ve not met, you are one of my guiding lights, Penelope. Yes, honesty and feeling lost are hard. Yet we are all here together and the support in this community is vast. Keep writing – we’re all reading.

  39. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Penelope–don’t flog yourself too hard for being lost. You’re in transition–being lost is the “neutral zone” that William Bridges described, that place between the gears while you’re shifting from one into the other. It is a natural and normal (healthy, even) part of the transition process, so don’t flog yourself too hard–recognize it for what it is: a stage in the process of your evolution. It isn’t the first time you’ve been here and it won’t be the last. Enjoy it if you possibly can–sounds hard to believe, I know, but it is incredibly liberating once you see it for what it is and go along with it, see where it leads you.

  40. Mark Porter
    Mark Porter says:

    Don’t you have some more Asperger-friendly people around somewhere? Can’t you get yourself around them and in some different Asperger-friendly environments just to get some balance and fresh perspective? You are doing a lot of good for a lot of other people giving them this much access and insight, but you may be making it too hard on yourself.

  41. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Penelope, my favorite part of your brilliance is your habit, or practice, of talking about what has meaning (to you, but obviously to lots of other people too) without regard to what is “ok” or conventionally accepted or within boundaries.

    That is to say, you refuse to set any hard and fast rules about what can be said / written…you make that decision every single time you speak, for better or worse. That is brave and most of all intellectually honest. Keeping one’s critical thinking capacity on all the time – not hiding it behind laws or rules of polite discourse – is key to doing anything different or better.

  42. murphy
    murphy says:


    i have been thinking about your perceived inability to hear affect in people’s anger irritability etc..

    in my opinion; most people do not own nor recognize their “shadow” selves..and so disown their anger/frustration etc.

    how does this translate in real time?
    you say to ms. sound in our judeo/christian culture,anger is not quite ms x angry? no..i am just tired/bored/fillintheblanck..

    perhaps you are just picking up the truth..and then speaking it; instead of not responding..

    just a thought.

  43. Kat
    Kat says:

    I think you should have an “advice column” on Brazen Careerist. This is something you would do very well and would add a lot of value. Include a new feature (rather than a group/network) where people ask questions and you answer them and also allow other users to comment on them with their input. You seem to be great at doing this on a one to one basis via email with people, why not go a step further and go public, allowing others to benefit from your advice too. You always have a unique perspective that many people just don’t see – which is great. No career advice is perfect and applies to everyone, but getting various views always helps a person to decide for themselves.

    Oh and before I attend important meetings, I always go to the bathroom just to check my hair. If I know my hairs okay, then I am confident. Crazy as it sounds, but it works for me.

  44. Lynn Kennedy
    Lynn Kennedy says:

    Good stuff today. I too am lost, in so much in my life, work, relationship in steady-state nothingness, just a robot most days, feeling rather unappreciated at work, blah blah. When I fell apart at a past job, I really blew the whole thing. My toxic relationship nearly sunk my career as my entire being was focussed on the ‘guy’ and definitely led to my mental crash and burn. So the lesson in that? I turfed the guy, visited a friend in Nova Scotia, and cried and cried for a week, nurtured by her compassion, and came back a little better. The damage was done at work; I had cooked that goose very very well. I had to leave as everybody hated me and didn’t understand my mental breakdown. We ALL hit the wall, in our personal and professional lives. I guess the way to stay alive thru it all is to learn the lessons it teaches, try to not alienate our colleagues and families and, as well, try to keep our self-esteem (my personal favourite) afloat. Take care, Penelope, we all care about you and what you have to say. Happy Hanukkah!

  45. Neale
    Neale says:

    There are many things I would like to comment on. However, I may be able to add value in one area in particular.

    On being positive…

    Hang out with some “negative” people. You know, the ones who see all the problems. At some point you will realize that they are sucking all of the energy out of the room. You are trying to motivate people to do the impossible and some “genius” is pulling the carpet out from under you. After you go through this a few times, you may realize that this is what you are doing to others.

    Seeing the end or result of the process, with all of its challenges, before others even begin to conceptualize the process is a gift – frustrating as hell but a gift. Few people can do it.

    Learn to speak to others in a language they are willing to hear. You’ve done this before. Just put a “positive” filter on your thoughts before they escape your head. Warning – some will hear your words as sarcasm. Good luck.

    Sorry I missed your webinar. It probable would have helped.

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