How to be lost with panache


So, I am lost. But I need to be useful more than I need to confess feeling lost. So, here I am, telling you what I’m doing to get through this, because I think you and I have an agreement that you’ll put up with me being lost and not posting very often, as long as I’m useful.

1. Find beauty in the process of being lost.
So here it is: New York Magazine. I love it so much. Some people turn to alcohol when they are lost. I wish I could use that. Or drugs. I wish I thought it would work. But nothing works better for me than words. I will read anything. Here’s an article I read in The Atlantic that calmed me down when the farmer had a fit that I left the bottle calf out in the hay field for three hours.

But New York Magazine is the best at taking my breath away, every time. Jennifer Senior is so good that I save every issue with her story on the cover. (Here’s one: All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.) Also, the ads in the back of the magazine for things that cure ailments like sagging labia help me to keep perspective on problems coming in the pipeline.

But the thing right now that is saving my life is an article by Jerry Saltz. He is their art columnist, and last week he wrote a roundup about his favorite paintings in New York. (Click that link for a great slideshow.) I wish I could reprint the whole thing here. I have memorized it.

There are photos of nineteen paintings, and the captions he writes are phenomenal. For this Malevich painting

Saltz’s caption includes, “the Cubo-Futurist masterpiece depicts gleaming robot peasants in curved metallic shards.” Who has been more poetic about Malevich? Ever?

When you are lost is when you need art most. Art is the process of showing what lost looks like: on a blog or a painting or even a caption for a painting. Here is what Saltz says about this Hartley painting:

Brooklyn Museum: Evening Storm, Schoodic, Maine No. 2

“I am so overwhelmed by the wounded otherness in Harley’s art that I can’t write about it or him. He defeats me. This is the work that I would most want to live with.”

New York Magazine is my roadmap for being lost. No one writing in New York Magazine moved from NYC to a farm. No one in New York Magazine writes about the struggle to get their son to be brave enough to put his hand under the hen to collect the eggs. But the topic of the magazine is being lost, and finding beauty in being lost, and thank goodness someone is making me feel like I am going to be fine, one day.

2. Focus on transition points. Do a little each day.
I have been reading a lot about how it’s hard to identify women with Asperger’s syndrome because they are so much better than men at mimicking social norms. Women are more likely to ask for help from friends, and women are much more likely to stand at the side of a room and try to figure out what’s going on than men are. (Men will either give up and walk away or do something fast and inappropriate.) But one of the telltale signs of women with Asperger Syndrome (that’s me) is an inability to switch tasks (technical term: set-shifting).

We are not talking about that problem that Lifehacker addresses every week —how to switch tasks effectively and how to stop procrastinating. I am talking about being three hours late, routinely, because the brain is literally stuck. For some people with Asperger Syndrome, this looks like obsessing about trains. For some people it looks like not being able to stop eating. For me it’s not being able to shift focus from the project I’m on.

I spent three years doing nothing but building Brazen Careerist. Hundred-hour weeks. Forgetting to sleep or change clothes for days at a time. Then I spent three months moving to the farm. Redecorating. Becoming friends with my designer, Maria Killiam (I love her), becoming friends with antique dealers (“what year was this made?” is my new favorite game), and hanging out with the electrician until I could get him to graze the very edge of the code.

It was hard to go back to my blog. It was hard to shift. Almost impossible. I can’t stop thinking about the house even though the house does not require full-time thinking any more. So I am focusing on making a change. I am listing what a shift in focus would look like.

1. Adding a new feature to my blog each week.

2. Changing my schedule to make specific time for blogging.

3. Shifting to writing more for other outlets.

So I’m linking to the stuff I’m writing at BNET. I used to write at Yahoo finance and I learned so much from that gig. About headlines (study their home page), and finance advertising (I got fired for that), and writing for audiences who don’t know me (so many people telling me I’m an idiot that Yahoo removed the comments). I think I’m going to learn a lot at BNET because the editorial team is so cool. Here’s how I know: I told them I wanted my blog there to be called Free Beer. They laughed. I said, “No. Really.” I told them that the title of a blog only matters the first time you see it listed somewhere. After that the title is irrelevant—you go to a blog because of a good recommendation, not because of a good name.

So my blog there is called Free Beer.

And I’ll be posting on this blog when there’s a new post on Free Beer. And, look, I’m accomplishing numbers one and three from my list right here. Yea.

The important thing, I think , is that I’m being honest about what is change and what is not. It’s so easy to stay in one spot, and for someone with Asperger’s it’s even easier. I write down, each day, what I did to change. That helps me see if I’m really doing it.

3. Risk standing out and being weird.
There are degrees of change. At some point, change is so small that it’s irrelevant and it will never be enough to get you unlost. I am never totally sure when I’m doing this. It reminds me of times I have told my therapist I think I’m getting nowhere and she reminds me of all the hard work I’ve done.

I always worry that I’m getting nowhere because, as a career advisor, I’m besieged by people who are no making any real change in their life and they are flummoxed over why nothing changes, and I’m scared to be like them.

So I have a role model. I always have had role models. At one point it was Heidi Miller. I was young, and there were very few high-profile women in business. Later, my role model was Madonna, when I was not young, and she seemed always young. Now, I have a new role model: Tavi Gevinson.

She is a fourteen-year-old blogger. She writes the blog The Style Rookie. What I love about her is that she is totally herself. She writes about Rodarte’s fall collection and starting high school in the same breath. She writes about fashion in a way that opens my eyes and she writes about high school in a way that reminds me how vulnerable we all are. Even the fourteen-year-old ingenue who is the darling of the fashion media after only 18 months of writing.

Here is a photo of Tavi: She wears what she wants to.

She comes up with her own ideas about what works and what doesn’t.

And she lets her real self show through. This is what we have to do to get unlost. She was a dork in school, probably too smart for fitting in, and had too much time on her hands. This is how we find ourselves so many times in life. Maybe not the too much time, but the other stuff. The not fitting in, not knowing what to do next, the not knowing how to be our true selves.

We should all throw caution to the wind like we’re Tavi. She jumped in, tried something, gave herself permission to fail colossally, which also made space to succeed colossally.

67 replies
  1. Eduard @ People Skills Decoded
    Eduard @ People Skills Decoded says:

    You make some very good points on being lost here.

    One of the TOP things I encourage people to do is to know themselves better: their purpose, goals, values, passions, strengths and beliefs. Because I have seen how this self knowledge can improve our lives on so many levels.

    However, I also realize that being lost is a natural part of finding your way. And we might as well embrace it as that.



  2. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope, you may feel lost, but those of us out here, we have your URL and can find you there. Is there no way to find yourself in the actual land? In the physical world? Must it be words from other people? If so, the Cut blog, from NY Mag, is some of the best writing out there. But don’t be Tavi. We have a far deeper need that you stay Penelope. Although even that name, of course, is just a buoy you’ve stuck into the ocean.

  3. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    You know, one thing you’re good at is looking at yourself clearly. Most people cannot look inward, say, “What is my problem?” and come up with a truthful (or even probable) diagnosis. You can.

    And then you’re also pretty good at figuring out how to solve your problem. Like, better than most people. Most people just wait for the problem to go away until they’re dead.

    So that’s two good things right there.

    I can also tell you that the culture shock from moving to Wisconsin left me lost in ways that still kick the shit out of me sometimes, and I’ve been here since the 90s. It’s hard.

  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Please explain more about the bottle calf. Should she not be left outside because she needs her mother, or because the mother needs her to feed (in which case, why is she called a bottle calf?)? I live near dairy farms, but not with a farmer, so I really have no idea. :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s an answer from my eight-year-old son, who takes of the bottle calf:

      First. It’s a he not a she. He got abandoned by his mom. Along with his brother. His mom took his brother again, but not him. So we started taking care of him. I take care of him every day! He lives in a barn. Because he’s too little to live with the herd of cattle. I started letting him outside with a halter on him. Now I just let him outside without his halter to graze in the oat field. Afterwards I lure him into his pen with oats. Some days we forget to bring him back into his pen. Once he was outside for three whole hours!!! Then I didn’t have to walk him a second time that day.


      • tamar
        tamar says:

        Yefet: great name and great answer. The story of this calf reminds me of the remarkable true story on film (available on DVD): The Weeping Camel. This camel baby was also abandoned by its mother (hence, the title), and the film depicts what the humans did (with spiritual help) to heal the rift.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think we’re all lost at various stages in our life and lost to varying degrees depending on the stage. I also think the journey to finding your true self is difficult and for me never seems to end. It’s a journey where I’m comparing new ideas and experiences with old ones and trying to determine where I fit or don’t fit and the reasons why. It’s change – something I can always count on but not always regulate so I manage it to the best of my ability. Here’s another thought – we get to choose who we’re lost with so I guess I must enjoy being lost here on this blog! As far as Free Beer is concerned, I also laughed when I first saw that name under your name. I’m still laughing and I like it. Maybe we should all get some pizza while we’re at it? It’s like we’re all sitting down at our terminals drinking beer, munching on pizza, and chatting it up here.

  6. amy parmenter
    amy parmenter says:

    Penelope! I have breaking news…. YOU ARE NOT LOST! It’s true. I just wrote a post that you influenced called ‘i don’t know where i’m going’ ( …and, the conclusion…in a nutshell…is that ‘just because you don’t know where you’re going, doesn’t mean you are lost’. Not to get all zen on you or anything but you are not lost — you’re right where you are. And, dare I say, it seems like you’re happy there..? You have written that love is fun…being lost can be fun too! You’re exploring, and isn’t exploring fun? Exploring is what you do — and then you write about it. So see, you’re not lost at all!

    Thx for the influence…hope I can return the favor.

    Amy Parmenter

  7. Jorge Lazaro Diaz
    Jorge Lazaro Diaz says:

    I think we all have some of the Asperger symptoms you describe. Staying obsessively focused on something for days on end doesn’t seem to foreign to this undiagnozed one.

    I like your openess about “lostness” and you willingness to discuss how you get past it. I write for job hunters and getting centered and un-lost is key. I’ll be recommending this post to my readers in an upcoming post. It falls in line with my “Becoming a Better Person” category with my Eat, Pray, Love book/movie review, my posts promoting authors like Eckhart Tolle and my love for a book called Silence on Fire (all at

    I look forward to having you back posting more frequently. I’ll look for Free Beer too.

  8. Kathlyn
    Kathlyn says:

    I love Tavi’s blog. Thanks for sending me there. I just read the post from 8/18, which ends with “If you read this whole thing, you are very patient” and laughed very loudly out loud.

    The husband is a cinematographer and the greatest thing he’s taught me about making pictures is that the good ones capture the way we are feeling when we look at something, and then relay that feeling as best they can, back to the viewer, which is what, if I’m understanding correctly, I think the art you love does for you.

    Whenever I’m feeling really lost, I listen to De La Soul. They are artists who are also pretty great at being lost, struggling and telling the entire world about it. Between all these folks, I think you’re in good company.

    p.s. When I get out of school and can go back to my blog, I’m going to burn something every week and post about it!

  9. Brigid
    Brigid says:

    Thank you so much for pointing us toward the NYMag parenting article. Today’s my daughter’s 2nd birthday. We got her one gift and will have cake after dinner (granted, extended family also got her gifts. But no party, etc). Was feeling guilty for not making a bigger deal out of it, but now I’m feeling smart ;)

    And I echo the others hear about curling up with your postings. I print them out so I won’t get distracted from other things that pop up on the computer screen.

  10. Anita Junttila
    Anita Junttila says:

    Thank you for posting. Thank you for your contribution to me this morning. I haven’t posted on my own blog forever because, among other things I’m ‘lost’. Why can’t I just say it? Lost. Not sure what to be ‘on’ about. Whatever comes up as long as it’s an authentic expression and isn’t that the point?

  11. Gwenn Aspen
    Gwenn Aspen says:

    Penelope, Love this! I am the cliche corporate woman turned stay at home mom, and feel lost, although I think I am on my way toward finding a path. Thanks for recommending Tavi, even though I kind of feel creepy visiting her blog, she is fearlessly her which is inspiring.

  12. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    just subscribed to your blog and love it already. thank you. I’m struggling with Blog titles, I like your Free Beer blog title, but have read that your title needs to be somewhat related to what you are writing about. I am in your camp, but still torn between a title that fits the subject matter, or one that cathes attention. As I’m writing this, it’s clear it should be the latter……
    Anyway…looking forward to reading yoru posts (checked out Free Beer too)and looking forward to giving myself permission to fail so I can make room to succeed!!

  13. Ann
    Ann says:

    “hanging out with the electrician until I could get him to graze the very edge of the code.” what a FABULOUS combinations of words… I’m in awe.

  14. Wayne Smith
    Wayne Smith says:

    I’ve been in a similar rut here for the past month. Things have been feeling like molasses. So my wife and I jumped at the chance of these JetBlue All-You-Can-Jet tickets after we saw a story on them in the news. We just called up our friends, cashed in a few favors, and we’re off for thirty days, traveling around the US and Puerto Rico. It’s not quite NY Magazine, but feel free to join us through our blog while we document our trip. It’s definitely something we thought we would never do, but a lot of “jump in” talk convinced me to just get out there and do it instead of think about it. Thanks, P!

  15. Jess @OpenlyBalanced
    Jess @OpenlyBalanced says:

    This post made me open 1,000 tabs in my browser and now the rest of my evening is lost. Not a complaint.

    The best part to me is that you’re setting aside time to write again, even if somewhere else. I am selfish and I missed your you-ness.

  16. BeckyC
    BeckyC says:

    Penelope, I was lost a couple of years ago and contacted you about starting my first blog – you said you liked my writing style – whether you did or not wasn’t as important as the fact that you took the time to actually write me back – because I was lost. I got through it(a couple of times since) as you will by doing as you are – finding favorite things and reveling in the idea that you have them.

    For my part, I know I’m lost and found by the size of my itunes receipts…

    great post

  17. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Thanks for the mention, your blog totally inspires so many of my posts. I love how authentic you are and that you say it like it is!
    Great post as always, I agree with the others, I’m always so excited to read your post when it appears in my inbox!

  18. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    “I always worry that I'm getting nowhere because, as a career advisor, I'm besieged by people who are no making any real change in their life and they are flummoxed over why nothing changes, and I'm scared to be like them.”

    There have been more than a few times that I’ve taken your advice to heart and actually done something. I’ve quit my job, moved, started a blog, and switched careers in large part because of you.

    Oh, and Style Rookie? Thank you for transporting me back to my room circa 1994. AWESOME.

  19. sheena
    sheena says:

    i’ve been thinking all day that i need to leave a comment re your blog – and i NEVER leave comments on anything. but i have to say i LOVE your blog; i look forward to your blogs. why – because you’re real and you talk about real things, not those recycled quotes and “insights” that keep appearing on my FB and twitter pages. and i agree with the other comments – you’re not lost; it’s a journey and you’re finding a new path. god knows i couldn’t move from NY to wisconsin and a farm – that’s for sure. i moved from NY to AZ and that was bad enough. but you’re doing it and finding out more about yourself and what you’re capable of. you rock and i’m looking forward to more blogs and writing from you. you’re a confirmation that there are real people out there talking and writing about the real stuff we all go through. Thank you; thank you.

    • psychicjim
      psychicjim says:

      I agree with this. You are a real person. And those recycled quotes on soical media do not go very far in the real world!

      You have a positive energy that uplifts people.

  20. Jason
    Jason says:

    “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”

    I take no credit for that quote (I think it was in an old Hummer or Jeep ad) but I’ve always liked it.

  21. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I moved from a large southern city to a little bitty rural village many many years ago. It’s like landing on another planet. Looking back, I see how I grew to love so many things about small town living. Be grateful every day. Great post!

  22. Clare
    Clare says:

    Oh – your two most recent posts about feeling lost hit home. You can be lost in a period of change, but I feel lost when I feel stuck and there’s no change…

    I take solace from music – especially classical music. Sometimes, just losing yourself in the layers of an orchestra take you far beyond frustrations and anxiety.

  23. Marci Diehl
    Marci Diehl says:

    I always love what you write. No matter what you’re writing about, you always “bring it home” when you write. I’ve said this before, but I’m (probably) old enough to be your mother, and I’m feeling lost these days too. We wander off and then we come home again. Home moves around, but you can always find your way back to it, at the farm, or with your readers.

  24. Dustin Newman
    Dustin Newman says:

    I read the happiness of parents article from the New York Magazine where it discussed whether parents are happier than non-parents. Happiness means totally different things to different people. While some people avoid pain, confrontation and stress at all costs, others seek out being unconfortable to expand their knowledge. Children force parents (willingly or otherwise) into situations they would never enter and grow the depth of the parent’s character. Is it “Happy” to go through these times…no it is difficult and challenging, but when looking back on the experience, the individual gets something far greater than momentary happiness. For those who fight the learning in parenthood…and their kids, it can be years of anguish, but those who chose to lean into the Dip and challenge themselves, they will devolop unforseen deepness and richness of life.

  25. c
    c says:

    Adrienne, I love reading your blog. it is so refreshing. After reading for years I think you need to take vitamins, I think they would solve many of your problems, as they have with me. For starters I would recommend Country Life Daily Total One take 1 or 2 in the morning with some food. I would then suggest Kal Amino Max, a multi mineral start with one a day. I could suggest other vitamins but hope you start with these are a good multi vitamin, not Centrum, but if you are unable to find a good health food store or order online then I guess you will have to take Centrum (take at least 3). c

  26. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Dear Penelope,

    How are you lost? There are so many ways of feeling that way. From what you've written, I've tried to piece together your particular "lostness" and maybe my story can help. Sometimes knowing your not alone can be comforting.

    I was lost too, so utterly lost. I was detached from confidence, from a feeling a belonging, from love for myself and love coming to me from others. I felt I didn't matter anymore and I couldn't see a way to make myself matter. And even if I DID matter, I didn't see how anything ELSE mattered. But I didn't stop trying to make it all matter. I never stopped searching for significance, for uncompromised truth, for that one special person who would never betray me, for that inner knowing that everything was going to be all right. I didn't stop the struggle until I ran out of hope, crashed and surrendered.

    One night in Boston, in the kitchen of a married woman who wanted to have sex with me while her husband slept in their bed upstairs, I finally gave up trying to be good. No, I didn't break the adultery rules but I did break away from believing in them and every other rule ever written in stone. I gave up trying to do the "right" thing, to make the world a better place, to be a better person, to find love and BE love. I gave up trying to be Me. And then it happened – €“ a sense of utter peace and security enveloped me, and I instantly knew within every cell of my body, that I had never been lost, only disconnected and confused about what I trying to control. You see, I had found my Soul, and for the first time in my life, I knew, Everything IS as it should be.

    And so I agree with Amy Parmenter. You are not lost, Penelope, only disconnected, for NOW. And sure, your alienation and that frustrating loss of direction and motivation hurts just as much physical pain does, and gets in the way of better intentions. But I'm sure deep down you know that the journey is worth it. You'll find your way Home, Penelope. You're that kind of Soul.


  27. Daniel M. Wood
    Daniel M. Wood says:

    One time or another we all feel lost in our lives.
    What determines the strength of our character is how we handle the situation.

    I think it seems as though you are taking a very healthy approach by not being afraid and daring to look out into the unknown.

    May I suggest though that clarifying your goals is a good way to increase your sense of self and to identify the path on which you are walking, or want to walk.


  28. Jo
    Jo says:

    This post arrived in my inbox at just the right moment – you will probably never know how much it has meant to me but thank you!

  29. Tom Bentley
    Tom Bentley says:

    The “lost posts” (kind of like a bobbing message in a bottle, yet with more spunk) made me feel drunk, or as though I had a bit of a double image, like a 1960s TV. Thank you for the articulate arrows of your post, your honesty, and the deft way you offer a bit of blood to the world.

    I still don’t know about Tavi’s fashion sense, however.

  30. Executive Resume Writer
    Executive Resume Writer says:

    Hi Penelope,

    While I’ve always enjoyed your posts, I really love your links, too. What should take 2 minutes to read a post takes an hour because I get absorbed in reading all of your links.

    In fact, today at lunch a colleague mentioned the NY Magazine article on parenting and we both said how much we both loved that article and then ended up spending the rest of the hour talking about it. :)

    Thanks for all time you spend adding links to your blog. I know how time consuming it is. I do it for mine, too.


  31. Jaime
    Jaime says:

    Hello Penelope,

    Great post. I am as lost as I can be. And it infuriates me.

    I have no clue what I am going to do, but I am following some of your advice. I started a blog (yes, I war writing a book before.. but hey a blog is quite fun too) and I have spent hours with art (I have a year-museum card, so goes almost for free) and reading great stuff.

    So far, I am a professional failure in many many ways. I am sure everything can change all of a sudden.

    Thank you for your blog, for the inspiration you give me.


    Amsterdam – The Netherlands

  32. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Ana Ivanovic, the tennis phenom referenced in the Atlantic article (High Strung), has lost the edge in her game due to what is apparently a problem with self-confidence. Any problem with self-confidence for whatever reason at the professional level is noticeable due to the high level of competition. The mind-body relationship from a self-confidence perspective is one of the more intriguing aspects of pro sports. Perseverance and self-confidence are key to consistency and longevity in pro sports (and business). Ana Ivanovic is still working on getting her game back. There’s another pro athlete (Tiger Woods) who may be emerging from his self-confidence crisis (recent divorce) as evidenced by a good round of golf yesterday. Was his good round of golf due to the ink that just dried on the divorce papers? Does one good round of golf signify future good rounds to come in the near future? That’s a maybe to both of those questions. Time will answer one of them. More proof that we’re all human and lost to varying degrees. Life is a roller coaster.I’m also thinking that while we got this panache thing going on, it may help to also take ourselves less seriously.

  33. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hi Penelope. They say you haven’t really traveled if you’ve never got lost. I’m lost too, but I take solace in that saying. You’ve already inspired me to make the kinds of changes you are making to get un-lost. So…happy trails!

  34. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    Oh man, this post couldn’t have come at a more pertinent time. It’s still early days for my blog, but the most common comment I’m getting from people I know is “Why’d you call it that?!”

  35. cupidon
    cupidon says:

    hi everybody

    I am lost (I would’t be reading this article). I left my country, family, friends and work and moved with my wife to the US a couple of months ago (she is american). We had a baby after we moved.

    I didn’t want to look for a job right a way as I hated my previous job/sector (I had a management position in an IT consulting company), but now that taking care of baby is less overwhelming, I am ready for a new challenge!

    The problem is, I have NO idea on what I want to do. I would love to have a management position in a different domain, unfortunately, I feel like nobody would give me a chance to start in such a position.

    Anyway, if anybody has an idea on what I should do to clarify my mind and find something I like it would be greatly appreciated.


    Ps: sorry my English is not my native language.

  36. m
    m says:

    Penelope: Note that your BNET hyperlink now leads the reader to the “CBS news” website — and the pre-filled search results are for “Penelope Truck” (with no “r” in the last name), and most of the articles thatare listed in those search results don’t seem to be written by you (such as ones about Tom Cruise and the Cannes Film Festival).
    You might want to correct your link so people can see the articles that you wrote for BNET before it was subsumed (I assume) by CBS.

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