Career change looks like Halloween


When the kids and I moved to the farm, last Spring, the first thing we did was plant seeds. The farmer took the kids out to an open patch next to a corn field, and he planted ten pumpkin seeds with them.

I took the kids next to a rhubarb patch that has been growing for about 75 years, and I dumped a package of 300 seeds in a three-foot square area and I told the kids you can’t expect all the seeds to grow.

And this is how we started out lives together: the farmer being completely optimistic about the future and me wanting to hedge so no one is disappointed.

Here’s what happened: all the seeds grew. My vegetables mostly died because I hadn’t planted them assuming they’d need space to grow. But we had a crop of little pumpkins:

So all summer, we’ve been talking about Halloween, and what we’ll do with all our pumpkins, and whether we should have a party.

I am not a big fan of Halloween, (but it does have a pretty incredible history). It makes me nervous that people are all trying to be things they are not. Why do people like to dress up? Why are the majority of costumes sold to adults, not kids? What are the adults doing?

But while the pumpkins were growing, I was making career changes. Pulling back on my daily duties at Brazen Careerist, considering new business ideas, and finally, staying on the farm while the company moved to Washington, DC.

It’s been a while since I did a career change. But I am noticing, now that I’m doing it, that career change is not about one, big change, but it’s really about trying something on for a while, maybe just as briefly as you can. Seeing what it’s like, and using that knowledge to take decide what to try on next. When you are figuring out what to do with your life, every day is like Halloween. Every day you learn something about yourself by trying something on.

Halloween is when we all do it together.

So our pumpkins grew, like a monument to optimistic planting, while I worked on figuring out what I should be — worked on living my life like a kid let loose in a costume shop. And today on the farm we’re all ready to go for Halloween.

19 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    After a 27 year in the housing industry I too am making a career change to that of a Stay-At-Home-Housewife-On-The-Farm. Stay at home? Time will tell. I see a lot of possibilities ahead of me and I’m giddy at the prospects. It’s all part of the severance package of starting over. Or maybe I’ll just stay at home and grow veggies, play with my horses or collect eggs from my chickens and stash my cash in a mason jar in the cupboard like Mama Walton. No matter…it’s all good.

  2. Dana
    Dana says:

    I am not a big fan of Halloween. It makes me nervous that people are all trying to be things they are not. Why do people like to dress up? Why are the majority of costumes sold to adults, not kids? What are the adults doing?

    I know the above lines were NOT the main topic of your post, but can I just say “Thank you” for letting me know I’m not the only one who finds Halloween more anxiety provoking than entertaining?

  3. Ivy Lane
    Ivy Lane says:

    are you still sleeping on the porch??? (that just bugs me, I hope it is getting better! )

    I agree… not a fan of dressing up … it really should be all about the kids!

  4. Ivy Lane
    Ivy Lane says:

    never mind.. I read your last comment on the last post… so glad your back in the bed! progress! Happy Halloween!

  5. tiger
    tiger says:

    you refer to the Farmer’s “optimism” in planting his pumpkins as if growing things was a matter of pure luck. it’s not, and planting isn’t magical voodoo. the guy’s a farmer, for cryin’ out loud. i think the greatest likelihood is that his planting methods reflect a lot more certainty born of knowledge and experience than they do mere “optimism”.

    there’s always *some* luck involved, but the more you know, the less luck you need. learn from him, and you’ll be able to plant with greater certainty too.

  6. amy parmenter
    amy parmenter says:

    Great analogy…because, like Halloween costumes…some things we try are scary…some are funny (or funny to other people)…some are easy (just put on a different hat for a while)…and then you find one that you put on that feels just right. It’s just what you want to be, this year. Happy Halloween.

    Amy Parmenter

  7. margaret
    margaret says:

    Off topic: I am looking for one of your recent columns in which you cited a survey/article about what people really need/want from their jobs: they say they want less stress etc but ACTUALLY we all want to feel CONFIDENT in our abilities, both to deal with the routine matters and the really challenging ones. I tried a dozen different combinations of search terms, but can’t find it… I want to discuss this with people but need the original column and cite to the article you were commenting on…

  8. Olivier
    Olivier says:

    I couldn’t help noticing that Penelope’s MO with the rhubarb seeds is exactly how many VCs “manage” their own portfolios: let’s fund a hundred companies, treat them badly and then shut them down, as long as there’s one Apple in the lot, we’re good!

  9. sadya
    sadya says:

    do you a pattern in your career-change moves? You’ve done them successfully , so does it get easier the next time around?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great question, Sadya. It never feels comfortable, and I can never really predict where I’ll end up, but after a few times I can at least predict that I’ll end up standing on my own two feet, feeling fine. Somehow.


  10. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    > I am not a big fan of Halloween. It makes me nervous
    > that people are all trying to be things they are not.
    > Why do people like to dress up? Why are the majority
    > of costumes sold to adults, not kids? What are the
    > adults doing?

    As a big fan of Halloween, I will answer your questions in the order asked.

    People like to dress up for several reasons, and usually not to be things they are not. One of the most common is that it gives them permission. Many women find it an opportunity to show off a slutty side that they are afraid to express on other days. Men might enjoy exposing a cruel side that they often keep hidden (I, for example, was a witch-hunter, complete with strands of rope to restrain the accused and instruments to be used when putting them to the question. I had to make my own witch-pricking needles because you can’t find those on Amazon (the shaft disappears into the handle). Others display wit or humor with their choices (and these can be combined with the previous motives, like my friend who just wore underwear and a cigar as a “Freudian Slip”). Still others simply put on a random costume to be part of the celebration.

    More costumes MIGHT be sold to adults simply because there are more adults than kids, even when a greater percentage of kids wear costumes, but your link does not support your claim – it states that more costume-DOLLARS are spent on adult costumes, not more units sold. Adult costumes are more expensive because the adults aren’t in it for the candy.

    Which leads us to the third question, what are they doing? They are taking the usual jousting for status and admiration into a new battlefield and usually having a great time with it. I obviously can’t speak for ALL adults, but some of them enjoyed dancing, some of them enjoyed dueling, and one put aside a good bit of her costume when I couldn’t find a good target for my needle on her arms.

  11. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Yesterday I had a conversation with my cousin which included the topic of costumes while having lunch. The subject came up because the waiters and waitresses were wearing their costumes. She asked me what I dressed up as when I was a kid. I told her I didn’t dress up. :) She laughed and said I must have dressed up as something or somebody. All I could think of is the lone ranger. Now I want to go back and review the old photos that my parents had taken. Maybe those old photos of me in my childhood with costumes I picked out for myself would reveal something about myself to me.

    • Jens Fiederer
      Jens Fiederer says:

      We didn’t have Halloween when I was a kid, but we DID dress up on Fasching (German Mardi Gras). I am pretty sure that I was not the one who got to pick out the costumes, so pictures reveal more about my parents than me.

      The year of first grade I was dressed up as Superman (I have pictures), and my mother insisted on drawing a moustache on me. I complained bitterly that Superman didn’t have a moustache, and my mother replied that she didn’t care, she liked to draw moustaches.

      • Harriet May
        Harriet May says:

        I dressed up as a lion tamer last year, really just so I could draw a mustache on myself. I like that there’s a day when it is socially acceptable to do so.

  12. Chris
    Chris says:

    I love Halloween! It’s complete and total escapism, such a welcome respite from my gray cubicle. Hope you and yours on the farm enjoy it as much as I do.

  13. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope, I’ve been very interested in your recent posts both on sleep loss and research on joy. I recently picked up en e-book and as I read it I keep thinking “I wonder what P.Trunk would think of this.” It’s called “Guide to the Good Life : The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” and I’d love to hear your take on the strategies it advocates.

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