Melissa left yesterday. She moved back to Austin. She moved for a job that I think is totally stupid, but her future employer reads this blog, so I have to watch what I say. On the other hand, she ended up giving references the same day I posted about me worrying about her having an affair with the Farmer, so the woman interviewing her decided not to use me as a reference.

I can see why she wouldn’t want to have to deal with me. But, if I am not a reliable reference then I’m probably also, in her eyes, not a reliable person for assessing whether the job that Melissa took is totally stupid for her to take. So maybe she is just ignoring my blog anyway. Or maybe she is printing out each post and putting it on she office wall and throwing darts at it.

The second-to-last day Melissa was here, we went berry picking.

The farm is full of little pockets of wild blackberries. And we set out to pick enough for me to make a pie.

We sort of stick together, but it’s fun to search the sides of the hayfields til you find your own bush full of berries.

We each took our own bucket and, did you ever read that book Blueberries for Sal? In the book, the little kid eats more berries than she puts in her bucket. It’s best to do that when you think no one’s looking.

After a while, it starts to feel like you have picked everything. And you don’t want to go back where someone else has picked, but as you walk toward that place where they have already picked, invariably, you find plenty that they missed.

If you approach a bush from the left, you end up missing the berries you’d find if you approached the bush from the right. And, really, the angles of approach are infinite. For example, my son specializes in the berries growing closer to the ground.

The same variety of approach exists for career coaching as well. I, for one, have given bad career advice (like, for example, to my brother’s college roommate,) and most of the time that I’ve given bad career advice it’s been because I have a perspective that just doesn’t shift in that instance. For example, I have very little patience for people who won’t leave a terrible career because they need to earn six-figures.

So—back to Melissa. I have told her before that I think she is a phenomenal photographer. I think she should earn a living doing that. Melissa has a problem that is really, really common for people with Asperger Syndrome. She is almost always the smartest person in the room, but she can’t last in a job.

She is not alone. People think they would like to hire me, but really, I’m a nightmare. And really, at this point in my life, I don’t think I would try to do life without an assistant. I’m just not good enough at the day-to-day life that non-Asperger’s people find manageable. Like, going to the DMV, sitting through a long, loud dinner, or navigating an airport.

The issue here is executive function. People with Asperger’s have terrible executive function. We cannot stay focused on the thing that is most important. We are easily distracted by what is most interesting. This is a low-level problem for everyone. But for someone with Asperger’s it means forgetting to respond to someone who says, “Hi, how are you?” or, literally, burning down the house.

You won’t believe what I am about to tell you. Melissa’s new job is an executive assistant. I asked her, “What? How can someone with terrible executive function take a job with the word executive in it?”

“Shut up,” she says. “You were a CEO. That’s executive.”

We have this fight all the time. I think she should work at Forever 21, which is her favorite store, and do photography on the side. Today, retail is a totally respectable career path, and the trend to do a day job while you get the real job up and running is so mainstream that Jon Acuff just published a book called Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job.

Melissa does not want to work at Forever 21. She is making way more money at the job which I am not going to name because maybe if I don’t name the company then Melissa won’t be mad that I’m writing this post.

Yesterday, Melissa packed up her life. She is great at packing. She changes countries every year, so Wisconsin to Texas is nothing for her. It’s not a move so much as a hop, skip, and jump. She wheels and deals frequent flier miles until she lines up her international miles to coincide with her local miles and her premier flier perks and soon she’s flying six suitcases for free with a seat upgrade to boot.

She throws out fashion souvenirs of Milan and Hong Kong and Shanghai and other places where the clothes don’t work on a farm, or in Austin, Texas.

As she moves her clothes out of the cupboard, I move my books back in.

I’m a grouch that Melissa is moving, but I am happy to have a place for my books. I lift up the old wooden door we used as a makeshift desk, and I forgot she raised the door to the right height by putting books underneath.

I find Picture This, by Molly Bang. It is one of my favorite books ever. Every designer in the world should read this book, and anyone who wants to give criticism to designers should read this book. In fact—Wait. I have an idea. Designers: pass this book out to everyone you have to work with, and tell them, “You cannot give me input about my design until you have read this book.” This is a great strategy because smart people will read the book and understand that design is way too hard for them to be telling you they don’t like the color blue. And dumb people mostly don’t read books so most of them won’t read the book and you will never have to talk to them.

Melissa is packing and I am unpacking and we are both sad. I will miss Melissa and anyway, I really think if the Farmer was going to cheat, he’d find someone to cheat with without my help. It’s not like men are dependent on their wives supplying resources for cheating. (If they were though, wouldn’t it be a great world?)

Melissa wants me to understand why she is leaving. I don’t want to be overbearing. I know the kinds of parents who want you to do what they want you to do. I think half of my coaching business is giving people in their 20s confidence to choose a life that their parents think is totally stupid. I don’t want to play the role of that limiting parental influence.

Then the phone rings, and I hear Melissa talking to her friend Missa. Melissa sounds like a college girl. She talks about things I don’t care about like Facebook status updates, straightening hair, new stores in Austin. I realize that Melissa is a twentysomething who has adjusted to my family life in order to get stability. But now she needs to go back to her twentysomething life.

Of course I think the choices she is making are lame. Everyone thought the choices I made in my twenties were lame. I stuck with them, but I wish I had had more confidence doing that. I wish I had believed more in my ability to steer my own life.

So I hug Melissa. I don’t like touching anyone besides the Farmer and my kids, so it’s a big deal that I’m hugging Melissa. She knows that. I tell her, “You need to go be a 27-year-old, right? That’s what you’re doing. I get it.”

The next day, we try the berries again. It’s absurd that we are doing it the day she is leaving. But I think it’s normal to cope with a very sad goodbye by ignoring it. Besides, the berries are only ripe for a few days each summer and I don’t want to miss them.

We go back to where we were the day before. We each go to places we didn’t go yesterday, and I find myself watching everyone else find berries that the other people missed. I want to be the person who can see answers from many perspectives.

I want to help people by seeing past my own experience to a place where the number-one value is people making their own decisions—good or bad. I want to help my children do that, too. But I think the first step is for me to work on helping myself to have faith in my ability to make my own decisions.


121 replies
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  1. KD
    KD says:

    The berries in your photos are not blackberries. They are black raspberries. Different berry. Different taste. Still yummy.

    • Silas Sconiers
      Silas Sconiers says:

      I know I’m not perfect but I try hard but I need to spell check! lol I hope everyone understand the gist of my post.

  2. Marty Vondrell
    Marty Vondrell says:

    Hi Penelope, I love your blog. And what you talk about in this post is not coaching, it is advice or something or other. I just want to point that out. Thanks!

  3. HP
    HP says:

    Ohhhh…sad that Melissa is leaving! I am Melissa’s age, and due to your writing, Penelope, I’ve decided to quit a third dead end temp job and never come back to office life again. You’ve inspired me to rework my entire career path and look at it in a new way. My last day is this Wednesday. I decided enough is enough for hopping in and out of the country and always coming back to this God awful Midwestern state, the default location my parents ultimately have determined for me. (Minnesota).

    I can relate to this post because I feel Melissa is blazing a new trail at the same time I am. I’m finishing up studying for a certain graduate exam in August and taking the test before the end of this month. I’ve told myself that on the 31st I’m packing all my sh****t in to my car and driving down to Louisiana, South Florida, or maybe Atlanta. (I’ve done NY and LA but they both seem overrated and overpriced to me). I can’t do another winter in this atrocious tundra of a state. If I don’t feel any of those options I’m going to Puerto Rico or back to Brazil, places where I can “breathe” and not be absolutely miserable while I get my life sorted out. (As opposed to sitting for another romanceless winter staving off wait gain in front while sitting 8 hours in front of a monitor surrounded by ambitionless Midwestern fatties.)

    Anyway, I think my story, much like Melissa’s, shows that one really can pick berries from many angles if they have the courage to look for a different way to look at the brush.

    P.S. A question on most readers’ minds: Is Melissa going to Austin to be with CULLEN!?

  4. SL
    SL says:

    Penelope, this is one of my favorite posts, it hits close to home. My wife had a great corporate job, but her passion was photography. One year ago she started doing newborn photography on the side. Things started slowly, but business started to build. In December the corporate job was no more, shockingly gone. Since then she has dedicated herself to photography, primarily newborns and children, and now business is booming. One a side note, one of her favorite places to shoot is an old farm that has been turned into a public park. So, if need help capturing the allure of the farm, let me know, we’ll make a road trip! :)

  5. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    I read this post after reading the latest one about your assistant Jeanenne. Among other things this post and the Jeanenne post made me think about was that Aspergers must be the affliction Du Jour for wealthy pampered women, needing assistance to get through the little things that pop up every day and need to be done. NOBODY normal likes going to the DMV, unless they are getting paid to do it. I don’t really know why, although I have some suspicions, but something about the personal assistant thing really bothers me.

  6. Eleanor
    Eleanor says:

    It’s so true about finding berries you’ve missed if you approach the bush from a different direction. Great metaphor. Thanks!

  7. TS
    TS says:

    I’m moving to Austin (or trying to). Tell Melissa I need a job! I’m very qualified, got a fancy degree and everything. But I SUCK at finding a job, always have. I need her 27 year old brain to help me.

  8. Jonha | FriendsEat
    Jonha | FriendsEat says:

    Most career coaching fail mainly because what might work for you might work for others and what might work for others might not to you. I love the blueberry example. I think the same is true with opportunities – they don’t get lost, what we miss is always available to others. We just gotta pick the right ones. Miss the others so we could focus more on what’s best for us.

  9. KGD
    KGD says:

    I live in Austin, and I would love to hire Melissa to photograph my son! Maybe I should check out her blog…

  10. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    A trip to Forever 21 is a confounding experience for me.
    I think somebody who could keep in mind where all their stock is and what seemingly unrelated item goes with what they may have the makings of a competent Executive Assistant.

    One thing my Dad, use to tell me was that working was not going to be optional, so I might as well do something that paid a decent wage. Given that he was a state employee with a thousand interesting side jobs and activitites he wouldn’t have said stick with the miserable six-figure job.

    But how can you afford the toys an interesting hobby needs if you don’t have a day job that pays? I haven’t met too many photographers who could do their thing with a $100 camera!

    • Violet
      Violet says:

      Exactly. Melissa can probably make better contacts re: her photography in Austin that she can on the farm.

      Sour grapes from Penelope, I think. :(

  11. c
    c says:

    I hate to bring this to your attention but, your post is filled with animosity, jealousy and belittlement of your “friend” Melissa. Sounds like it was past time for her to move on. Sometimes people just get on each others nerves and beyond. I think this relationship was entering the “beyond” stage.

  12. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    This strikes a chord. Sometimes I agonise about making decisions. Literally for years.

    I read somewhere that it’s because, as kids, we used to instinctively know what we wanted but then people started saying:

    “Are you sure?”
    “Do you really want that?”
    “Why would anyone want that?”

    Until in the end we lose confidence in our needs, our feelings and our hopes. We lose a sense of who we are and what we want.

    I try not to do it with my own children. When I offer a choice and they pick something weird I try to say Great! and not roll my eyes so they don’t realize I’m thinking Why that?!

    Yes, we have to make our own decisions, take responsibility for the repercussions and relearn to trust ourselves.

    We used to do it naturally but somehow it has been beaten out of us. Not because our parents didn’t trust us but because they wanted to shield us from risk, disappointment and failure.

    But we need to experience those things. We need to make our own decisions or we’re not really living our dream life, we’re living someone else’s dream and that is never satisfactory.

    • chris Keller
      chris Keller says:

      @ Annabel:
      Wow–you have added something of critical importance to this topic, in my view.

      Confidence and spontaneity that used to flower and got squelched along the way. The confidence to make a mistake, perhaps, and recover nicely and carry on, all the wiser.
      With a metaphorical scrape on elbow and knee and mud spatters
      and torn lapels . . . but with head held high.

      We had the Tough Mudder (extreme endurance course) in Wisconsin last weekend, and the
      front page picture on the day after showed a guy being put into an ambulance with two thumbs up. That’s the spirit!

  13. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    I think Melissa is extremely smart for taking this job, Penelope. First of all, she’s learn valuable executive skills be watching her boss. This experience will be invaluable for her- she’ll see first hand how things are run. Second, her boss will trust her and will probably mentor her in how to be an exec. Third, if he’s unmarried, they might get involved. Men build trust with their executive assistants, spend hours with them, rely on them…which then often blossoms into more.

  14. Violet
    Violet says:

    Kind of sounds like you’re jealous? An executive assistant at a respectable company can lead to amazing career growth, as some commentators have already noted. Melissa’s probably going to end up a director within the next couple of years.

    You think she should work as a retail assistant at 21? THAT sounds like career sabotage.

    I’m glad she didn’t listen to you.

  15. Violet
    Violet says:

    I personally saw an executive assistant (who was making 80K) go to being a project manager (making more than 100K) in about 2 1/2 years.

    Again, your advice to her sounds like sabotage based on jealousy.

    And you say she’s your friend?

    With friends like you …

  16. Doris
    Doris says:

    I am Doris,from what I can read. It has been sad news and scam to everyone about Voodoo casters or so. But to me they are so real cause one worked for me not quite two weeks.i met this man on a blog his name is irumonle oduakar is a very powerful man.I traveled down to where his shrine his and we both did the ritual and sacrifice. and now me and my ex are living very ok now.I don’t know about you but Voodoo is real;love marriage,finance, job promotion ,lottery Voodoo,poker voodoo,golf Voodoo,Law & Court case Spells,money voodoo,weigh loss voodoo,diabetic voodoo,hypertensive voodoo,high cholesterol voodoo,Trouble in marriage,Barrenness(need a child),Luck, Money Spells,it’s all he does. I used my money to purchase everything he used he never collected a dime from. He told me I can repay him anytime with anything from my heart. Now I don’t know how to do that. If you can help or you need his help write him on ( Thank you.

  17. JackRodriguez
    JackRodriguez says:

    Dear Penelope,

    Nice article
    Maybe Melissa could be interested in articles about career paths, it can give her another view of life… See this one I just found: How to choose a career

    Hope it will help..

  18. MaryS
    MaryS says:

    Thanks for such an honest post. In both my roles as an new career coach and mom of a 20-year-old daughter leaving for college tomorrow, I am constantly reminded that my perspective may–or may not–be useful in the conversations I have. The art is in the listening, isn’t it–to find what is happening in the mind on the other side of my words? Sometimes my feisty daughter, in no uncertain terms, will tell me I’m wrong when we are discussing an issue she faces. Other times, after I’ve made a comment, I watch her sigh, and at least momentarily, think that she is considering what I’m saying. I’ll find out in the coming months, if I’ve had an impact or not.

  19. Jobs in the Gulf
    Jobs in the Gulf says:

    Firstly, sadly to say, one key reason is that they just are not good enough. This doesn’t mean to say they are not good – but just not good enough. Many coaches undergo expensive initial training and then think that is it and don’t invest further. However excellent coaching skills (like any skills) are developed over time with experience and continuous professional development. All coaches should invest in further development and should all have a good coach.

  20. ellada
    ellada says:

    It is sad that you had to say good bye to Melissa, but I like how you encourage her love for photography. It is a hard decision to make when you trying for new job. There are a lot of questions: would I like my new job, would they like me, would I be good at it. I feel like she is also a friend you are losing. I wish you and Melissa good luck, and I hope she’ll enjoy her new job.

  21. careercoachexperience
    careercoachexperience says:

    I had a horrible experience with Linda Artel, a career coach in San Francisco who only meets on Fridays. She is one of the worst you’ll come across. Try to make an appointment, and she will not call back for days. Then she says she only meets for 50 minutes, but she is late 10 minutes to the appointment. When the time was up, she stopped answering questions and said you have to make another appointment. Her advice was to find a job on LinkedIn, and her resume critique was horrible – unlike anything that other experienced coaches would say.

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