Blueprint for a Woman’s Life

When I drive, I have arguments with people in my head. I think of someone who does not realize how smart I am about what I am smart about, and I go on tirades to show them how misguided they are.

And I realized one day, while I had a particularly long car ride, that I am actually feeling like I know what women should be doing with their adult life.

Most people would be too humble to say this. But I’m the woman who, after ten years in the workforce, built a career on telling people how to manage their career. So, it makes sense that after getting to age 45 I am ready to tell all women how to live their adult life.

To be clear, I have made lots of mistakes. But I like to think I would not have made those mistakes if I had had a blueprint for adult life like the one I’m giving you, right here. The blueprint starts at age 18 and goes to 45.

1. Do less homework.
Women do better in school than men, but school is not a harbinger of doing well in life. Other stuff is. Other stuff that men do all the time. For example, involvement in sports is a foreshadow of a great career. And video games are, too, because they are both collaborative and competitive–two essential skills. So do stuff guys do, and get grades that are as bad as theirs–after all, you should not be the hardest worker, ever.

2. Get plastic surgery.
This is the must-have career tool for the workforce of the new millennium. You will earn more money and you will have more opportunities for mentoring. Also, you will have a wider choice of men, which, of course, is another way to earn more money.

3. Go to business school right out of the gate.
Everyone has always wanted to go to business school right after college, but good MBA programs didn’t allow it. Now there is an unwritten rule that women can get in earlier because it’s so clear that women who want to have kids don’t really benefit from going to an MBA program later. If you get your MBA early, you accomplish a few key things. Not only do you set yourself up for skipping entry-level jobs, but you also make re-entry after kids an easier process because you have higher level experience before you leave.

On top of that, you are more likely to marry well. Men like women who are smart but not making more than they are. (I do not have a link for this. I have instinct.) Business school is a way to show you are smart, but you don’t make any money in business school. Side benefit: You will be surrounded by men equally as smart as you are but a little older, which is a good hunting ground. (Note: I still think business school is stupid if you are using it to actually become qualified to do something.)

4. Start early looking for a husband seriously.
If you want to have kids, you should aim to be done by the time you are 35, when your eggs start going bad fast. This means you need to get started when you are 30, which means you need to get the guy you want to have kids with by the time you’re 28. People who marry too early are very likely to get divorced. But by age 25, you are safe from those statistical trends. So why not marry early? In any case, start looking very seriously for a husband by the time you are 24. Here is a blog post that summarizes this argument and links to the research to back it up.

5. Milk maternity leave for all it’s worth.
Maternity leave is a complicated political issue, but whatever: For now, it’s your right, so just take what’s yours. Use all your maternity leave, and then make it very difficult to fire you when you return. Start a year before you want to get pregnant, by getting a job at a company that legally must give you maternity leave. I’m not saying you HAVE to take maternity leave, but if you don’t have any, you can’t decide to take it. Position yourself at that company in a job you can do with your eyes closed, in case you want to go back after maternity leave and work. Because if you are taking care of a newborn baby and working full-time, you’ll be doing everything with your eyes closed.

There is an incredible amount of research to show that there should be a single, primary caregiver for the first year. I know that’s not good for feminism. But none of this post is. So look, unless your husband is taking a year off, you’re better off spending most of your time on your kid and not your job. The way to do that is to take all the maternity leave you can and then keep pushing for people to let you keep your job even if you’re not really doing it. Make them fire you. It’ll take their legal department a long time to give permission for that, and you can be collecting a paycheck the whole time. The extra cash can fund the rest of your transition.

6. Guard your marriage obsessively.
Educated women divorce at less than a quarter of the rate of everyone else. Divorce is not socially acceptable for most women reading this blog. We have decades of great data (read Judith Wallerstein) to show that divorce permanently ruins the kids. Yes, it’s true, divorce makes life better for the parents. But kids don’t care. They don’t notice. Kids notice if two parents are paying attention to them, and that is one of the first things to go in a divorce. If you love your kids, you stay married to their parent.

This means that the wife needs to just bite the bullet and maintain the marriage. Stay-at-home spouses keep marriages together more effectively . I know: this is not popular, and not fair, but you do not need to make a crusade out of your family by showing that you can get a divorce and not fuck up your kids. So just bite the bullet and make sure you are keeping your husband happy so your kids can grow up with two parents.

7. Practice austerity.
Austerity is not fun. But you can call it something trendy, like minimalism or slow food.Your ability to manage your life will be nil if you are ruled by financial problems. So that means no big house, no expensive car, no huge vacations. You need control over your life more than you need that stuff. You have more career flexibility, more time flexibility, and more personal flexibility if you can keep your expenses way below what you earn. In this scenario, you do not have to fight with your husband about money. (You can fight about sex and in-laws, which are the other two of the three most popular fight topics.) Also, you can stay home with kids if you want to. And if you don’t want to, you can just be you and admit it. Don’t say you are not with your kids all day because you need the money. That would be a lie.

8. Do a startup with a guy.
Having your own company will give you tons of control over your life. It’s nice to have a funded company because then the investors are taking the financial risk and you are drawing a nice salary even when you are not really earning any revenue. The problem is that VC funded startups require 100+ hour weeks, every week. You should only do one of these types of companies with a guy.

Smart women in their 20s are looking for husbands and cannot be 100% focused on some pie-in-the-sky startup. Women in their 30s are having kids and trying to figure out how to work less. Men are more easily focused solely on work. That’s why there is a salary gap between men and women: Because women focus on work and family, and men focus only on work. Don’t judge. Just get a male business partner. The problem is that men don’t like doing startups with women—it’s bad for them. But still, you can try.

9. If you can’t get men to do a startup with you, do a lifestyle business.
A lifestyle business is one where the revenue is yours to keep. This is good since you will need to earn money, but it’s a little more risky for you personally than a startup because you’re not in it with deep-pocketed investors. Still, a lifestyle business is attractive enough to a woman with kids and a hankering for something interesting in the business world. Also, given the choice between no work, full-time work, or part-time work, Pew Research reports that 80% of women with children would choose part-time work. And we all know that the part-time work opportunities in corporate America suck. So a lifestyle business is the best path to that goal.

10. Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t.
The world will not look kindly on people who put their kids into public school. We all know that learning is best when it’s customized to the child and we all know that public schools are not able to do that effectively. And the truly game-changing private schools cost $40,000 a year.

It’s clear is that homeschooled kids will rule the world when Generation Z enters the workplace. So figure out a way to alleviate mommy guilt by homeschooling your kids to get them on that path. You don’t have to do the teaching yourself. You can pay someone. But you need to get your kids out of a system that everyone knows does not work. (Note: I just realized this. This month. And last week, I decided: I’m taking my kids out of school.)

11. Spend money on household help and Botox to keep more doors open longer.
Look, it’s really hard to be a parent and still have an interesting life. Not for men. We have seen enough of feminism to be certain that men are not derailed personally by kids. (In fact, Catalyst reports that having kids increases a man’s earning power. Probably because he is then more likely to have a wife at home inadvertently performing the role of pseudo personal secretary. ) So the more money to spend to get people to help you with your kids, the more time and energy you’ll have to help yourself.

Also, as women age they become more invisible. I know, this is not nice to say. And we are told it’s only true in Hollywood. But since when has something that catches on in Hollywood not been relevant to the rest of us? Even pre-nups went mainstream. So the longer you can look younger than 45 the longer runway time you will have to figure out how to raise kids, hold a marriage together and still keep things vibrant and interesting intellectually. It’s no small feat, but Botox and Restylane will be your best teammates in this part of the adventure.

12. Break the mold in your 40s.
Women get more unhappy as they age. So you can say you don’t like the advice I’m giving. But look, in order to change the trajectory of women’s happiness, we are going to have to drastically change the advice we give to women about how to run their lives. Most of the news about women in their 40s is pretty bad, to be honest. But the good news is that you can change that, by living differently in your 20s and 30s than women did before you. And, if you are in your 40s and reading this, take solace in the fact that by the time women are in their 40s they are great in bed, so if you do nothing else, figure out how to have a lot of sex to leverage your hard-earned talent

565 replies
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  1. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    Honestly, this is silly, juvenile, and about 20 years backwards. I kind of feel sorry for you….that you actually believe this is what it takes to be a ‘happy’ woman. You clearly have not done a lot of polling, nor your research. Have fun getting botox!

  2. Ana
    Ana says:

    I used to follow you. Now I’m not. Your commentary is contradictory and elitist in nature. I would love to see your advice doled out to the cashier at your neighbourhood grocery store….and let’s see what the ‘average’ person thinks of your ‘brazen’ strategies. If your post was to garner commentary it succeeded. It also succeeded in telling me quickly how outdated you truly are and succeeded in my unfollowing of your advic. Never mind botox to keep you from becoming invisible…you’ve succeeded all on your own.

  3. MBL
    MBL says:

    My 18 year old self could have filled a trans-continental road trip with an internal diatribe as to just how and why you were misguided on each and every point.
    My 43 year old self believes that you are at least as smart as you think you are.
    Interesting how time calibrates the idealism/reality continuum.
    I would substitute weight management for plastic surgery for the younger years. I spent years with the mindset that judgements based on weight were shallow and that being a size 14 weeded out the superficial jerks. (Talk about re-framing . . .) Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was 35 and engaged that I discovered that my body requires lowcarb and that being sized 6-8 is WAY more fun on every level. Again, there’s the idealistic vs. realistic view.
    I’d love to know if those of us in our mid-forties are the most likely to agree with the gist of your blueprint.

    If you were homeschooling a Gen Z daughter, how would you tweak the blueprint? If you see college as reverting back to its bourgeois roots, what, that is specific to females, do you foresee replacing the scaffolding that is now a BA and MBA ?
    Is this model only accurate in hindsight? Perhaps only applicable to our generation?
    Hmm, come to think of it, I’ll bet even my 38 year old self could have gotten a good 4 state rant out of this post.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I’ve been thinking that a priority regarding education/homeschooling should be in developing executive functioning skills/strategies. I just love that that I failed to follow through with my intent to put that into my initial post.

      Last night I was reading an interesting article regarding internet addiction and changes in brain anatomy and autism with a convoluted chicken or the egg thing going on. That made me wonder how video gaming, per point 1, affects neural connections and growth and executive functioning . . .

  4. Sayonara
    Sayonara says:

    No wonder the Chinese are eating our lunch.

    Why people, besides intelligent-design followers, want to home-school? The only case I know is this one exceptional family. But, the children & their parents were self-aware, creative,extremely disciplined, and well-rounded(not need to add, very wealthy).
    But the average American, with that “I suck at math” mentality, teaching Algebra? Poor children.

    • HC
      HC says:

      Home schooling is popular because the public schools, in so many cases, have become so very, _very_ bad. It’s not universally so, but it’s very common, and even the good ones have been badly damaged by the ‘dumbing down’ trends of the last few decades.

      Granted homeschooling is not necessarily the answer, but there is no question that the public school system is badly broken (and it isn’t mainly a question of funding, some of the most badly performing public schools are swimming in money).

  5. Chris McLaughlin
    Chris McLaughlin says:

    You’re probably right about many of these things. As someone else said, not the aging part–you can be smart about the stages behind you, not so much about the ones ahead of you.

    But sweet Jesus, is that really how you want to live your life, who you want to be?

  6. Wow
    Wow says:

    Congratulations. With this bit of backwards, offensive, over privileged advice you’ve officially become the worst person on Earth.

    I hope you celebrate with botox.

  7. Kinga
    Kinga says:

    I’ve read your blog off & on over the years, & I have to say this is the WORST advice to give any woman. The advice a woman needs is the following – stop living your life the way others tell you if you want to be happy. Stop pursuing an “ideal image”, stop boxing yourself in, stop looking for outside forces to make you happy. They won’t. Only YOU will make you happy.

    And for the love of god, STOP being dissatisfied with what you’ve got in life.

    Women need to learn to accept themselves to be happy.

  8. TD
    TD says:

    I am curious, Penelope, what was your success rate with the women you advised? I feel like those who seem to completely agree with you about this column are the ones who felt their calling was family, kids and a comfortable home. For them this advice does make sense. But I am sure there are many millions of women out there who don’t care for kids, who are and can be perfectly happy with work with or without a partner. Yes research says marriage can make women happy. Research also says being at a higher status makes people (men and women) happy. Women with kids are always at the bottom rung on the status scale. So I find most of these happiness research ultimately contradict each other.
    I am not disagreeing with your advise because I am offended. I am not offended. I just think such posts should begin by saying this advise applies to those women who seek happiness via family and kids. Like men, women, do get a lot of satisfaction from work outside home. Your life path doesn’t seem to leave room for all that.

  9. emily
    emily says:

    There are lots of guys who are bad at business but get away with doing almost nothing at home because that’s not their focus. Then women have to pick up the slack, but I think that’s hard to do during year #1 of having a baby because there’s no time for anything else. I say guys should do more at home to support the women in the primary caregiver role – or even before, for that matter.

  10. Tatiana
    Tatiana says:

    This is a really interesting post.

    I’m glad you mentioned in a comment earlier on about how not all advice is for everybody. Although they are nuances, you post effectively skips over people who: don’t aspire for marriage (or can’t legally be married), people who don’t work in corporate america, people who don’t want kids or start-ups, etc.

    And as I read through some of the really angry comments, I think it’s important to keep in mind that it’s just advice. Most of which is based on personal experience, observations and some research. Within two decades, I could probably go back and write a blueprint for other women (perhaps those more like myself) on how THEY should live their lives. Because honestly, every blogger (especially one who talks about lifestyle redesign) is telling you how to live. Everyone is talking about their opinions in some way, shape or form and want you to understand their vision of the world.

    I’m realizing that our perceptions of reality are too individual to really attempt a one size fits on “life plan/blueprint”. So when I look at your post – I think it’s interesting, but doesn’t apply to me because I don’t have any of the goals you’ve discussed. But I don’t think it necessarily makes it wrong or bad advice – our advice is based on our experiences and personal philosophy. There are people who have given my advice that has no correlation to anything I’m going through, yet they think it’s valuable because it’s based on their own lives.

    Here’s my own piece of advice: Don’t take advice from someone who you wouldn’t trade places with. And don’t take advice from someone who isn’t living the kind of life you want.

  11. Alli
    Alli says:

    I kind of love this. I’m a feminist who has to live in the real world and make rent every month. I got married when I was 24, and we just celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. I’m not going to lie, there have been some rocky moments, but being married gets easier as you go along. Nowadays I’m happy happy pretty much all the time. I am 28 though – maybe it’s all downhill from here!

    Career-wise, I wonder how Penelope’s blueprint jives with other advice she’s given in the past, e.g. using your 20’s to try out different careers, which is I have done. I am finally working in the industry I want, at an amazing company, but job is entry-level and my salary is pretty pathetic. These women who are making bank at 25 – did they have a career plan laid out since high school? I admire them, but I think they must be a rare breed.

    The big advantage of getting married young(-ish) is having your partner’s support. Financially, of course, two incomes are better than one, but even more so the support of having someone who believes in you and will go to bat for you. When I wanted to move coasts to break into the aforementioned industry, my husband supported me, even though it meant leaving his friends and a good job. So I know that I am his priority.

    Tl;dr – getting married young is a good idea, provided you can find the right partner. Wish I’d gone to business school.

    Penelope – you should do one of these for gay women.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      You’re not a feminist if you agree with this.

      She is saying that we are inferior. Either you’re stupid or… no, actually you’re just stupid.

  12. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    This was interesting to read.

    Sometimes, when I read a lot of business-focused advice, I feel like a robot trying to become a person.

    And this list makes me feel like that: I’d be a real woman if I just followed the right rules. Because that's the real trick, isn't it? It's not about following the rules. It's about knowing which ones to break.

  13. Rasha Proctor
    Rasha Proctor says:

    I have never been so disappointed as I am now by this post. To rally readers to increase your traffic is great tactic. But to give women such crappy advise for your own benefit, is really low.
    This is maybe your reality, but it will never be strong women’s reality -whatever generation they come from.

  14. Tony
    Tony says:

    There goes Penelope, riding the stats to oblivion…

    The blueprint sucks.
    Life is about making mistakes and learning from them, not following a recipe verbatim, even if it were a very good recipe – but this one tastes sour.

    Trying to engineer happiness is folly, satisfaction is fleeting. Life is a struggle. We gain more when we give more, chasing selfish desires is the surest way to unhappiness.

    The whole idea of carving your body into an image which is more appealing to others is hideous, and in my view, aesthetically rarely successful. Women gain so much as they mature, easily outweighing the loss of youthful looks to all but the superficial. We’d all be better off if we embrace our stage of life, whether we be mourning the strands of hair in the bath, or slapping on an extra coat of foundation.

    Please, please, when will women stop measuring their own success in terms of men’s success. We are different! A man’s glory is different to a woman’s but is either greater than the other?

    BTW there is so much in this post, and far too many links to follow, a comment can’t hope to do it justice. Perhaps the post could have been serialised?

  15. jacqueline
    jacqueline says:

    Yikes. I am in my 40’s and although some of what you say makes sense a lot of it makes my skin crawl. What is it with the botox, looking young and plastic surgery. Sure, if I had been more beautiful out of the box I might have had different successes, but being cute-ish enough has done me fine… and the idea that I now need to make it all fake makes me sad for myself and women everywhere. Unfortunately, Pen, I think this post is dangerous on that aspect. I don’t need more self hate.

  16. Wittyblonde1
    Wittyblonde1 says:

    Jesus, lady. Are you high? I really hope this article is satire- because if not- please do not under any circumstances procreate. Ever.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Too late.

      The next generation is going to be fun huh?

      I suggest investing in the heated floors industry, all those barefoot and pregnant socially inferior women are going to need it.

  17. Tim Hoyle
    Tim Hoyle says:

    I love your no nonsense take and the fact that you aren’t afraid to tell it like it is regardless of the popular sentiment. My problem with blue prints is this – it ALWAYS works on paper. In practice it’s never quite that black and white. I know I should eat veggies 9 times a day, exercise and practice gratitude because the statistics say I’ll live longer and be happier. However, whne the alarm goes off in the morning, I never seem to get around to any of that. I’m more likely to smoke 9 times a day and if I can make it through the day with out yelling at someone, Im truly grateful. Your blueprint is awesome but lets hear how many can actually execute?

  18. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Agree with #7. The only problem is the condescending attitude of friends and family who have gigantic homes with three car garages when you have very few material possessions. Still, it's better to have the flexibility and confidence that comes with knowing how to manage money. Start saving for retirement when you are in your mid 30s if not before.

  19. Zoe
    Zoe says:

    This is disgusting. I hope you’re not serious, because, really, how could you have any self-respect after writing that?

  20. Carina
    Carina says:

    For those of you who are taking offense to Penelope’s post, I think you’re missing the point. The point is you can’t do it all or have it all at the same time. If you want children, you need to set up your life to do that (biologically best before 35) instead of just drudging along with the “I have all the time in the world” mentality. The mistake that many women make is paying little to no attention to this part of the “setting up” process (ie: finding a husband, finishing grad school) until they are in their mid to late 30s. Suddenly, at this age, time is of the essence and then women are stuck trying to get married, have a family, and adjust their careers as fast as they can. In many instances this cannot be done or controlled and many women feel cheated because all their lives they’ve been told “you have time.” It’s a personal tragedy when you want to have a family and can’t or have difficulty doing so.

    Penelope, if I have missed the point and am interpreting this the wrong way, please correct me.

    • betty in munich
      betty in munich says:

      I totally agree with Carina. Those of you offended by this post have missed the point. I am 3 years older than Penelope and for the most part she is spot on with her advice. I will repeat some of what Penelope said:
      *You can NOT have a great “corporate” career and a great marriage and great kids. Something will give and most likely it will be your marriage. Kids are quite resiliant, you can hand them off at any crap day care and they still tend to thrive.
      *If you want to have kids, great go for it – but then someone has to take care of them. If it is the man or woman fine, but why do you guys think that it should be someone other than the two of you? Really why should both of you work at demanding jobs and you ship off the kid somewhere for someone else to raise? You all are outsourcing parenting, which actually might not be a bad idea. One should stick to their core competencies.
      *No one said stay in an abusive marriage. But the luster definately goes out once you have the demands of jobs and kids and so stick with it during the less exciting times too for the sake of you, your husband and your kids.
      *Procreating is not a requirement. If you are on the fence about kids, don’t do it. Your life will be just as rich, fulfilling, exciting without them. Don’t buy into the crap that you are selfish, luxury loving heartless person just because you don’t want kids. Having kids is a career in itself, it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves. And just like not everybody wants to be a doctor, not everybody wants to be a parent.
      My advice for you 20 somethings if you want to avoid/delay the plastic surgery/botox Penelope is talking about start doing the following now:
      *Don’t smoke
      *Stay out of the sun (don’t tan) and always wear a high SPF sunscreen/makeup/moisturizer on your face, neck and back of hands, always not just at the beach, not just during the summer.
      *Don’t get overweight for your height. If you are overweight, lose the weight and then stay that weight with no fluctuation (less than 5-10lbs)from now on.
      *Don’t frown (sounds silly but true)
      This isn’t groundbreaking or new advice but I see young women all the time that don’t do it. For those of you with the outcry of OMG she is advocating plastic surgery and botox, you too are missing the point. To compete in any arena, as a woman you need to look good for a long time. I am not saying “young” but good. For men it just doesn’t matter. As P said it isn’t fair – but it is true so get over it and do what you need to do.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        Betty, you will be pleased to know that as a woman of 31 –

        – I have never smoked
        – I stay out of the sun and wear SPF everyday
        – I’m not overweight (or underweight which is also aging to the face)
        – I am aware of when I frown and know that it contributes to wrinkles, so I refrain when I catch myself.

        Although I look good for my age because I look after myself it does not change the fact that I really resent the fact that we live in a screwed up society that values a woman’s looks and body over everything else. Yes, it isn’t fair, so why do we all continue to reinforce it on each other rather than challenge the status quo?

        I am tired of hearing – well that is life, get over it, and go get botox because nothing is going to change for the better – Just. Give. Up. That should have been the title of this ridiculous post. All this advice is an attempt to make the beauty ideal even more restrictive and narrower for women to attain.

        And this is a path to happiness? What utter crap. Only women that have given up in life dish out this advice.

      • HC
        HC says:

        Actually, it _does_ matter for men, just at a shadow of the same intensity and in different ways. A handsome man, at any age, generally has an easier time of it at work and at play than an average or unattractive one, but the difference is far, far smaller than for women. This is partly cultural and partly biological.

        I disagree with many of the recommendations, (and I’m a male so I see them from a different angle), but she’s right that some aspects of life are just sucky, and have to be recognized even if you don’t give in.

  21. Larie
    Larie says:

    Once again I just couldn’t only read your blog today, I have to let you know how awesome you are and how much I enjoy reading what you write. I argue with the people in my head as well!


  22. M
    M says:

    Ha. Ridiculous! Home schooling your kids? Really? Destroying their social life for an attempt at financial success isn’t going to make their lives better. Happiness doesn’t come from botox or money. Just because you supposedly haven’t led your life as well as you could have, that is not to say what you didnt do is the right thing TO do.

    • Chauncey Zalkin of
      Chauncey Zalkin of says:

      intelligent people also watch train wrecks, “wardrobe malfunctions” Jersey Shore and the guy in the corner making a fool out of himself. It doesn’t mean they admire anything they see. It’s our ape like instincts to gawk at something scary. cover your eyes. look. cover your eyes. look. a curio. you are a curio in the worst possible sense of the word.

  23. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Okay. So there are about 100 comments from people telling me I’m an idiot. But here’s something to think about: People who are truly saying something stupid do not get any attention. I mean, there are simply too many people in the world saying moronic things for us to address them all.

    Which means that we only bitch about stuff that gets under our skin. Stupidity does not get under our skin. Deep analysis that runs contrary to our closely held beliefs is what drives us to say things like, “This person is an idiot.”


    • Jeannette
      Jeannette says:

      Most comments are actually agreeing with your view.
      But really, if you call this “deep analysis”, maybe you think that Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, and that Dr Laura woman are scholars. At least the controversy of the first two ladies is because of ignorance. Yours and Dr Laura is just to get readers & listeners.
      Enjoy your audience.

    • Gillian
      Gillian says:

      I strongly disagree. As a South African I have had lots of practice lately being irritated by stupidity. Our major political party has a youth league whose leader, Julius Malema, says many stupid and inflammatory things. Unfortunately he has great influence, and indirectly power. So perhaps we only object to stupidity combined with power or influence.

    • Tony
      Tony says:

      That’s a misrepresentation. Firstly, within the normal mix of love-it, hate-it and interesting comments there was no ground-swell of ‘Penelope is an idiot’.

      There is a huge jump from someone saying something stupid to believing they’re an idiot. If that were true I would be surrounded by idiots, constantly.

      For myself at least, my negativity was not so much about your ‘deep analysis running contrary to my deeply held beliefs’ (which it did), but more that people would be influenced by something I see as harmful. Your blueprint may well achieve its purpose, but I don’t want to live in that world.

      Remember we’re here because there’s something in it for us. If we are sitting here thinking you’re an idiot then that must make us far bigger idiots to keep coming back.

    • Helen Gallagher
      Helen Gallagher says:

      “So perhaps we only object to stupidity combined with power or influence.”

      Agreed. Plus I don’t think you’re stupid – only suffering from incredibly low self esteem and perhaps in need of some mental health treatment.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      No, it’s more because your writings, your beliefs are a societal problem.

      YOU are inferior, so you try and bring us all down to your level with your utterly awful advice. You and all the other stupid yet overeducated women don’t see what you are doing to your gender, and how damaging it is.

      Please stop giving out advice, you’re what’s wrong with the world personified.

  24. Sally Kilpatrick
    Sally Kilpatrick says:

    Wow. Just wow. I realize that this may be practical advice for the world as it is, but I, for one, would like to try for a different world, a better world. And I am going to hold on to that idealism until the day that I die.

    First, as a former teacher, your comment on homeschooling is b.s. Quite a few of my home schooled students couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. High school is complex, and the average parent can’t teach chemistry, Spanish, and calculus. Yes, you can find people to do that for you, but most of the best ones are teaching somewhere else.

    Plastic surgery? Really? Maybe I have no desire to jet-set or to live in a 500k house or whatever, but I don’t think so. This is a great place to change the world rather than follow along.

    The only thing you have right is the importance of biting the bullet and taking your maternity leave. I didn’t just take the first year, but I’ve taken the first few. It ain’t easy, but it’s better for everyone in the family.

    A lot of the rest of what you write, though, is such a gross generalization that I can’t even feel sorry for anyone who reads this and takes it as the gospel truth. I fear you may damage more lives than help them. I work to live, not the other way around.

  25. Esther
    Esther says:

    Doesn’t the social benefit of going to school with other kids outweigh the educational benefit of homeschooling?

    Anyway, I don’t really believe in school. Everyone has certain aptitudes, everyone will develop skills, and it all happens no matter where we go to school. The important thing is culture. For example, if we want our kids to become doctors, we should put them in a culture that will get them there — with proto-doctor kids (who exist at any school), in a community that values endless education, etc. They are much more likely to become doctors in that kind of culture than if we simply choose to school them differently.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      I was “homeschooled”.

      It means I constantly don’t know things that others have learned, and have an uphill struggle in social situations.

      I would not recommend it to anyone.

  26. Vikki
    Vikki says:

    Dislike! Dislike! Dislike! Nothing about this article enforces or promotes women’s rights. Your ideology is completely influenced by male opinion!! Women should be happy because they CAN accomplish anything they want too if they are willing to put the time and effort into it. A happy requires both Mother AND Father to be a part of the kids lives. Agh! Botox? Really? OMG! People get old, get over it! Age gracefully and don’t become plastic. So, much about this article disturbs me on so many levels.

  27. Amy
    Amy says:

    I’m in my 40s and I think you are probably right about women becoming invisible as they age, but ugh, I just cannot bear the idea of cosmetic surgery. It’s just not me. But what I can fathom is continuing to run and lift weights, wear sunscreen, and eat well. And maybe spend a bit more money on clothes, haircuts, etc. Actually, this is great- I can tell my husband that you told me to spend more money on clothes!

  28. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Wow. This was the most asinine, self-serving piece of drivel I’ve ever read. And I read 3/4 of Twilight.

    I take issue with all of it, but I’m going to address one specifically – that of home-schooling.

    Since I’m assuming you were not home-schooled, then I’d imagine that your actual, practical knowledge of home-school environments is pretty lacking. So – as someone who WAS home-schooled – allow me to enlighten everyone, since you failed to do so.

    I did not attend prom, or any other high school dance. I did not get to participate in any of the senior rituals and traditions. I never hung out with my friends on the quad or cheered for our football team. I never had a high school boyfriend or a high school yearbook. And graduation meant nothing to me, since I didn’t actually KNOW anyone that I was graduating with.

    Did I get a better education? Not really. Instead, I missed out on a plethora of classic high school moments. Would you erase your memories of throwing your graduation cap in the air or picking out your homecoming gown? Then why would you deny your children those very meaningful experiences simply so you can snobbily say, “*I* didn’t send *my* little angels to some filthy public school. I hired someone else to teach them so I could get my Mercedes to the shop in time to make my 3 o’clock business meeting. Did I mention I have an MBA?”

    And for those of you who say, “Looking back, prom wasn’t that great” – it’s easy to say that when you actually WENT.

    Let’s not forget that kids need to experience social interactions with kids outside of their family members. Are we supposed to seek out neighborhood kids to make play dates with? When should they have those play dates – when the other kids are at school, when they’re doing their homework after school, or on the weekends when they’re playing with the friends they met at school?

    It’s been shown time and time again that home-schooled kids, while they perform better on standardized tests, are more socially awkward. Guess what – the world doesn’t give a damn if you understand advanced calculus or speak Latin. They care about how you present yourself, how you function in social situations. What’s the use of being the smartest kid on the block if you’re too shy and nervous to vocalize anything?

    A friend of the family home-schooled her three sons. They’re all very bright. They also have no idea how to share with other kids, how to behave at a birthday party, how to play basic children’s games, or how to hold a conversation with anyone that isn’t an adult.

    If you feel that raising your own children in such a manner is appropriate, that’s great – you deal with repercussions. But school is a major part of a kid’s life – for you to include “home-schooling” in this over-generalized, ridiculous little blueprint of yours, for you to essentially tell other women how to raise their own kids is presumptuous, uninformed, and speaks novels of your own deep-seeded narcissism.

    • HC
      HC says:

      “It’s been shown time and time again that home-schooled kids, while they perform better on standardized tests, are more socially awkward. Guess what – €“ the world doesn’t give a damn if you understand advanced calculus or speak Latin.”

      True, but the world _does_ give a damn if you can read well enough to fill out the paperwork on a job application, add, subtract, multiply, and divide, make change for a dollar, speak basic English well enough to express a coherent thought, or understand basic instructions at a job. The problem is not just advanced class placements, it’s ‘reading, writing, and arithmetic’.

      The public school system is now failing, in many cases, at these _basic_ functions. Not every school, no, but many are.

      I agree the homeschooling is not necessarily the answer, and I also recognize that the social interactions with other children are critically important. But this is a very serious problem in the schools.

  29. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Looking back on my life without a blueprint…
    Waited 15 years to get my MBA after youngest child was out of diapers. Realized I should have had it earlier when I saw my boss hire a fresh 24 yr old MBA and give her all the good projects and promotions. Still a big help when I finally got it
    Held the marriage together till kids were grown. Glad I did this.
    Wish I had attempted at least some home schooling but it wasn’t around much back then

  30. Amy
    Amy says:

    So much to comment on!

    1. Absolutely, positively correct about “guard your marriage obsessively”. Of course you’re not saying, “Stay with a wife beater…” You’re talking about working on it for all it’s it worth, not giving up over stupid stuff, and realizing how very important both parents are to kids. And, though your blueprint does not mention it, this could actually be “guard your REAL marriage obsessively.” (Face it, even with a really good map or blueprint, people get lost … marriage at 18 or 19 might be that little off-course moment …)

    2. “Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t.” Not necessarily. Yes, lots of silly stuff sometimes in public schools and not a lot of private school options in many parts of the country (especially rural areas). However, maybe a better piece of advice might be, “No matter how you educate your children, take control.” If your elementary school allows students to be absent 20 days and still “pass”, use those days – take a day a month from work and go somewhere (or, just stay home one day and watch movies all day if that’s what you and your kids need). If you don’t agree with a curriculum topic or with a certain class … speak up, opt out, and let people know. If you want your child to have a certain teacher, speak up. Advocate. Be informed. Don’t be afraid to make decisions and don’t be afraid to push the “rules”. With high school aged kids, find out what is required and what isn’t. Make choices that work for you and your kid, not what’s done because “it’s done that way.” If your 11th or 12th grader only needs a few credits for graduation, why not only go part-time and work part-time? Schools have a lot more flexibility than they let you know. Did you know that you can even conscientiously object to your kid taking state tests? If the dang 5th grade test is going to stress your kid out for no reason and make him hate school for 3 months … opt out. Take control, no matter what educational choice you make for your kids.

    Lots of other stuff, but I know this comment is long enough! Thanks!

  31. barbi
    barbi says:

    This is one post that, rather desperately, takes the personal into the public one step too far.
    Much in the way the Tea Party women think that, just because they have found their way to attention in a male world they are right.
    P. we all get there in our own beautiful way. There is no right or wrong. Its a path, and as you must be the first to admit, since this is really all you write about, its the path, the way, the every day, the new and amazing revelations we all come across as we grow from happy and painful experiences, that count and that get us to wherever it is we NEED to go. Before you set out these RULES, is not important to establish where we each are going? I believe that every destination and every route is different and in that case yours, in its own enthralling way belongs to you, but to assume that it can be a rule, is as arrogant as Bachman and Palin assuming that they speak for all the women who evolved over the past 40 years.

    • Jeannette
      Jeannette says:

      @ Barbi – did you ever publish your book? Your life is 10x awesomer than this Penelope Trunk’s chick. You have better sense of humor, and (apparently) a good marriage, and reak financial success. Yet people prefer to read this blog than yours.
      Trash sells, definitely.

      • barbi
        barbi says:

        Thank you! How unexpected! I’m one of 8 speakers at TED Miami on the 13th of September and in a short documentary called One Beach that premieres on the 20th. So I seem to have my “moments”, and at 55 (without any work done on my appearance) am expanding not banging my head against some imaginary ceiling. I have three daughters and am very glad that I had them late, 40 and 44. Sure there are ups and downs in life, in careers and marriages, and I had my fair share of frustration at how I was treated and perceived. But mostly I’m rather grateful, and yes I will start writing more again…

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        @barbi @jeannette – this is why I love the comments section of blog’s like Penelope’s. It is by far and away the best place to discover amazing people!

  32. Evelyn
    Evelyn says:

    Penelope – I read your blog every time you have post and go to your links within them. I have your book. I like what you write and don’t consider you an idiot. But I do wish you will talk to women that are over 40, re-thinking our 20 year-old careers, don’t have the kids (wanted them but now I’m too old) and aren’t married.

    Yes, we’re good at sex, but is that all? Should I just be a cougar? But he can’t support my life-style.

    • Mel
      Mel says:

      see people? ^ this is what PT wants Gen X women to avoid. no offense evelyn.

      i know a lot of single, childless women in their 40s. the happiest ones are the ones that worked their butts off and became wealthy and successful. if i’m going to be single and childless in my 40s, i darnwell better be rich and not some middle management cog.

      • Evelyn
        Evelyn says:

        Mel – I’m not unhappy with my life but I’m in my mid 40’s. I can’t have biological children anymore, which I wanted and tried as a single woman. And the career that I had for over 20 years came to a stop in 2010. Now I’m changing careers, I still don’t know what I want. And a career just doesn’t seem that pressing or important.

        Do I agree with P? Not in everything. Do I wish I was married and had a family? Yes. Can I do something about it now? Maybe, but I don’t want to do adopt alone. I’m looking into fostercare, but my new job makes it impossible. I run a bed and breakfast. I do love my life but that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish for some other options that I know I don’t have.

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        people regret the path not taken. for every evelyn, there’s a soccer mom whose kids have grown and whose marriage has grown stale who wishes she’d opted for a career and freedom.

        the only cure for this syndrome is to explore the deeper, more meaningful side of what it means to be human. there are worse ways to spend your later years.

      • Evelyn
        Evelyn says:

        Lori – I bought the idea that I had time.. that I didn’t need to think about a family (marriage and kids) until my career was established. What P is saying, IF you want kids, you don’t have that time. When I was in my late 30’s and I was ok, I’m ready. I bought a house with the intention if you build it it will come. It didn’t. The more successful I got the harder it was to date. And the harder it was to have a child on my own because of my age. Where now I’m aged out for a bio child.

        And I’m not saying feel sorry for me. I have an amazing life, I travel, have great friends, come and go as I please. But I see friends with kids and yes, I miss them. I see couples together, and yes I miss it. And maybe if I was a soccer mom I will miss the single “successful” life. But it’s about a balance. When we’re in our 20’s what do you want our 40’s to look like.

  33. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Thank you for the blueprint, Penelope. I’ll take what I can use, and I was glad you included #6. I learned that one the hard way – but thankfully my marriage has prevailed.

    I’m a new reader – a friend of the laptop purse lady, Alesya – and I’m surprised at how touchy and sensitive your readers are! Don’t they know you? I have some advice for them: Open your minds, dear readers. Allow yourselves to consider another person’s perspective. Try to learn from another person’s experiences. Don’t take yourselves so seriously!

  34. Deena McClusky
    Deena McClusky says:

    I truly hope this blog entry was either a joke or an experiment of some sort. While you are more than entitled to feel this way, if you are indeed serious, my concern is that you have positioned yourself as an advice guru to young women who, God forbid, might take this crap seriously. Plastic surgery and a husband as the road to happiness? What year is this?

  35. Smiley
    Smiley says:

    I criticize all criticisms of this blog post! I believe this lady is one of the most courageous outspoken people of our time. Read her entire blog. Maybe you will get it.

  36. Laura
    Laura says:

    There is just something that is just so potent about all your ideas being packaged up in one large post and being touted as a “blueprint”.

    I have so much to say. I could write a longer essay; but I will strive for brevity. Congratulations, you have captured my attention and my time to write this.

    To be clear, I am no writer and I am no where near as smart as you Penelope (as you constantly like to remind us all). But I like to think that mistakes are meant to be learning experiences which occur to help us to evolve and become better people.

    So, I have to vehemently disagree with all of your advice. Bereft of links; it is just my instinct response to each point. Hope that is ok.

    #1. Do less homework – you do your homework on any given subject throughly before posting about it. Homework when practised properly, is the discipline of researching a subject and learning to think about it critically. Penelope, maybe your life might have a bit more balance if you didn’t do so much homework for your blog? But then we would all miss out of the pleasure of your interesting writing and analysis. I disagree females should do less homework. We should be developing our inner selves more and focus less on the external.

    #2. Get plastic surgery – I have many girlfriends that have had plastic surgery in their 20’s. Getting your boobs done may land you a (superficial) husband and possibly get you a pay rise (which they needed to pay for all the surgery) However, it certainly hasn’t had the desired effect of curing the deep seeded insecurities and sadness that still resides inside each and every one of them. I cannot believe you are accelerating the beauty myth even more. And the worst part is the quick fix and the money cures all aspect of it.

    #3. Go to business school right out of the gate – to put yourself in the right circles of men – to get married and have flexibility in your job down the track. That is it. It is also a privileged assumption and completely dismisses a large chunk of the population that just don’t have the resources to even contemplate college let alone busisness school. I learnt the most from my entry level jobs, why encourage cutting them out?

    #4. Start looking early for a husband – So i did this. I was lectured to start looking for a husband seriously at age 24. I was so career driven and she was worried about me. She presented the exact same argument as you have about rapid decline in infertility after 35. I took the advice very seriously. I read every single dating book in the world, I went out on a LOT of dates in my early 20’s always with the view of “is this guy marriage and father material” because i was like, oh shit, I am running out of time! At 26, I thought I had found “the one” and focussed on the relationship and getting him to propose to me, so i put my career on hold for 3 years to get that proposal at nearly 29 years old. When he finally proposed I didn’t feel anything at all. I realised a year later after when we still hadn’t set a date for the wedding that I didn’t want to get married. I am just so sick and tired of the whole concept of marriage being shoved down my throat all of the time. I can count of one hand the long term happily married couples I know.

    #5. Milk maternity leave for all it’s worth – this just paints women as out to get everything they can for themselves without any consideration of the wider impact on society.

    #6. Guard your marriage obsessively – is this is what you are trying to do? Is it actually advice for yourself? How is that going for you by the way – biting the bullet and keeping the farmer happy so your boys don’t have to be ‘runied’ for a second time? What bollocks. Your boys are fine and how about men start stepping up and taking some responsibility for the relationship also?

    #7. Practice austerity – I agree with the austerity part, but where is the money going to come from for the plastic surgery?

    #8. Do a start up with a guy – this is just a random piece of the ‘blueprint’ that only applies to a very small percentage of women who have entrepreneurial desires. It is in complete contradiction to all the other advice that centres around finding a husband.

    #9. If you cant get men to do a start up with you, do a lifestyle business – comes from the privileged angle again that is making the assumption that all women have access to the finance, support, time and network required to start one of these types of businesses. It’s upper middle-class white woman feminism.

    #10. Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t – this bold claim hasn’t even been tested by you yet! You are about to embark on uncharted territory. How you can jump to the conclusion that kids will be screwed up without any experience of it? Is just plain bizarre.

    #11. Spend money on household help and Botox to keep more doors open longer – oh ok, so much for that austerity then.

    #12. Break the mold in your 40’s – You think you are ‘breaking’ the mold by telling us it how it really is, don’t you? What a fail. I really don’t see the last 11 points of advice helping the trajectory of women’s happiness at all. And I doubt very much they would have helped yours and you would have still made mistakes along the way.

    Making mistakes is what makes us human.

    Overall, my biggest disappointment when reading through this post is that this blueprint does not make for a happy nor an interesting life for women. It seems you just a want to tell us about a difficult life.

    • betty in munich
      betty in munich says:

      It would be so interesting to know the age demographics of the comments based on those:
      Outraged by this post: (my guess high % would be under 30)
      Thought this post was spot on: (my guess high % over 40)
      Laura, how old are you?

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        If you read through the comments there are a lot of women under 30 saying ‘thanks for the advice I really needed to hear that’. So I disagree that women under 30 are outraged. In fact, I would have been more likely to swallow (excuse the pun) this bad advice if I were younger and more impressionable.

        I’ve read enough advice on how to be a woman to last me a life time. More than 10,000 hours worth. And according to Malcolm Gladwell, that would make me an expert.

        And so since I am now a self anointed expert here is my advice to other women – stop living your life by other peoples advice and standards!

        I learnt the hard way that trying to follow this arbitrary nonsense only leads down a path of disappointment in oneself and in others and a low self regard.

        It was only when I started relaxing and living my life for myself that I truly started to feel my emotions and started connecting more authentically in my relationships with others.

        And I would much rather hear wisdom from someone who was living a happy life (or interesting life which is how I use to regard PT) and get lessons from that. I’m more likely to take Leo Babauta’s advice seriously and try to implement it. His blog is living, breathing proof of his stance on minimalism. He is also living his advice, Penelope on the most part, is not.

        I also think its problematic to dispense advice from the position of “if I had done things differently” and “I’m so intellectually smart you should listen to me”. It reminds me of the book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb. Single at 40, Lori decided that marriage was the be all and end all. So she then set out to educate all single women that were still marriageable that they should just marry someone. (Lori need not to worry though, all the dumb women out there will continue to settle for Mr Good Enough without having to read her book)

        Anyway, as Daniel Goleman has proven, what we think will make us happy, very rarely does. Lori doesn’t know that if she had “settled” that it would have made her happier, she is just taking a guess with the benefit of hindsight.

        Penelope has been a massive help to my career over the years due to her no nonsense advice on how to get cut through and results in the workplace. And for that I will be eternally grateful. I just don’t think its Penelope’s forte to be commenting on how to be a woman navigating through life’s challenges at the moment.

        Because it seems to me that PT is actually quite unhappy and since living on the farm her life has become quite boring.

        And to answer your question, I’m 31.

    • Helen Gallagher
      Helen Gallagher says:

      In my experience people who bang on about how smart they are either aren’t, of suffer from NPD.

  37. redrock
    redrock says:

    my own personal answer is NO to all points on the checklist. And strangely enough I am very happy with my life. Either my life is wrong or the checklist is wrong.

    • Harriet May
      Harriet May says:

      Yes. Because there are two choices in life: do it “redrock’s” way or do it Penelope Trunk’s way. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before.

      Talk about reductionist.

  38. jim
    jim says:

    Relax – this is just a recycled collection of previous bits of “wisdom”, structured to generate a flood of hits to this site. P has mastered the art of trolling via controversial posting…

  39. Jeannette
    Jeannette says:

    You missed
    13. Don’t be fat.
    14. Get monthly brazilian waxes.

    Without these two, a better title is: How to be a frumpy housewife.

  40. Yeoman
    Yeoman says:

    Wow. You’re bold, I’ll give you that.

    I disagree, fwiw, with 2 and 11, and at least in the legal field, where in many places the majority of the newly minted are now women, I don’t think that stuff would be any help at all. Encouraging women to maintain a false image isn’t help to them in all sorts of ways.

    Well, here’s what I would add:

    13. Be aware that all “careers” are just jobs, and at the day most of them are lousy and they’ll never “fulfill” you. I think women have bought off on the “fulfilling” career Kool-Aide much more than men, but for both, that’s a complete fiction. If you know anyone in a “good career” in their 40s, and can really talk to them, most of them will tell you they’ve long since lost any real interest in the field, and that they keep on keeping on as they no longer have any choice.

    14. When choosing a career, don’t imagine yourself at age 27 in it, imagine yourself being 47 in it, carrying around 20 lbs of extra weight, and being overburdened in it. If you still like the sounds of it, that might actually be the career for you.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      “If you know anyone in a “good career” in their 40s, and can really talk to them, most of them will tell you they’ve long since lost any real interest in the field, and that they keep on keeping on as they no longer have any choice.”

      BINGO. Welcome to Age 40.

  41. Rebecca Gonzalez
    Rebecca Gonzalez says:

    I may have more to add later, but must run to work and read this quickly. I TOTALLY agree. 100%. And especially due to the wisdom of age, I know what I did wrong where you were right. I don’t know about the startup but if you were right about everything else, why not that too?

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