Co-workers change your life


Melissa rides her horse every morning before she goes to work, at noon, which is when her boss gets to work. I am sad that Melissa is happy because now she will not come back to the farm and be my permanent photographer.

I used to feel sorry for Brad and Angelina because they had photographers trailing them all the time. Now I think they are lucky because if they had a blog, they'd have so many good photos to use.

I feel like the parent of a twenty-something who wants their kid to stop feeling lost, but wants that feeling of being unlost to happen a little closer to home. I know that's selfish. And anyway, I'm not even Melissa’s mom. But I think I want to be because I wonder where my place is in her life.

I have not told you this about Melissa: She is smarter than I am. There are not many people I think this about. And definitely not a lot of women. I know this is not politically correct for me to say, but look, Larry Summers, the ex-president of Harvard staked his whole academic career on the research that shows that at the very very tip of the spectrum of high intelligence, it's mostly men. So it makes sense that only female I have ever met who lives on that tip is Melissa.

She has a photographic memory. I'm not sure what that gets her except the ability to talk endlessly about a wide range of topics to people who, for the most part, are not interested. She can't really read whether or not it's time to shut up, so sometimes I have to tell her.

Other times I am completely dumbfounded by her memory. She is like a Vaudeville act or something.

Her new boss, who I feared would ruin her life, has turned out to be great for her. He basically pays her to memorize stuff and hang out with him. I call Melissa ask if I can use his name.

“No,” she says. And, “Can we talk later? I’m on my horse.”

“But I’m going to write that he’s great. I’m going to write that I love him for seeing you for who you are and creating a job for you around that. ”

“Show me the post before you run it.”

So forget it. And who answers a phone when they are on a horse? I am not going to use his name because I have to confess that I'm a little worried that he is paying Melissa for companionship. He loves, for example, that she doesn't have good work/home boundaries. And that she is a good sounding board for his ideas because he has to think out loud.

I can see why he would love that. I love hanging out with Melissa, too. She is very weird and very smart. It's hard to stomach weird without smart, but with her they come together, with commensurate amounts of very.

The boss is very weird and very smart, too. Probably not as smart as Melissa. But whatever. Smart only goes so far.

In case you find yourself overvaluing your own IQ, there's an investment banker in New York City who was recently getting a divorce and tried to convince the judge that he should get more than half of the assets because his IQ is so high that you can presume that his wife could never have earned her half.

The judge threw out the argument. And I'm sure that any goodwill the judge might have had for this guy went straight to the garbage with the argument.

I miss Melissa popping up in the middle of my day to say something like, “Have you heard of the term social skydiving? You should look into it. Even though you’d never do it.”

Sometimes I'd say, “Melissa, look: Can't you see we're in the middle of practicing violin?”

She'd look and say, “Oh. Sorry.”

But other times, I'd say, “Melissa, will you come talk to me while I cook?”

The New Yorker is fixated lately on distraction: in the early 1900s some company in Buffalo found that giving workers breaks made them more productive. Psychologist Roy Baumeister shows that asking people to regulate their behavior without interruption probably makes them less focused overall.

I am thinking that Melissa is like a coffee break for me. Or for her new boss. If you hire an assistant the top priority is not having him or her do the work you don't want to do. The top priority should be to hire someone you want access to because their presence improves your day.

An assistant is the co-worker you have always wanted to make your workday great.

A great co-worker can change your job and, in some cases, change your life. You can hire them or sign on to work next to them, but don’t underestimate the importance of finding that someone who is a friend who you can take your breaks with. We each need someone who shows us new aspects of ourselves and opens doors we wouldn't open ourselves.

I tell this to Melissa, and she says, “I know. That's what my horse is like for me.”

129 replies
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  1. Lindsay | The Daily Awe
    Lindsay | The Daily Awe says:

    At first I was all, “What does this article have to do with coworkers?!” because I wouldn’t consider Melissa a coworker of yours — she worked FOR you mostly, right? But then I value her just as much as she values you, if not more. That’s awesome.

    You’re right – coworkers can (and do) change our lives. At my last job I was spoiled rotten, rotten, ROTTEN because every single person in that office (well, save a rotten apple or two) was amazing. Amazing workers, amazing personalities, just amazing human beings. I’ve kept in touch with 85% of them now that I’ve moved on into another job, too.

    I love your writing. I don’t read a lot of blogs word for word but yours, without fail, I do.

  2. Amy Dean
    Amy Dean says:

    That’s it. I’m done. I’m unsubscribing from your blog right after I finish typing this farewell. Bye Bye Penelope.

  3. Marti
    Marti says:

    “It's hard to stomach weird without smart, but with her they come together, with commensurate amounts of very.”

    I love this. One of the best sentences ever written.

  4. Alex Dogliotti
    Alex Dogliotti says:

    This is so true. Funnily enough the friends you work with make you like your job much more than what you actually do. I was reading an article about it a few days ago (I think on BNET). Unfortunately, also the opposite is true. People you can’t stand at work change your life as well. And I don’t mean you just like your job less. I mean you go home and cry. Uh. You know when people say you take work frustration home with you? So, I was thinking, can good relationships at work drive our life as intensely as bad relationships?

  5. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    My own beloved and much needed/appreciate assistant is evolving into my own version of your Melissa. After being a 1-woman show for 10 years (and you know the grumpiness that this caused, P) my part-timer is now going full-time, albeit working from her home office. I believe we are intellectually evenly-matched, but she is so much more organized and better with details, so I find myself relying on her so much. Sitting back and having her tell me how I should spend my day is like a coffee break for me.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I don’t think it’s random. But I read the whole post. This bit:

        “I know this is not politically correct for me to say, but look, Larry Summers, the ex-president of Harvard staked his whole academic career on the research that shows that at the very very tip of the spectrum of high intelligence, it's mostly men.”

        …is troubling. I mean, c’mon – can we have a positive comment about Melissa without casting a shadow over women? That reads like Penelope is baiting feminists to increase blog traffic.

      • K00kyKelly
        K00kyKelly says:

        I also found a number of problems with that paragraph. First, I don’t think he realized he was staking his whole academic career on the assertion that the smartest people are mostly men. Second, how many women does Penelope work with close enough to know if they are intellegent. Would she have said the same thing about Melissa when she first met her? Third, I’m thinking that Melissa is smart in a similar way to Penelope making her smarts easier to recognize.

        Some other misc comments on the smartest people are mostly men thing….
        – are the smartest people in traditional jobs at all?
        – how is it that High School girls are now outperforming the boys on math tests? Or is that averages working against us again? Convenient how that argument works…
        – how is it that science majors (espically Biology) are much more representaive of women than engineering? Some data:

  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I was as smart as you are, when I was about 25. Now I am 54, my brain synapses are flickering, but now I am wiser. Wisdom turns out to be very smart people losing some smarts and but using what they have left see what they don’t know.

  7. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I am obsessed with people thinking I am smart. When I am with my boyfriend, I get upset if people don’t ask me something about my work or some sort of general knowledge question (that I can answer)so I can prove how smart I am. But this is fairly new to me; I was never that serious about school so that everyone assumed I was getting poor grades when actually I was getting straight As. I think some of it is because I feel like I have something to prove, since I’m at the age where I’m fielding a lot of “so when are you getting married?” inquiries. And I’d much rather talk about what I heard on NPR.

  8. Kate Nonymous
    Kate Nonymous says:

    “I have not told you this about Melissa: She is smarter than I am. There are not many people I think this about. And definitely not a lot of women. I know this is not politically correct for me to say, but look, Larry Summers, the ex-president of Harvard staked his whole academic career on the research that shows that at the very very tip of the spectrum of high intelligence, it's mostly men. So it makes sense that only one person I have ever met who lives on that tip is Melissa.”

    What? You think Melissa is smarter than you, and Larry Summers thinks men are smarter on average than women, so it makes sense that you think Melissa is smarter than you. I say again: What?

    Your logic isn’t holding up here, which doesn’t mean you’d be right on any of these counts if it did hold up–but the result is that this just doesn’t track all. Are you sure you didn’t just throw Larry Summers in there for the SEO?

    • Monica O'Brien
      Monica O'Brien says:

      The Larry Summers comment is in reference to the sentence, “And definitely not a lot of women.” The logic sequence that you listed doesn’t correspond to the paragraph you quoted, which is why it doesn’t make sense.

      The way I’m interpreting this is that there are not a lot of smart women at the tip of the spectrum, but Melissa is there. And P has to look at the tip of the spectrum for people smarter than her because she feels she’s right around the tip also, so to be smarter than her is hard to find and even if she does find that the pool mostly consists of men.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      Larry Summers did not say men were smarter than women. He basically said that the intelligence distribution anong men had a bigger standard deviation than the same distribution among women. That means that the average intelligences of men and of women are the same, but it also means that there would be more men than women at the bottom of the rankings, and also more men than women at the very top.
      Why does this mean anything for Harvard? Well, since only the brightest of the bright will excel in a field like math or physics, he expects to see more men in those fields, and it is not evidence of discrimination. For this he got pilloried.

    • Annabel Candy
      Annabel Candy says:

      You are a lucky lady Amy! hang on to that. My husband is my co-worker. We drive each other nuts but we’d never work with anyone else:)

  9. Tony
    Tony says:

    Thanks for another thought-provoking 5 minutes :)

    Not sure I like the sound of social-skydiving, I’d be too busy checking the parachute to enjoy it. One for the brave and tough-skinned, me thinks.

  10. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    *Maybe* you don’t know very many smart women because you prefer to work with men.

    I have enjoyed this blog a lot in the last couple of years, but I’m getting pretty sick of the gender essentialist crap, Penelope. Nothing but an article that references yet another intellectually dishonest “study” to support your (ZOMG OUTRAGEOUS!) comment that men are naturally smarter than women. Here’s a tip for the future: readers who have enjoyed your blog, but who possess a degree of maturity and (gasp!) intelligence, aren’t going to waste their time responding to smirking provocation. They’re just going to unsubscribe.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      But nowhere in this post did she state that men are smarter than women. She is only talking about the tippy tip of the spectrum. It is just a wacked out brain wiring thing. Men seem to excel at that. On both ends of this spectrum and with things in general. There is no value judgement attached, as far as I can see.

      When one is 1:1,000 to begin with, even a 2:1 gender difference could make a huge difference for the minority.
      Crank that up to 1:30,000 and it gets pretty lonely, so finding someone in real life that you click with seems fairly noteworthy.

    • Chloe
      Chloe says:

      This is how I read it. Stating the obvious, that there are more men than women at the tippy top of IQ, is not a value statement, or a statement of self-hatred or women-hatred; it’s just a statement of fact.

      I’m not even close to the tippy top of the IQ mountain, I’m more like just above tree line, but even from thi vantage point I can see that this is the way things are.

  11. MBL
    MBL says:

    First, the last line. Ouch!

    Second, why does the United States, in particular have such a fucked up relationship with intelligence? It is both revered, in theory, and taboo, in most social situations. Talk of athlete prowess among parents is expected, assemblies are held, sections of the newspaper are devoted. Mention the dreaded “G” word and hear the crickets. There is even ‘dress like a nerd or a geek’ day to bolster the jocks and it is called spirit day. I’ve never seen a pep squad cheering on Quiz Bowl.

    Being really, really, really smart just means that you brain wiring is wack. This can have benefits and major challenges. Being a bit away from the norm can maximize the benefits while making the challenges doable. Being far, far away can be devastating if you never come across anyone you can relate to. Loneliness can be depressing, but it also makes one vulnerable. Thus, smart girls often ‘go underground’ in middle school because they see what other students value and what others will ridicule.

    I don’t understand why Penelope should get skewered for this post. What if she were a world class runner and was used to training with males due to needing a faster pace, but also found that training with females with a similar gait was beneficial. Wouldn’t it make sense that finding her Melissa in that situation would be a really big deal? Even worthy of a post?

    I guess it just goes back to the love/hate relationship that so many people have with very high intelligence. I haven’t looked at any of the links (and really shouldn’t be taking the time to get worked up about this) but saying that at the tippy tip of the iceberg there is a gender imbalance is not saying that there are not brilliant women out there. My understanding is that, going back the differently wired brain definition, both ends of the spectrum are more heavily populated by males. I suspect it is that there are more opportunities for something to go wrong when women are gestating a child of a different gender. So all we have to do is work on some sort of male uterus and equality on many, many levels might be achieved.

    Ack, there is so much more to say!!

    Also, where can I find my Melissa?

  12. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    I have to wonder (and would be interested in your thoughts on this, P and everyone) if men are gauged as smarter because men put themselves in more professional opportunities where intellect is measured. If my theory is true than it doesn’t mean that men are smarter, it just means that more of them showed up.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s not that men are smarter overall. It’s that on the spectrum of IQ, men populate both ends more frequently and women populate the middle more frequently.

      So more men are born with learning disabilities and more men are born with extraordinary IQs. When we talk about the learning disabilities part, no one goes nuts. We just accept it as fact and work with it. But when we talk about the math genius part, everyone goes nuts.


      • Rebecca
        Rebecca says:

        You are confusing several concepts here -learning disability/”IQ” (?)/ natural ability.
        I’d suggest you read carefully both the study, and L Summer’s speech, and get back to the class.

        You are a good writer, but you tend to stay in the surface of the issues and come up with your well-worded, but weak conclusions. That’s good for a copywriter though; is that your dream career?

  13. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    It seems that for you smart = good memory. Weird.
    And how many women do you know in real life? 50? 100? Not that I’m insinuating that you are not smart, but If you live in a farm, and with your Asperger’s condition, maybe you haven’t met that many people.

  14. Allison
    Allison says:

    I just read a series of fascinating essays by Standford psychologist Carol Dweck where she talks about the differences between smart girls and smart boys. In one experiment, they presented kids with brand new material and them tested them on it to determine mastery. Half of the class was given reading material that contained a confusing, impenetrable passage. The half that received the normal reading material mastered the material as you would expect based on IQ. The boys in the half that received the material with a confusing passage also performed as you would expect based on IQ. However, the girls who encountered the confusing passage performed *inversely* as you would expect based in IQ.

    There’s a quick summary of these findings here:

    The book is here, if you’re interested:

    It’s a fascinating read, with potentially profound implications for girls in math, science or anything objectively challenging.

    • Casual Observer
      Casual Observer says:

      “No matter the ability – whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism – studies show them to be profoundly malleable. ”

      That is the best quote from that article.

      And let’s remember that while P is saying she’s at the pinnacle of intellect, and Melissa is one of the very very few women up there with her, she’s also admitted that success in life requires more than just being smart. In fact, it relies more on social skills and the ability to get along with people than anything else. How many times has she posted that being well-liked makes it harder to fire you – even if you are hopelessly incompetent? So even if you’r in just the top 35% in terms of IQ (above average, but not by much) you will go farther in your career and earn more than someone in the upper 90% if you have better social skills than the uber-smart person.

      Besides, I’m always a little suspect of people who talk about how incredibly smart they are without talking about what they have DONE that is unique and valuable to society (so far Brazen Careerist doesn’t fit that mold, sorry). It’s sort of like talking about being really, really good in bed. That can easily be a delusion as well. And only a small set of people would ever know & be able to call you out on it, in which case you can say, “They’re lousy in bed, so they don’t have a valid opinion.”

      So people shouldn’t get up in arms that P is saying she’s at the pinnacle of intelligence and that there are almost no women at her level. It’s only her opinion. And expressing it is an example of how “having poor social skills is a death knell for your career.”

  15. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    Most of the people that appreciate your blog are women….not men. That will never change no matter how hard you seek male approval on this blog or in your life. Most men are driven in business and relationships by their egos, not their intellect. Although you may be smart, you will never be part of the “boy’s club”. You’re drawn to Melissa because you see her intellect as on par with men, so you feel that because of your association with her, it’s the closest you’re ever going to get to regarding yourself as equal to men. Melissa validated you….not the other way around.

    That’s basically my interpretation of this post and the message that got across from your wording. It seems like you really don’t think very much of yourself without the right people around you, and you’ll be lost without her there to validate you. That’s a tough life.

  16. JF
    JF says:

    I always come to this blog for sound advice, even some inspiration. However, after reading this post, I can only find drama and an entry qualified for a gossip blog where girlfriends drool over the information. I also noticed a few recent entries in the same vein.

    I appreciate your candidness. But as your previously mentioned caveat about coworkers in your book, there are some things people don’t need to know.

    Penelope, next time, I want read something worthwhile as I did in the past.

  17. Lori
    Lori says:

    this is interesting. i worked for awhile for a genius and i constantly had to just sit around and keep him company while he did things like open his mail. he couldn’t concentrate and go through his mail unless i sat next to him on a little wooden stool and handed him post-its.

    later i hired my sister to come work for me and we referred to the next year as when i paid her to be my friend. because there wasn’t much work to do but i desperately needed her companionship to get through my day.

    it seems to prove that even when you don’t need a worker to fulfill a work need you might still need them to fulfill an emotional need. i guess this is why celebrities have a posse.

  18. Mary Baum
    Mary Baum says:

    On intelligence: Maybe here in St. Louis, we’re pretty far down the tip, or maybe you and I should hang out more. But around here, my professional female friends and I have what we call the one-hand test, and it goes like this.

    Think back over the last 20 years of your career, and exclude spouses and blood relatives, for the sake of family harmony. Now think of the number of men you’ve ever worked with who are actually smarter than you, and start counting with your fingers.

    I have rarely seen a woman get off the first hand – that’s why it’s the one-hand test.

    I have encountered creative directors and veteran writers who can’t remember the difference between compose and comprise. And who stare blankly when I ask them why they use passive verbs (turns out they’ve never heard the term.)

    I have been asked to seriously consider marketing strategies devised by veterans of the areas biggest ad agencies who, when push came to shove, turned out not to know the difference between a feature and a benefit. And who have never heard of Maslow’s pyramid.

    I have volunteered to develop websites on teams with so-called programmers who were content to let me learn an entire platform in six weeks (I had never touched WordPress or php before) and then, when I asked them to fill in a few blanks, declared they weren’t prepared to learn anything new and that the platform obviously didn’t work.

    So I’m glad Melissa is very smart. But there are plenty of smart women around – and in St. Louis, anyway, damned few men who can hold a candle to one woman who’s at least willing to read her email before showing up at a meeting.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Mary – I’ve worked with the genius guys, IQ of 200 etc., and believe me they get nothing done without the sort of people you describe. Nothing at all.

    • Michelle
      Michelle says:

      I have had the same experiences. Men who were paid twice my salary but couldn’t open an email or use MS Word. Even though they knew those skills were important, they failed to acquire them. They aren’t in social media either (you think they could figure out Linked In? HA!) and doing just fine.

      I think there are maybe two kinds of IQ. Raw intelligence, which is like a lump of clay, just there waiting for someone to mold it (which is why smart people often do well in the structure of school i.e. someone telling them what they should know). Then applied intelligence, these are the people who know how to use their minds to achieve something.

      Then the guys we’ve seen who just gladhand and network their way through their careers.


  19. redrock
    redrock says:

    The very tip of the tip, the range where maybe 1 of 30 000 lies in terms of IQ is not relevant for any kind of employment. Even university professors at highly competitive institution, while scoring high on the IQ scale, do not reach on average the range above 160. The problem with these statements, and this is the real reason Larry Summers got fired, is that he attributed the fact that the percentage of female scientists and engineering to this irrelevant range of the IQ scale. Doing this backfires, since it makes all of us complacent: hey, men are smarter then women, they occupy the higher range of the IQ scale, so no wonder the women don’t cut it. The problem is that it leads to a bias towards not accepting women into the field. And yes, unfortunately these implicit biases still exist, and the likelihood of succeeding in an environment where your lack of success is expected, is indeed very very difficult. It builds a barrier which is much more difficult to overcome than any real intellectual difference (if it exists at all).

  20. Tony
    Tony says:

    It really doesn’t matter what the statistical distribution of intelligence is between women and men. It matters much more that we have a coherent society that values what each individual has to offer, without judgement, without cherishing certain characteristics over others.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      “A society that values what each each individual has to offer, without judgement, without cherishing certain characteristics over others.”
      That all sounds fine, but value judgements are absolutely necessary in the real world. A good moral character is better than an immoral or amoral character. The ability to get a job done is superior to the inability to do the same. To ignore these truths takes us back to the snake pit of the late Sixties and early Seventies, which led to Nixon and eventually Carter.
      (Far out, man!)

    • Chloe
      Chloe says:

      This sounds really good and idealistic, but on what planet do you think this might actually happen? Because it sure as heck isn’t happening and won’t ever happen on the planet where I live.

      Well, I take that back.

      The school system has been trying to make this happen what with handing out trophies to all the little soccer players on every team because “We’re all winners.” But what I see coming out of that nonsense is a bunch of entitled people who don’t realize that Tyler Durden was right.

  21. Rita
    Rita says:

    It takes time and effort to become an interesting accomplished person, and I see the accomplished part as very important. Curiosity and the pleasure of being around impressive people is fine, but Melissa runs the risk of becoming “wife of” or “friend of” rather than her own successful self. She’s drawn to powerful people, but is she developing her own ‘craft’, or just tending to theirs?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Why can’t some people want to take care of other people for fulfillment? I personally cannot feel fulfilled like that. But I’m an ENTJ. Someone who is an INFJ would probably be really happy taking care of other people and helping them shine. Who cares? That seems fine to me. We don’t all have to be our own shining star. Some of us can be helpers to others.

      Feminism was supposed to open more doors to women. But if shut down the caretaker role as a possibility for women then the effect of feminism is shutting down paths to fulfillment that more women choose than men.

      Sure, you could say it’s societal pressure that women choose caretaker roles. But why put so much pressure to NOT take those roles? What’s the point?


      • Tony
        Tony says:

        Indeed, it seems crazy to me, especially when there’s so much female biology oriented towards nurturing, teaching, and caring.

        Are we really saying that for countless centuries we were wrong, and that women can’t have these roles? – how ridiculous a position.

        When the pendulum swings back – as it inevitably will – I’m sure women will embrace these caretaker roles, and no longer feel they have to be what feminism or modernism dictates.

      • emily
        emily says:

        feminism is not to blame for the devaluation of women’s role as caretaker. remember, there was a whole workforce unprepared to pay women equally for their new roles in the workplace – and this problem still exists today. you may not be in favor of creating legal protection for women but as pro-choice bloggers, I think our progressive agenda more than peeks out from under our sleeves.

      • Deanna
        Deanna says:

        I agree with you that some can be helpers to others and be perfectly happy. I am an INFJ, however and would never be satisfied with that exclusively. I am curious as to why you point out INFJ’s as leaning this way.

  22. Rita
    Rita says:

    There’s a reason that most assistants are young, and that they come and go, rather than seeing assisting as a lifepath. I’m not making a comment on women and their right to choose a caretaker role.
    You mention that Melissa has poor boundaries, that’s not a woman thing, that’s something that she might learn more about as she grows up.

  23. Penny Rene
    Penny Rene says:

    I understood this post from beginning to end. I find it interesting when your female readers rudely criticize you for what you have written here. A woman like you, be it because of your personality type or personal experience, would definitely find other women difficult to be around. The comments here make those reasons obvious.

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      The comments are a reflection of what she wrote. She wanted and expected these “rude” comments. That’s why she wrote it. Don’t be so naive.

  24. Greg
    Greg says:

    1. I love how you worked in the link about IQ. Brilliant. Though, I have to disagree with the other commentors. Melissa shouldn’t move back to the farm because it’s more fun to read about what she’s doing off the farm.

    2. Why are you stuffing adds on your RSS feed? Do you want us to click it? I mean, I know people click them, but if you tell me to click stuff in your post, I’ll click it.

    Heck, if you tell me to buy something because you tell me it’s important, I’ll believe you, but I’m not gunna click on a flashy advertisement that’s so brazenly and advertisement!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You make me want to look at my feed — which honestly, I never do — to see what the ads look like. For the most part, I make money from you seeing the ads.

      Are they annoying? I was thinking they are not annoying. I care a lot if they are annoying. Although the idea of using ads to create a steady income from the blog is appealing… really, creating *anything* with a little steadiness is appealing right now :)


  25. Sarahnova
    Sarahnova says:

    Penelope, if you were as smart as you think you are, you would know that your critical thinking sucks. Time after time on this blog, you have accepted and repeated “research” that is poorly done or over-extrapolated (or, in the case of the “women getting grabbed by their ponytails and raped” episode, never existed at all). People get all kinds of rubbish in a magazine article labelled as “research”. That doesn’t make it a blueprint for life.

    redrocks has cogently explained above why Larry Summers’ point was a rather lazy and sexist conflation of real research for convenience. Incidentally, past the 98th percentile on intelligence, tests don’t really have any value, and at the tip of the bell curve, tested intelligence begins to become actively detrimental to functioning in society/business.

    Please. Do some research. Or at least read some. Find a blog about critically unpicking research findings. Read Bad Science. Something.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      Penelope is a blogger, not a scientist. The blog graveyard is filled with far deeper thinkers who posted logically unassailable research. They are gone, she endures. Her gift is getting people to read her blog and write comments. That is literally the only thing that matters, and she is one of the best.

      • Lily
        Lily says:

        Brad – if the goal of this blog is to entertain, then that’s fine.
        However, this blog is positioned as a career/life advice, and the advice here is similar to what you can find reading the horoscope. Really, she is losing credibility.

        It’s like The Real Wives franchise is positioned as marriage counseling shows. It’s disingenuous.

      • Brad
        Brad says:

        Career advice is simply the niche she strategically chose long ago. Her own career, by most people’s standards, has been a random, haphazard mess – and that in itself generates tons of comments, and therefore more income. What serious adviser, on any topic, brags about her own intelligence? Again, a technique to incite outraged comments.

      • Lily
        Lily says:

        Actually advisers that brand themselves as quirky could make comments like this without a problem.

        Anyway, if this blog’s purpose is pure entertainment, I completely agree with you. Apparently she has been doing this for years, and have survived. I don’t understand the business model though. Does she make $$ with the ads?

      • Helen
        Helen says:

        Wow, so it doesn’t matter whether what you publish on your blog is correct or downright lies, as long as you’re entertaining? No wonder the US is going down the tubes.

  26. redrock
    redrock says:

    There are extreme variations of feminism, sure, but the average run-of-the-mill feminism is about choice: become an intellectual, an engineer, a politician, a writer, or use the blue print from the last post, be a caretaker, you can decide what you want to do. Feminists (and before them suffragettes) have fought for a century to give us that choice (and voting rights, and the right to divorce, and take birth control and accept a job without a husbands consent). Let’s be thankful for that.

  27. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    @ Sarahnova
    @ redrock
    Thanks for brilliantly expressing my dissapointment with these posts. Entertaining read, but with the depth of ads for anti-aging creams.

  28. Kathy Berman
    Kathy Berman says:

    Penelope, You may be mourning your loss of the need for Melissa or a substitute. Grief issues loom large in the mid 40s. So it might be bigger than Melissa. All the things we postponed for later. Well, later is here.
    Hire 2 replacement helpers working from home. I say 2 so you’ll be on track for the next replacement person. Also teach the high school guys how to take pictures. With the new cameras, it might take 15 minutes of training.
    I love you and your blog. I’m 70 and been through most of what you write about.
    I read you every day.

  29. Guest
    Guest says:

    It is completely bizarre.

    Larry Summers is defended by saying “you idiot, he was just talking about the tippy tippy top”… except that makes his speech random and irrelevant. What this very “smart” man saying irrelevant things or was he actually saying something and implying that it related to the reason why they are fewer women teaching and researching at Harvard? The topic of the conference and his speech?

    There is zero support for the idea that Harvard professors are in that statistical tippy tippy top – and there is support for the idea that they are not. There are a ton of people smart enough to be Harvard professors – most of them don’t have the other attributes needed though. What this means is that logically there should be no difference in the women and men since it’s not at the top of the bell curve.

    So why did Larry Summers start talking about that very high distribution when most professors, him included, are not on it?

    Not to mention that what our IQ test measures is a very complicated question no one has been able to answer well yet. We know that it can tell us, generally, if someone ordinary is bright or not – we’ve no idea what it’s function is beyond that or what the differences at the far end mean.

  30. Karen A
    Karen A says:

    Melissa sounds like a narcissistic, insecure tramp. No doubt that guy that was banging her a few months back filled a need. He probably made her feel less weird about herself, and that comfort resulted in her “reciprocating”, i.e. you make me feel good, I make you feel good. And then once that got old, he dumped her for the next insecure chick.

    I don’t understand your admiration of & fondness for Melissa. She sounds manipulative, self-absorbed and uninteresting. Clearly men use her, from her nanny job, to the bearded hippy who was banging her in your house, to her current boss. She might be smart, but no man respects her.

  31. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    You know I’ve always struggled with the assistant hiring thing. some turned out great others disastrous, but in both cases i felt that somehow I got too involved in their careers, I was helping/training them but now I think I should have focused more on myself. (One of them stole data off my computer and perhaps scared me for life). As for coworkers I’ve had some really good ones, but there was one who sat right next to me for 1 1/2 yr and made my life miserable.

  32. Anne
    Anne says:

    Oh, so it’s so. very. rare. that you find women as smart as you, eh? Little Miss, “I write a blog about how to go about a career in business?” Little Miss, “Oooooh, that MBA is sooooo haaaard”?

    Spare me.

    I hang out with women with PhDs in physics. I hang out with women who have made their careers in NASA and the defense industry (as in, they do research into nuclear weapon design and survivability).

    Go have lunch with the English majors where you belong.

    • Nessa Speirs
      Nessa Speirs says:

      Low blow! There are many intelligent English majors. Don’t denigrate someone else’s field simply because their capabilities can’t be quantified with figures. I had a lot of respect for your comment until that last line–unfair.

      • Valerie
        Valerie says:

        I think the point is that if they were really intelligent, they wouldn’t have majored in English.

        (I majored in Film. Stones. Glass houses. I get it. I’m only joking about the English major thing. Kind of. :P)

        Anyway, I agree with the first poster. I’m not sure if P. Trunk even speaks with women on a regular basis. It’s really funny that she acts like she’s an expert on anything. Or that she provides “analysis”. HA.

        I come here for all my dancing internet monkey needs. I can’t imagine someone coming here for real advice.

  33. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Personally I miss my assistant immensely so this post resonates with me. Why is he gone? Well, like any good mentor I encouraged him to try new things. When he expressed interest in law I pushed that he check out the profession. Now he's a 3rd year law student. I'm proud but also sad. Yes, his new job doesn't suck; bummer.

    By the way law school was a good fit for his personality. He's a smashing success and already has a firm to work for but he started working on getting a job right away. I know he learned that networking skill from me.

    Over the years, I tried other assistance and in a nut shell they have never measured up. Now I just don't have one and I fill scattered. I also find myself coasting. Having him around was a kick in the pants to be better, do more, don't settle in to a rut.

    As for caregiver roll, I'll admit what I liked the most was he was a mess when he started. He was just lost and I felt needed. He also challenged my views on just about anything. I think 20 year olds are good at that and they do push the envelope on why?

    I recently attended his wedding and I sat there thinking. I feel like the Mom but I'm NOT. Weird. I am grateful for the relationship no matter how odd it maybe.

  34. Anita Junttila
    Anita Junttila says:

    As I was reading the part of your post about men in the higher IQ tip I thought of more men in the learning disability ‘tip’ thank you for mentioning that in one of your responses.

    Keep talking about gender. Women and Men are different I don’t know why that’s so crazy for some people to accept. Even Betty Friedan said: “What we need are real choices. And I don’t want to hear women saying one choice is more feminist than another.” Talking about the differences between men and women does not make you anti woman it makes you smart and awesome to read because you speak the truth and I thank you for that every time I read your blog.

    Also, about Melissa being lost and you feeling like her parent and wanting Melissa to be lost closer to you really resonated with me. My son Luukas is 20 and lost. He lives at home. Some days I wish he could be lost somewhere else but, in the end, having him close makes me happy. I feel like I can still support and guide him while he find his way through his early 20’s.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Anita, thank you for understanding.

      Per the comment right below- yes, I am surprised by the number of negative comments. It is almost always impossible for me to predicthow the comments will go…


      • Chloe
        Chloe says:

        Penelope, I’ve been lurking and reading you for several months now and I love to read what you have to say. I consider you a mentor from afar.

        I have to admit that I ended up pretty surprised by all the negative personal attacks on you. I find it sort of ironic that people take you to task for responding the way you do to things when you are so upfront that you respond differently from other people. THAT is what makes you fascinating and interesting to read in the first place.

        I’ll keep reading what you have to say even if you do hate our entire gender and think you’re smarter than most other people (said tongue-in-cheek).

  35. biffpow
    biffpow says:

    Are you surprised at the number of responses you’ve gotten to this post that take a negative tone, apparently related to your point about the IQ spectrum, Trunk? I am. You’re making what seems a statistically obvious point.
    Anyway, that was the first of three questions. The other 2:
    –Why doesn’t Melissa blog? With her diverse interests and memory, I’d think she’d warm to the medium.
    –Have you asked Melissa what she perceives your place in her life to be? “Co-worker” seems…a bit cold.

  36. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    “You’re making what seems a statistically obvious point”

    Sigh. Communication majors indeed.

  37. Smiley
    Smiley says:

    Gah! Where is my new, freshly-written, morning-coffee, world according to Penelope Trunk post? Now what am I supposed to read to distract myself from the assholes of the world?

  38. sarah
    sarah says:

    I thought this was a very sweet post!

    I don’t ever really comment, but I thought I would seeing all the hateful replies… Penelope admitted that she usually doesn’t find other women smarter than her. Well, I actually feel the same way. I’m not sure why this is; maybe I’m just being harsher on my own sex, but there’s nothing wrong/shocking about admitting this in my opinion. I just read it as a very nice compliment to Melissa.

  39. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I feel like you need to get off the farm a little. Your writing is starting to take on a repetitive quality.

    Also, the sexist stuff felt forced – like you were looking for attention. You don’t live your life by caveman thinking so why do you promote it?

    Keep writing though. Yours is the one blog I read no matter what.


  40. Anna
    Anna says:

    I like Melissa’s comment about her horse. It is true. A dog can have a similar function: to offer small distractions and be different enough to show the world from a different perspective, shake up the mind a bit.

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