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.”

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  1. Micro Cap Trader
    Micro Cap Trader says:

    I discovered it quite exciting to browse I’d personally really like to see you publish much more with this topic. I'm subscribed in your RSS feed now so I'll check in far more usually!

  2. Jennifer B
    Jennifer B says:

    Penelope, what are you using to form the opinion that you are so smart? IQ tests? Something else? I don’t ask this as a way to put you down, I’m really curious.

  3. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I am just wondering why someone studies whether women or men are smarter? Didn’t think the post was about that subject but notice the comments seem to dealing with this “controversy”. What is smart? Some very smart people can’t do simple things. I choose to just notice every person is smart in their own way and not worry about how many scoops of smart are on their cone.

  4. Chris Hansen
    Chris Hansen says:

    It seems like a division is in order.

    Assistants are for people who get shit done, not for people who need to have their egos stroked, or for people who can’t manage time or committments or deliverables.

    If your assitant is your crutch, then you need to consider whether you’re one of those people who deserves an assistant, not whether they deserve you.

    Lots of people are over-extended in terms of their activities. If you’re one of those ‘key producers’ – then you’re deserving of an assistant because the activity that you are primarily involved in is so far reaching and so productive for the company that to not give you one would not allow you to maximize your profitability and your potential to your employers.

    The rest of you people who has assistants and don’t fall into these categories should re-think your net worth. If you don’t have the core blocking and tackling skills to handle the mundane tasks that everyone else without assistants masters early on, then you had better be damn good at what you do. I mean really good.

    Smart people often fall into this category – they’re good at what they do, but lack critical skills in all of the mundane elements of business (read: uninteresting). That’s not uncommon, either. People who are highly creative -whether they’re scientists, ad exec, attorneys – whatever, have a niche skillset that allows them to excel in one area, often at the detriment of many other areas. They are specialists in the truer sense of the word.

    Does it matter that they’re female? Nope. I know plenty of smart women and men. Some even with photographic memories. Most of them are assholes, because they have no concept of office politics, social graces or communication skills. Most of them think they walk on water, and they’ve never had to *really* work at their tradecraft. So…they take high-paying secondary support roles to leaders, because left to their own devices, they would implode and suck everyone in their general proximity down with them. The main difficulty is that most of them think they have those leadership abilities (not skills – big difference), and think that they can hold the limelight. They want and yearn for the respect that comes from ‘doing’, but they’re typically not capable. That’s an important concept, and self-awareness doesn’t come cheaply for most. They tend to self-sabotage themselves due to their intelligence, until (as someone else pointed out) age and wisdom prevail. Unfortunately, all too often, that phase doesn’t come until they’re exiting the workforce.

    Penelope – good post on the realities of workplace dynamics and the importance that a fantastic assistant plays for those people deserving of one. Yes, you are one of those special people who needs that to counterbalance your own unique specializations and talents. I can’t help but notice that the spasm of intellectual bashers and pseudo-feminists hve popped out of the woodwork. That part isn’t so appealing.

    Last time I looked, society in general understands how to deal with uber-intellectuals. We call them nerds because they lack those social graces and mainstream lifestyle mechanics that have been mentioned above. Feminists is another matter entirely. They need to stop whining over ERA – that battle was won 50 years ago. To me, their complaints sound a lot more like how Billy Martin used to treat umpires than it does as sensible rhetoric. Skate or die. It’s no one’s fault that women aren’t advancing on par with men, it’s a social thing or a genetic thing or a whatever. But it’s not because they deserve something they’re universally not getting. That’s just not true anymore. It’s an open playing field, and if you find that doors are closed, maybe it’s because they should be. If you don’t like the playground that the game is being played upon, go find a new ‘field’. It’s that simple.

    Pen, I think what you need most is a good friend. Someone that understands you, and appreciates you for who you are. I think you’ll find it difficult being that you’re highly intelligent, well educated, resourceful and isolated in the backwoods of EBF. You’re an urban gal, and that’s a complement to your personality, education and experience. Farmers aren’t interested in those things. They’re interested in manpower (labor) and the basics, not the evolved. Maybe what you’re grieving is the loss of that connection. Rightfully so. Only you can chart your own course, and that comes with self-awareness and being honest with yourself about your abilities and capabilities. Maybe that should have been the underlying theme of this post. All the best.

  5. Rachel Mariner
    Rachel Mariner says:

    In a study in the 70’s, Americans and Europeans were asked to rank the qualities they looked for in a friend. For Americans “smart” was number one, for the Europeans it was likeability (gemutlich). Smart is prized in the US. I like that.

    I am an American who lives in Europe. I like smart too. But at age 44 I like wise a lot better than smart. And wise people generally do not need to attract attention to their own intelligence or data recall abilities. (Not to denigrate Melissa, this is just a general comment).

    I do not, however, think it is wise OR smart to rely on the opinion of Larry Summers to denigrate women. Society has always had self-serving science that justified social norms: gays are genetically incapable of commitment, women are inferior to men so shouldn’t vote, blacks are inferior to whites, Jews are not human: offensive enough for you? Yes, this is the heritage of the powerful using science to perpetuate the favorable status quo.

    After having access to some of the (by reputation) most intelligent men on earth, it is my considered opinion that women are superior to men in every conceivable way, including the functioning of their intelligence. If you don’t agree, at least call yourself equal, maybe?

    But nice writing and compelling post. A friend I totally respect told me about this blog and I am glad.

  6. Google Ä°lk On
    Google Ä°lk On says:

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  7. jeff
    jeff says:

    Wow I’ve been listening to you on Seattle Public Radio and i can not believe how astonishingly ignorant and uninformed you are. Having a big mouth and talking loudly over people does not qualify you to give bad advice to anyone. Please stop blathering on about things you seem very unqualified to talk about.

  8. Annabel Candy
    Annabel Candy says:

    I am fascinated by this blog and the comments. I read this post and loved it. The photo is brill too. Did you take it Penelope? Anyway, what fascinates me is why people leave such mean comments. if I was going to do a PhD I’d make this blog and the comments my topic.

    I know You are naughty sometimes Penelope and I often feel your stir up controversy on purpose. I admire you for that.

    But I found nothing controversial in this blog post at all. I hope that’s not a reflection on my intelligence!

    What I like about this post is that it supports something I do. I don’t want to work with people I don’t like. I’m lucky I don’t have to.

    One of the proudest moments in my life came when we lived in Costa Rica where all the expats have a local to help around the house. More to help around the garden and keep the jungle at bay. we did too. One day out of the blue my son said

    Mummy you don’t have people working for you, you have friends.

    I felt in many ways I failed to be a good boss. I don’t rule with an iron hand. These people were my friends, We talked about our families, our problems, our joys.

    They were my friends and I still only want to work with people who are or who could be my friends.

    So thanks for saying that’s ok:)
    Mummy you don’t have people

  9. classycareergirl
    classycareergirl says:

    I definitely agree. I have had amazing co-workers that have changed my life and shaped who I have become. Work is so much better when you have a friend at work. It makes the day go by faster and it makes it actually fun to be at work! I try to make as many friends as possible at work so that work is as enjoyable as possible for everyone. Thanks for the reminder to continue working on my work relationships! There is always room for improvement! :)

  10. Liane
    Liane says:

    The negativity is astounding. Remember that criticism and name calling is more of a statement about the person doing it than the person it is about. All of the negative comments are saying a lot about who you are. You know what they say about bullies and why they bully. You may consider yourself intelligent but back to the point of the post, no one likely wants to work with you. Go get a blog and do it better if you think you can then. Give your own advice, do your own research, be as vulnerable and open as Penelope…

    You may disagree with her persecutive but she has brilliantly gotten you to visit here. And she allows you to continue to comment despite your rudeness because she could certainly block your IP
    address…

  11. redrock
    redrock says:

    I am surprised…. two days ago I posted a link to the story of a women who is a reputed chemist telling her life story about how to live her career and have family. It was a link to the very very reputed journal nature. And the comment was deleted in the moderation of the comments. I admit that I have no idea why this link would be considered offensive.

  12. mleyes
    mleyes says:

    I just read the social skydiving link that you put in your post. I have to laugh because he is referring to how you pick up women you don’t know. Now that you’ve been in the Midwest for awhile, you should know “social skydiving” ie talking to strangers, is a way of life here. It’s called being friendly. I talk to men, women, old, young, kids … as part of my everyday life here in Wisco: the cashier at the grocery, the person behind me in line, the person who sits next to me at the coffee shop while I’m working … it’s just how we do things here.

  13. karelys davis
    karelys davis says:

    HAHA! the last part cracks me up so much!

    Yup, that’s what my horse is like for me.

    :)

    I am sure that doesn’t mean Penelope’s place in her life is less than the horse.

  14. Gina Bellagrio
    Gina Bellagrio 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 female I have ever met who lives on that tip is Melissa.

    WOW. And that’s when I stopped reading. Well done.

  15. Helen
    Helen says:

    Penelope, why did you delete my comment linking to an academic who disagrees with Summers? Are you afraid of debate?

  16. Jason Kardowski
    Jason Kardowski says:

    Thank you in advance for any advice. About 7 months ago I was laid off from my job and I have been doing little bits of work here and there to get by, but I'm starting to get financially unstable and I need to do something to improve my situation fast. In my opinion, and based on feedback from recruiters, my resume needs to be written by a professional to really bring out my skills. So I've spent the past few weeks reading about resume writer services and trying to pick the best one. I've found a few resume service review sites, which are helpful, but most of them say the same thing and have similar prices and guarantees. Can anyone please recommend a resume writing service to me, or maybe somewhere I can search for jobs? Thanks in advance.

    • Chloe
      Chloe says:

      Jason, I have no advice for you, but I wanted you to know that I read your comment and I hope you do get some help with your question and find a job soon.

      Chloe

  17. OvereducatedUnderemployed
    OvereducatedUnderemployed says:

    Coworkers can also be extremely toxic, especially to AS people whom they can pretend to befriend.

    Seriously…how about some advice or a new blog entry about bullying or saboteur coworkers? Most of what I have previously found online is written for an AS contingent who aren’t able to work in professional-type careers (i.e. a more disabled group who end up unemployed or in “sheltered workshop” jobs). Or their parents!

  18. Melissa_kok_
    Melissa_kok_ says:

    Aww beautif beautiful post penelope. Wow melissa has a photographic memory? After all this time writing about her and yiu never mentioned itbeforr, i am dumbfounded. Hmm aw penelope you are smarter than melissa in your own way, in your way of being a mother and a wife/partner to the farmer, something melissa is yet to experience. Until one day she herself will be blessed with :) then u can give her advice through all that u have been through throughout ur time raising ur kids, ur divorce, juggling a family and work and holding together your most important relationship with yourself and your life partner the farmer. Hmm it is sad to see melissa go, even for us your readers..lol, but the flower has bloomed into a beautiful rose and it is time to move on and let it enjoy itself basking in the sun. :) love your faithful reader, melissa kok, melissa_kok_@hotmail.com

  19. Melissa_kok_
    Melissa_kok_ says:

    Aww beautif beautiful post penelope. Wow melissa has a photographic memory? After all this time writing about her and yiu never mentioned itbeforr, i am dumbfounded. Hmm aw penelope you are smarter than melissa in your own way, in your way of being a mother and a wife/partner to the farmer, something melissa is yet to experience. Until one day she herself will be blessed with :) then u can give her advice through all that u have been through throughout ur time raising ur kids, ur divorce, juggling a family and work and holding together your most important relationship with yourself and your life partner the farmer. Hmm it is sad to see melissa go, even for us your readers..lol, but the flower has bloomed into a beautiful rose and it is time to move on and let it enjoy itself basking in the sun. :) love your faithful reader, melissa kok, melissa_kok_@hotmail.com

  20. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    I love the people I work with, if I didn’t, I would move jobs.  It is so important to be happy at work so that you can be fully productive.

  21. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    I love the people I work with, if I didn’t, I would move jobs.  It is so important to be happy at work so that you can be fully productive.

  22. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    If you don’t like working with others, try your hand at being your own boss and work from home.  There are so many opportunities out there…. and growing daily.  Try the Home Worker’s Directory at http://www.easywork-greatpay.com.  I use it, have been doing so for over 12 years.  I never miss their new updated yearly copy.  I get one every year.  It was highly recommended to me by my former boss.  I can’t thank her enough.

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    Anonymous says:

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    Anonymous says:

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  25. Jane Clements
    Jane Clements says:

    We are very very lucky at our company – it’s a small, tight team that look out for each other, can cope with times of amazing stress and adversity by backing each other up all the way, and then still come out the other side and enjoy working together.

    Co-workers can make all the difference to your working life – and your working life can have a massive impact on the rest of your life.

    thanks,
    Jane

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