I make a plan where I write enough on Sunday so I don’t lose my mind trying to write posts all week in between dealing with two kids.

And then I decide writing seems too hard. And I decide I should take a bath.

You might think this is my way of relaxing, but it’s not. We don’t have a shower. We are in the hygiene part of the slow food movement. And anyway, at some insane point in the day when I thought I might be able to write, I told the kids to try to train the dog to fetch. I am not sure what they ended up training him to do.

But I have to clean the bath before I can take a bath.

Then I am in the bath, and the September Vogue is calling to me, but it’s too heavy for the bath. So I grab a magazine that looks like it’s been wet before. Newsweek. I stole if from the doctor’s office because the cover article is The Mormon Moment and it looked too interesting to read between kids getting shots.

I open to page 45, and I see at the top there are bunch of Mormons in business. They are saying how their religion affects their work. I look for women. I always look for women. I am looking for the magic they use in order to have a big career and kids as well and not lose their mind. I land on Whitney Johnson. I look a little lower on the page to see what she has to say.

She quotes me. I have to read it twice because I can’t believe it.

She says, “In Penelope Trunk’s words, “Religion is the best preparation for a career.'” I did say that. In this post. And it’s a good post. My next thought is: Maybe I can pass that off as a new post and then I’ll have a post for tomorrow.

But then I remember writing the post. It took me about ten months. Because I thought I was right about that – that all career decisions are religious decisions. But I was so scared to write it because everyone thinks I just write to be intentionally controversial. But I really write to be smart; if I don’t say something that makes you think in a new way, you won’t keep reading.

So I remember putting that post off for months. And I am thinking, lately, that I need to write faster. I need to trust myself more and not think and think and think.

As I’m worried that I can’t think straight anyway. I read an article in the New York Times about how people can’t keep making decisions well all day: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? Judges give pardons at the beginning of the day, but by the end of the day they are so tired of hearing cases that they can’t sort facts well enough to trust themselves to give pardons.

Another example: Poor people make so many money decisions that the non-poor never think of (like, there’s only enough money for either toilet paper or detergent,) that poor people get emotionally and intellectually exhausted and go on a binge. It’s not because they are irresponsible. It’s because no one has unlimited daily capacity to make decisions.

So I’m exhausted from decision-making. It’s the end of the summer. I just spent three months deciding every day what my kids should do. Don’t tell me I should have decided at the beginning of the summer. I’m in a new town, a new culture, and far away from everything. I didn’t know what would be right for us.

But that’s my problem, I think. That I tell you not to tell me it could be better. Because someone mired in having to make tons of decisions probably needs help. I think this is a lot of moms who work and have kids. I think it’s also people in their early 20s who are freaking out that their life is not coming together and they don’t know what to fix first.

It’s lots of people. And I’m not sure what everyone needs.

But seeing that Whitney Johnson quoted me makes me see myself differently. Just for that minute. Instead of seeing myself as an exhausted person who can’t get anything done tonight, I see myself as someone who has an unexpectedly wide impact.

One of the only books about happiness that doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists is by Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness. It’s a rulebook for happiness. Like, do these things and you’ll be happier. It’s not stuff like go to the gym. Because everyone knows they should do that and everyone knows it’s nearly impossible except for the people who don’t even need to go to the gym because they’d exercise anywhere.

Lyubomirsky says, among other things, that you should give three, unexpected compliments in one day. Once a week. You get happier just from doing it.

But I think, now that I’ve gotten out of the bath and written a post, that those three compliments are going to be easier for me to do. Because a random person noticing you, changes you, just a little bit. And I’d like to do that for someone.

And also, sometimes you have to look in far reaches and odd corners to get back to feeling okay. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. I think hot water or a good book or even just cleaning the bathroom floor, helps you get to whatever is next for you. You just have to do something.

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  1. Alex
    Alex says:

    Feeling you have limited resources (time, strength, willpower) can be incredibly stressful but also an amazing motivator. Funny thing is, it’s all in your mind. Example: sometimes I feel I don’t have enough time for work projects, stress myself out and end up thinking: ‘If I died right now I wouldn’t even complain. Anything to get out of this project!’.
    Other times I feel I don’t have enough time to do all the stuff I want for my blog, but I love my blog and the lack of time becomes my motivator to get more organized and make it better. In the end, lack of time makes me love my blog even more.
    Thinking your resources are limited can be a great motivator if you like what you do. If you don’t love what you do, you’d better employ the little time you have trying to figure out how to change that.

  2. Jess
    Jess says:

    “Lyubomirsky says, among other things, that you should give three, unexpected compliments in one day. Once a week. You get happier just from doing it.”

    I think this is something I need to add into my day… I know how much I brighten when someone pays me an unexpected compliment, it really can make your whole day.

  3. Charlotte K
    Charlotte K says:

    I almost always find something immediately useful in your posts! Thank you for taking the time to write them. I understand that it is hard, but you are one of best quality blog I read (and I read/look at a lot of them).

    And thank you for recommending “The How of Happiness” I’ve been looking for a “practical manual.” I’m not sure how I missed this one. Decision-fatigue drains happiness, and I’d like for someone to tell me what to do!

  4. Jill
    Jill says:

    If it is the same article I read, he also cites studies showing that a large part of decision fatigue is low blood glucose. Our brains need glucose to make decisions, and eating to keep our levels at a healthy rate is one of the best things we can do. It makes sense, because how often is our fatigue caused by needing to eat?

    • dl
      dl says:

      Jill, how true! When my husband and I travel, particularly driving, we often fail to eat in regular intervals. Maybe we’re on that final stretch, so we might as well wait the extra couple hours and eat when we get home. Inevitably, we ruin the end of our trip with complete orneriness, simply because we need to eat.

    • dl
      dl says:

      >>I just spent three months deciding every day what my kids should do. <<

      I'm probably being over-analytical here, because I know this isn't what you're doing, Penelope. But lots of kids these days seem to have everything planned out for them. Their schedule, their activities, everything, every waking hour.

      Sometimes kids benefit from not having anything to do. They become creative and imaginative when they're forced to think on their own – like yours were doing with the dog in the bathtub, how precious!

  5. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    I think they were bathing the dog….so he would be better at making decisions…and then they could teach him to fetch.

    You know what many of your posts are?? They’re reminders. Reminders that we have choices and if we make good choices we will feel better. And, in this day and age, we’re so busy…we need those reminders. Just like you got your reminder from Whitney.

    And now she’ll read this post…and be reminded of her impact as well. And so it goes…

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

  6. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    The first time I ever read your blog, my dad emailed me one of your posts. One in which you tell 20 somethings not to worry if they’re lost, or something like that. He doesn’t remember, and I’m not sure how he came across the post since I know he doesn’t read your blog (although now sometimes I catch him on it because I talk about you so much). I didn’t start reading your blog as soon as I got that post. It feels like it was a long time ago, probably before I really had a complete grasp on what a blog was, and I can’t remember how I came across your blog again, but I’m glad I did because I’ve gained so much from reading it.

  7. Izzy
    Izzy says:

    WOW..thanks for this. Today especially I need this. My life has been totally turned upside down and irrevocably changed. My mom died of cancer and a month later, my husband and I split up. I just stepped back from a wonderful but similarly unhealthy relationship in my life for me to regain my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. Penelope, I hurt. I hurt so badly today, every day. I have a wonderful Aspie son who needs his mom whole, and connected and not depressed and to be there for him always. I am struggling so much. I think I will look at this book you’ve recommended. I thought I’d found happiness in this marriage, my second, but it ended and it hurts. And it won’t be fixed. My other pain, my mom….that is huge and I’m not even into the grief of her passing. I’ve been too distracted with my marriage ending and my other relationship hurting me. Sooo…..I cut and pasted your sentence about thinking and thinking too much, which is what my rat-in-a-cage brain is doing these days and trusting myself more. For me to have taken the steps to end my marriage and step away from this other situation, means my higher self knows how to take care of me. I made these decisions from the guy AND the heart as well, I don’t kid myself about that. The pain??? I hope it burns itself out. The changes? Well, life is change right? I guess if we don’t change in some way we don’t grow. God help me but I guess these are growing pains. So please keep writing, from the bath, from the back porch, wherever. YOU impact other people, every day by doing that. You move us to comment, to think, to not think, to do, to act. Thank you for that, what you bring to us all. I’m putting my energy out there and seeing what comes back to me. Take care.

  8. jake
    jake says:

    really good. I agree completely with the three compliments daily and here’s my tweak. When i see women who are wearing something cool or just look great I tell them. Men are too *&!% to ever notice or care and I think women dress for women, anyway. Or best of all, they dress for themselves. Also, now that I am older – 57 – I tell other older women when they are just great looking. It drives my daughters insane because first, I usually say it like this, “I’m not a weirdo or gay but I just want to say that I think you look great. Or you are beautiful”. THIS MAKES EVERYONE HAPPY!

  9. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    I know this is not the point, but my favorite part of this post:

    “We are in the hygiene part of the slow food movement.”

    I am joining that part of the movement! (on weekends).

  10. Lindsay | The Daily Awe
    Lindsay | The Daily Awe says:

    While I’ve never been quoted in a magazine (kudos!) I HAVE been recognized on the street thanks to my picture being on my website. It is flattering, isn’t it? I’m sure you get that all of the time.

    I’m glad this brought a little more awareness to the impact you have. I think it’s pretty cool that your influence is so far-reaching. Even to people who wear special underwear.

  11. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    Office work is similar to the home work as many decisions each day. I make decisions almost continuously at the office. You solve on problem and another design issue you never suspected emerges. By the end of the day the mind is worn out and yet when you get home it is almost immediately required to make many more decisions and answer questions. And people wonder why on days off I often prepare to do something that requires no decisions. I have tried a bath in a long time. Maybe that upstairs claw foot tub is worth a climb into for some me time.

  12. Taylor@WiseFamilyLiving
    Taylor@WiseFamilyLiving says:

    I know what you mean. My baby was diagnosed as special needs earlier in the year. And that, and her care, has sort of sucked away any and all extra mental space I have for anything else, other than blogging and homeschooling, particularly things that I used to really enjoy doing. There are so many decisions and so many emotions that it is hard to think about even getting the basic things done, like cooking dinner or ironing. But I think there are such seasons in life. And they come and go. And I have learned that if I just accept whatever the season is, and not feel bad or less than because I don’t feel creative or like my old self, it gets better sooner. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Stacey
    Stacey says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I was fascinated by the research on “Decision Fatigue” and it really answers a lot for me.

    Also the tip on giving compliments is fantastic. I just had a testy conversation with my husband about what might have been responsible for my car getting a flat tire, and I know he felt judgment and blame from me. When we ended the conversation I didn’t feel good at all.

    After I read your article I told him, “I just want you to know that I appreciate being able to talk with you about what needs to get done, and I really appreciate that you’re willing to do it.” He laughed and said, “Well, I really appreciate your forbearance, and your willingness to appreciate me in light of recent events.”

    I’m so much happier now!

  14. Jan
    Jan says:

    Penelope, you’ve had a much wider impact than you suspect. I’m a former lawyer, now working as a photographer in the UK. Originally from Slovakia. Your blog has been a tremendous inspiration and help to me. Thank you.

  15. Marti
    Marti says:

    The longer I read this blog, the more I see that Penelope’s core message is ‘Do’. That has been my mantra for years. DO something, anything, to start the momentum.
    Stassis is stagnation.

    Everyone wants a blueprint for happiness. But sometimes we need some unhappiness in our lives so that we can give our brains a rest from all that bliss and be able to recognize happiness the next time it is in our faces smiling and dancing.

  16. Deena McClusky
    Deena McClusky says:

    It is surprisingly odd for those of us who work in a public forum to get those little reminders that we do actually affect people. Sure, we know people are reading what we do, whether by circulation figures of a magazine, sales figures of a book, or just statistics of a website. Most of the time, however, we don’t feel that much of a personal connection to those facts and figures until we hear people in a crowd recognize us or in your case, quote something we have said. It’s not so much flattery, as it is validation that what we do really matters to a particular person enough for them to acknowledge us directly in some way. It is a great, and yet oddly unsettling feeling.

  17. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    I think this is one of your best posts. Just wanted to say thank you for once again succeeding in making your audience think about things in a different way.

  18. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Yes of course, making others happy makes ME happy. My wife runs on that gas. Maybe that’s why she’s a nurse. When her patients wake up after surgery, and they’re not dead, they are very happy.

    I’m kinda like that in my work. I help people feel good about themselves and then they like me. And that makes ME happy. I can’t help it, I get off on being liked. And it makes me sad, (not a lot, but a little) when I’m dropped from a person’s “IMPORTANT LIST”, like when they don’t return my phone calls or skip out on a promise they made to me. Then I want to make them feel as bad as they made me feel. (Yeah, I know, I’m really mature.) So I fantasize how to make them feel as rejected I feel, and then feel guilty about it too. (I love punishment, except when it happens to me.)

    But I have this Golden Rule thingy going, the “Do unto others…” thingy. Or NOT do unto others. And this dropping of a double standard stops me from calling my phony friends to say, “I don’t want to be your “friend” anymore because we were never real friends to begin with. So let’s drop the BS and admit we could each die and neither one of us would care.” (Well, I would, if they liked me.)

    No, I don’t make calls that…anymore. But I still would like to.

    So if you don’t like me after this comment, don’t tell me. Cuz I don’t handle rejection very well.

    Irv

  19. Dave
    Dave says:

    If it’s true that we can only tolerate a finite number of decisions per day, then rather than treat absolute time as a resource to manage, we should strive to limit our decisions to things that matter. We waste time not by sitting in front of the TV at night so much as we do earlier in the day when we have to constantly decide what the heck we are supposed to be doing now, so that by 8pm, we are toast. If we did not burn out on stupid choices, we would have the motivation to get something else done later.

    That explains a lot. Lack of time is not the problem. A boring job can be worse than no job because you waste so much energy just getting through the day that you have nothing left at night. On the other hand, in a demanding, consequence-driven work environment like a start up, you can work hard and yet still be full of energy because most of your decisions were meaningful.

    It may seem like a day is not full of decisions…but like the poverty example, some of us exist in a sort of intellectual poverty, where we make up decisions to kill time. I’m not deciding what the next piece of corporate strategy should be, but I am deciding whether to keep typing, switch screens when someone walks by, and ultimately whether or to post this comment. None of those decisions are really worth my time. And I will pay for it later tonight when I can’t get my act together to write a blog post. Enough.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t know. This is a good question. I am going to ask my tech guy right now.

      I have to say that you guys are so so good at telling me what I need on the blog. Thank you.

      And thank you, Vicky, for wanting to share!

      Penelope

  20. June Lemen
    June Lemen says:

    I really liked this piece. Although I have liked a lot of others (particularly the one on that guy you hate, whose name escapes me), this is the first time I have written to tell you so. I cannot stop reading your blog. I find it fascinating, although I was profoundly depressed by your Blueprint For A Woman’s Life, because I am 53 and have not implemented any of your suggestions, except that I am now practicing austerity (I have no choice, being unemployed and broke) and have always guarded my marriages zealously — both of them.
    And I am taking solace in the fact that I may be great in bed.

  21. Katy
    Katy says:

    Sometimes I find your inner monologue tough to read because it reminds me of my mindset when I was depressed. Everything was a battle in my head to do what I knew would actually make me happy and eventually help me get out of the depression.

    Then I realise that I still have that inner battle daily but the voice is lower and things seem to be less effort. Not effortless, but definitely not the battle.

    I read that NYT article and loved it. I think it explains how it was I grew up poor and occasionally on welfare, but my whole family had battled weight problems.

  22. Jens Fiederer
    Jens Fiederer says:

    “Too heavy for the bath”? Is there really such a thing?

    About a week ago my wife caught me in the bathtub reading “The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language”. Now THAT’S a book. She said she ought to take a picture, so I told her to go ahead. Then I told her for the next one she should come up a little closer so people could focus on the BOOK rather than my middle-aged body lounging in the tub (with, fortunately, bubbles covering anything that might be considered tasteless).

    My youngest son made her take the panoramic one off her Facebook, but the close-up picture stayed and was my Profile picture for a while.

    Vogue might be able to crush goldfish (“heffer”? I think they meant “heifer”!), but CGEL could crush skulls.

      • Jens Fiederer
        Jens Fiederer says:

        Those were like telephone directories for a small town.

        The key to “heavy” reading in the bathtub is to keep at least one knee raised. You can support the lower edge of the spine on your thigh without getting the reading material noticeably wet. With the CGEL, though, that does leave uncomfortable (temporary) dents in your flesh.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I love that people clicked the heavy link. I alway wonder: Will people even click this insane link? But I love putting them in. They are like little gifts. And your comment is like a thank you note :)

      Penelope

  23. lb
    lb says:

    I’m finally getting over a bad sinus infection (after suffering nearly two weeks) … since the beginning of August, I’ve been sulking about the end of summer … I’ve also been procrastinating at work and putting off putting together my annual performance review (it’s due in two weeks).

    All in all, I’ve been in one surly mood & stuck in a rut for several weeks.

    So, now I’m going to memorize this post & and rely on it to help me get off my sorry ass ….

  24. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    I have for awhile been going in and out of. . .uncertainty. I’m not judging myself in a negative way, just making an observation. I usually can feel, intuit, know when I’m on the right course, but that seems to be coming now few and far between. As soon as I read what you wrote about decision fatigue, I had an aha! moment. Interestingly enough, I am going on a retreat this week-end, so on some deeper level I knew I needed a break, and fortunately, did not allow the “rational’ part of my mind to talk me out of it–work in the yard, shop, catch up on work. In a somewhat related kind of way, I listened to a podcast this morning on the way to a conference about spiritual warriors. Very illuminating. It’s the Aug 24 broadcast of Fresh Air (NPR). Thanks, again.

  25. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Working on the plan to modernize 1950’s bathrooms. Insisted on adding a big soaking tub when there really isn’t room. Architect said, “Really, how often do you take baths?” I said, “Maybe once a week.” Now I know why.

  26. uydsguy
    uydsguy says:

    I have a car! I love to travel! To this end I bought a car specifically dedicated dvd player! Also with gps capabilities! To this end I can travel when you can look at Glee! So I can travel a good way to pass the boring time! http://duan.ca/84874a

  27. Jess
    Jess says:

    My friend recommeded your blog to me as something great and worthwhile. I wanted so much to read your it and have you be something of an inspiration. But I have to honestly say that I have been seriously let down :( Your advice is ridiculous and you would never make it in the business world. Not trying to be mean but come on! It’s a good thing you’re out on a farm. I feel like you are misguiding a lot of young impressionalble people and that is seriously scary to me. You sound like a neurotic mess, not someone who should be doling out half-wit career advice. Please, get real!!!

    • haitiangurL
      haitiangurL says:

      …@ Jess if you don’t agree with something you’ve read, why is it the fault of the person who wrote it? Your comment says more about you then it does about Ms. Trunk.

      Move along and don’t come back. The community here is about dialogue and NOT insults. I think I can speak for most of Ms. Trunks admirers, those of us smart enough to know that her value isn’t what she writes but in how she gets us to think differently. And some days inspire us with her vulnerability.

      Sidebar: Anybody know a good way to remember the difference between then vs than? I’m always scared I’ve just it wrongly. My apologizes if I have).

  28. stomach hurts
    stomach hurts says:

    It’s really hard to make decisions when you’re busy at the same time. Specially when you’re trying to juggle so many thing around and you’re the only one doing it. I saw that from my mom who’s a single mom so I know how hard it is.

  29. nazia21
    nazia21 says:

    I appreciate the method you write your posts, incredibly skilled. I really could notice that you spent enough time and energy in composing your site as well as in discussing more information. I'll take a note of your site as well as recommend it to my buddies.
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  30. Althea Ramirez
    Althea Ramirez says:

    Having a day pass by without making one decision is almost next to impossible nowadays. That’s why I just cant blame you for feeling such, but I must say that coming out with a post like this despite the distractions around you is indeed an achievement.

    You didn’t only obtained motivation for yourself from the bath, but you’ve also motivated others like me. Thanks!

    And yes, I’ve always believed that religion has a crucial part in one’s career. For your career is mostly the results of your decisions – and most of the time people makes decisions based on their set of beliefs & principles, something that is covered by religion.

  31. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I don’t have a substantial comment, but I wanted to let you know that Whitney Johnson is not the only Mormon career-lady that quotes you. I do it all the time, and think about you even more because I (like most women) am obsessively trying to figure out how I can make kids (none yet, but I want them soon) work with my career (law, which I know you think is absurd, but things are changing there, too — you’ll see).

    Thanks,
    Sandy

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such a nice comment, Sandy. Thanks. I’m actually blown away by how nice the comments are here. Thank you so much, you guys. I’m really touched. 

      Penelope

  32. d-day
    d-day says:

    I intend to make myself happy by leaving my current awful job. And based on the parole board obstacle, when asked whether I preferred a morning or afternoon slot for my interview, I picked morning.

  33. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    i have a master’s degree and am currently working in a call center. speaking of slit my wrists.

    some callers are genuinely grateful that i’ve helped their situations, and express appreciation or ask to compliment me to a supervisor.

    despite the relentless sense of having wasted my life and talents, for those brief moments i feel slightly less worthless.

  34. Michael @ School of social skills
    Michael @ School of social skills says:

    Hey Penelope, I know exactly how you feel, sometimes I feel like my blog feels like a full time job, Though I must say that writing post on a regular basis is all about having a good routine, im writing one almost every morning before I leave for work because I know If I don’t do that then I will miss many days without posting anything.
    But you seems like you have it under control.. hmm what's your secret..
    Thanks for a great read
    Michael

  35. Aisha
    Aisha says:

    P, is that you in the tub? Everyone else is I guess too polite to say how hot and skinny you look :) Also – new hairstyle?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hilarious. It’s my son. And, for what it’s worth, if I were that skinny I’d look hot, but I’d be dead. 

      Penelope

  36. Alan
    Alan says:

    Leftie. Steals things.

    If it were me I’d go to the counter and offer a couple bucks for the magazine. In fact, I’ve done that a few times, and they were always happy to oblige, usually for free.

      • Alan
        Alan says:

        I’ve never tried it at a store, but receptionists at doctors’, dentists’, and offices are usually happy to oblige.

        Once I went to the counter at a Pep Boys to pay for a bolt out of open stock, and the guys were amazed. I was the first person they had ever seen who was paying for it instead of stealing it.

  37. Dianepecoraro
    Dianepecoraro says:

    Penelope, I am not surprised that sometimes writing seems hard for you. Your posts are insightful and reflective. You do a good job. An amazing job, actually… You know that old question “If you could only eat one thing for a year, what would it be?” Well, if I could only read one thing for a year, it would be this blog. You DO make us think. And even when you don’t, it is simply a pleasure to read because of your style and honesty.

  38. TwisterB
    TwisterB says:

    I don’t read this post as fishing for compliments, but I think this is a good time to point out something I’ve been thinking since your pig post: Your writing is getting really great.

    You write these short, sweet, inter woven stories where everything comes together in the end.

    I *enjoy* reading your blog :)

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