During the year after 9/11 I went to counseling for post-traumatic stress. I went to a group that met weekly. The counselors explained that if we told our story over and over again, the story would have less power over us.

So I have been telling my story for ten years. I am lucky to have a blog, and an amazing community to tell my story to. And recently, as the 10th anniversary has been approaching, I've been telling my story again, to many news outlets.

I was there when the first tower fell. I was so close to it that I could not even see what had happened. I didn't run. I ducked for cover. I got trampled. By the time I could stand up, everything was completely dark.

I remember the moment I realized I should close my mouth and stop breathing. Time got so slow. I remember thinking that if I had stopped breathing sooner, I would have had a few extra breaths right now. I remember thinking don’t swallow, because there was too much stuff in my mouth.

I thought to myself that I had no idea what to do to save my life. I was in the dark and couldn't breathe. I thought I'll only be alive for maybe a minute longer, so I only have to keep trying to figure out how to save my life for one more minute. I told myself I can't give up until I pass out. I remember that I hoped for a fast death.

Then something switched in me. I was okay dying. I felt okay with whatever level of pain I had before I died. I thought of my two brothers. I wanted them to be okay. To be fine. And I hoped someone would help them deal with my death. I thought of my husband, and I was so disappointed to not see our life unfold together.

That evening, after I had been to the hospital, after I had both eyes patched up, my husband finally told me both towers fell. That evening, I still thought the time that I was in the dark was maybe ten minutes. Now I realize that the time when I could not breathe was probably less than a minute. I had accepted the pain and my death after only 30 seconds.

The first time I told that story was when I wrote it for Time magazine on the evening of 9/11. I can't believe how much my story has changed. How much more I know.

Here's what I know. I know that leaving New York City is really hard to do. I spent my whole life being a high achiever. I was a high achiever in high school, even as the police were taking me out of my parents house for abuse. I was a high achiever in college, even while I was in a mental ward. I was a high achiever in my 20s, even as I was doing the hard work of taking care of my two youngest brothers.

Here's my life story: Top figure skater, professional beach volleyball player, syndicated journalist in 200 newspapers, author of three books, founder of three startups.

Here's my World Trade Center story: Learning to give up everything. I am not a person who waited until the end of my life to slow down. I'm someone who stopped competing. When you leave New York City to move to Wisconsin it's like a formal announcement that you are out of the competition.

In New York City, anyone who can manage living there with kids is doing something great in their career. For those who have kids, there is only room for high achievers in that city. And I am not there.

I live on a farm outside Darlington, WI, a very, very small rural community where most people are happy. Most people grew up here. Most people do not expect to leave. Most people do not expect to be the greatest at what they do. They just want to have a nice life. I do not fit here, to be honest. I find myself continually obsessed with being great, making my kids great, finding the best opportunities.

Like gymnastics camp. Top schools. Big vacations.

What I learned from the World Trade Center, ten years later, is that it's okay to pull back. It's okay to stop competing. It's the scariest thing I've done in my life. And I'm not great at it. I still drive eight hours round-trip so my son has a great cello teacher.

That 30 seconds when I thought I was dying gave me the strength to cut back on my fast-track life even though nothing else tells me that is a good idea. I have no friends who are on as slow a track as I am. I don't know anyone who left New York City with kids to a rural farm.

It's scary. What if I am giving up an interesting life for merely a peaceful life? What if the payoff for being together for three meals a day is not enough to compensate for the opportunities my kids miss?

The legacy of the World Trade Center is the stories of people who survived. And in those stories, I hear a symphony of assurances that it's okay to get off the fast track. Because you can still feel fulfilled. It's okay to earn half of what you're earning now. It's okay to put your kids in a bad school. It's okay to have a mediocre career or a mediocre house. It's okay even if you just rent forever.

All these things are okay. You would know that if you thought you had 30 more seconds to live.

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  1. Annika Swenson
    Annika Swenson says:

    Please keep telling your story, Penelope. You learned such an important lesson that day and continue to live your life as an example. I hope more people don’t need to experience something like this to decide to pull back, stop competing, slow down.

    Living in a neighboring town, but feeling similarities to your past, I wonder if I will ever run into you. (how often do you meet readers in real life?)

    This post again makes me think…what event in my life caused me to not pursue the fast track…or has my time not come yet to make that decision?

  2. Annika Swenson
    Annika Swenson says:

    Please keep telling your story, Penelope. You learned such an important lesson that day and continue to live your life as an example. I hope more people don’t need to experience something like this to decide to pull back, stop competing, slow down.

    Living in a neighboring town, but feeling similarities to your past, I wonder if I will ever run into you. (how often do you meet readers in real life?)

    This post again makes me think…what event in my life caused me to not pursue the fast track…or has my time not come yet to make that decision?

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ” I'm someone who stopped competing.”

    ” I find myself continually obsessed with being great, making my kids great, finding the best opportunities.”

    I believe the second statement is true. I do not agree with the first statement at all. There is nothing you’ve written in the years I’ve been reading your blog that supports this assertion. The very fact that you write a blog in which you explicitly tell people what decisions they should make indicates that you are still competing.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    ” I'm someone who stopped competing.”

    ” I find myself continually obsessed with being great, making my kids great, finding the best opportunities.”

    I believe the second statement is true. I do not agree with the first statement at all. There is nothing you’ve written in the years I’ve been reading your blog that supports this assertion. The very fact that you write a blog in which you explicitly tell people what decisions they should make indicates that you are still competing.

  5. Danny Thompson
    Danny Thompson says:

    I think it boils down to motivation: Are you achieving to receive, or achieving to give.  I know many people who are amazing at what they do.  Many of them are amazing, excellent people who love giving of themselves to see others grow bigger.  Sometimes they receive big money as a result, and other times they receive nothing.  But I have observed thatthe ones who love to give it all away are the happiest, the most satisfied… the least restless.  I think it is joy… and I feel blessed to know them, and had the opportunity to learn from them. 
    I hope you quit worrying about winning (competition) and just pursue your passion.  When you are centered in your passion, and giving that away, you will find amazing peace and satisfaction.  The only downside to all of that is your blogs willlikely get boring. ;-)
    All the best!

  6. Cindy Zalme
    Cindy Zalme says:

    Penelope, I think no matter what you’re doing internally, you’re doing better work all the time!  I don’t find myself asking why I even read you as much as I used to — not that you aren’t still challenging and controversial but I leave your writings more and more with wisdom…such as your closing statement that is applicable even to those of us who are disappointed in our lives or ourselves.  You bring it home — girl!

  7. Sally
    Sally says:

    Although I read, am amused, entertained and touched, by your blog posts, I am so completely in the wrong demographic for your audience that I  rarely comment. This post is so real.

    I more or less dropped out before I got into the game, yet I still have managed to accomplish a lot and I still (chalk it up to east coast/ny/nj thing) find myself ‘continually obsessed with being great, making my kid great, and finding the best opportunities.’ And oh, I have no friends who are not on the fast track. 

    I must also continually “recommit” to staying off the fast-track. Thats sounds crazy, but it is a conscious choice, and if you are living in a world surrounded by high achievers, you have to find a way in which to live a peaceful life that is not boring. I may have had a more existential wake-up call, not the kind you had, but it boils down to the same thing. If you are awake and aware, you eventually come to the point of “it’s okay.” Thanks for this beautiful reminder.

  8. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Me, too. I was not as close as you. I was in the village, about a mile away, watching the towers fall. I lived in NYC for nine years. It was hard, probably the hardest time in my life. I, too, was a super over-achiever. I moved home to Ohio last year. I am so much happier. I still struggle with wanting to follow my dream career, to not give up that dream, versus pursuing what opportunities open up before me. I will never really understand why fate brought me so close to the WTC on that day, but, to your point ( I think), We have to accept where life takes us, even if it is not what we planned.

  9. Alex
    Alex says:

    I live in NYC. I moved here less than 2 years after 9/11. Sometimes I desperately want to leave. Sometimes I desperately want to stay. I know people who’ve moved out and are peaceful and happy. I know others who’ve left and are absolutely miserable. I wish I knew which one I was. Maybe if I was here when the towers fell I’d know.

    Thank you for writing this. I’ll put you in the column of people who’ve left and are happy.

  10. David Starkweather
    David Starkweather says:

    Being great and having a great life is all relative.  Living in the country and being around for three meals a day seems much better than trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.

  11. David Starkweather
    David Starkweather says:

    Being great and having a great life is all relative.  Living in the country and being around for three meals a day seems much better than trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.

  12. Diana
    Diana says:

    As great as NYC is, it does not take living there to be an overachiever. You just feel like one there because the rents are so high and the pay is so great. Remember that for every opportunity your kids miss there, they will have multiple and equally awesome opportunities in Wisconsin. They are just DIFFERENT ones. Like 4H. Raising pigs. watching things grow. These experiences are just as useful, if not more so, at preparing children for adulthood and helping shape who they are. As far as schools, you can find good and bad in every locale. You’ve chosen the best of all IMO, home.
    Please don’t put yourself down for your choices, Pen. You are still a high achiever, every single day. Just look at your boys.

  13. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    A typical New Yorker’s idea of success varies wildly from a typical Wisconsiner’s view of success, I would say. Betcha some of those farmers you’re surrounded by just shake their heads at some of the things people do in NYC to get to the top of their game. Just as us city folk shake our heads at the lack of culture/ignorance/etc…we say “country folk” are plagued with. 

    I think whether you’re in NYC or Wisconsin, you’re going to wonder what it’s like and what you’re missing on the other side of the fence. That’s just human nature. We all do it. 

  14. Heather
    Heather says:

    I set up my life so my children could be the best they coan possibly be, not The Best Ever.  You can never succeed at that.  But in our rural life they have opportunities for different things than if they lived in an urban area:  community, freedom, starry skies.  You’re giving your children great opportunities that they could not get in NYC.  Kids can catch up on culture in adulthood; they cannot catch up on field in which to roam.

  15. Laura Bora
    Laura Bora says:

    I was walking to school (midlife career change that didn’t take) on Spring Street around 8:55am when I saw the one tower was burning. I stopped dead in my tracks and was gawping, trying to wrap my brain around what I was seeing when the second plane hit.  I didn’t know it was a second plane, I just saw the explosion.  I had some friends who worked for Morgan Stanley and Cantor Fitzgerald.  I still can’t believe they’re gone and HOW and WHY.

    In early Spring 2002 I moved to Northwestern CT to regroup financially (aka moved back home with my mother with every intention of moving back to NYC) and met a widower with two small boys.  I fell in love with all three of them and I have been with them ever since. I live in a town that has a Grange and 4-H club.  I go to farmer’s markets and ride scooters on winding narrow back roads without seeing any cars for miles. Everything closes at 9:00pm except for Wal-Mart.  We have Volunteer Fireman Roast Beef Dinners.  I love my little town.

    Sometimes I miss feeling like I was on the cutting edge or “cool” or on the pulse of “real life.” But I think my life is pretty real, despite having cheesy shoes and cheap haircuts.  I had to let go of who I thought I was to become who I am.  I am who I am because of what I saw that day 10 years ago, and how I walked home next to people covered in ashes and blood and all of us in shock and taking care of each other.  I lived by the Armory on Lexington, and I saw dead people’s faces posted on every surface in my neighborhood, and I heard the refrigerated trucks full of body parts waiting to be identified idling over on 2nd Ave around the corner from Bellevue.  My building was also evacuated one night later that week because of a fake bomb threat to the Empire State Building and I remember standing by the East River wondering if I was ever going to feel safe again.

    The biggest change is I dropped what I thought I “should” be doing based upon some weird ego thing (being COOL).  My job isn’t glamorous, but I like it, and it gives me the base of financial security and benefits to work on my very slow starting but incrementally growing side business.  I don’t think I ever will feel safe again, and that’s a big blessing.  If I let go of safety, I can take bigger chances and risks. 

    I regret nothing – I’ve given up seeking status and have embraced seeking what is right for me. But I do wish there was some decent Indian food around here and I miss how the deli delivered.

  16. matt murray
    matt murray says:

    i was delivering my ex wifes screen play to a non-descript mailbox to a long ago forgotten agent. eating breakfast. hundreds of miles away. however, P (may i call u P?) u still rock. “i’ll have what she’s having)

    your kids brains must/have to be enormous. just sitting at a table with the aged (enunciate age-ed) cerebrum, their mom (and step dad-takes a 7 year vet path to deliver a calf or you can just lease/own a farm) your kids are fine. 200 years ago they would hardly have a chance. visit one of the graveyards around your very very very small but well supplied medically wisconsin town. 30 seconds. i like to compare that to the 10,000 years of homo sapiens supremacy over say neanderthals. at the end of the day. aren’t we all rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. 30 seconds are 80 years is still just a blink. (i’d rather have 80 years) the earth quake in NOVA last week, (i was on the 16th floor of an already shitty building) on the eve of 9/11 brought out a lot in people. the emigre indian pushing people out of the way, the idiot college grad texting as she choked traffic descending 16 flights of stairs, still in her heels!point? time, big vacations, large frontal lobed kids, is really just a post modernity luxury of i hope i can survive this saber tooth tiger attack, or not die in child birth. we have it good. really good. wisconsin or nyc. and that was your point. love you and your work. really glad i get to arrange my titanic chairs with you on board.

  17. Woodsedge
    Woodsedge says:

    Big hugs to you, P. I’ve been in a funk all week in anticipation of the anniversary. And I was in NC when it happened. Just watching it on TV was traumatic for me. I can’t even imagine being you.

  18. Kbrleads
    Kbrleads says:

    I love your blogs. It is practically the only thing I read every time it hits my inbox. I have two thoughts I would like to add.

    I moved from the fast life in Chicago after a devastating divorce, finding peace with a new husband in much slower NE Ohio when my daughter was 6.  9/11/01 was her 13th birthday. I stepped back further when I left my high level VP job to become a much lower paid consultant running my own business when she was 16 because I knew being with her was much more important than impressing myself and my friends with my title and “accomplishments”. It was not worth it. I couldn’t afford to continue to lose pieces of my soul. Today my 23 year old daughter loves Ohio, is accomplished, beautiful, and happy. She missed nothing by living quietly with “mediocre” options that weren’t “mediocre” after all. The choices I made to slow down and focus on my family and savor each day turned out to be lovely and very satisfying. I hope you find the peace you seek. I am certain your children will turn out well because they have you.

    I appreciate your sharing your 9/11 experience. I can’t imagine how that must have felt. I had a different, devastating experience on that day. My brother-in-law rejected his transplanted liver when he saw the towers come down on tv. He died on 11/18/01. He was buried with military honors at Arlington that winter, overlooking the blue-tarp covered Pentagon. The devastation was more widespread and awful than anyone imagines. It feels good to share. Thank you.    

  19. Betsy Aimee
    Betsy Aimee says:

    As a high achiever, who is always thinking of the next big thing, I was SO moved by this piece. I married another high achiever and we dont even have kids yet and we already talk about all the “great opportunities” we want them to have and have been considering moving from Los Angeles to NYC.
    This made me think of what would matter to me if I only had 30 seconds to live. 9/11 happened when I had just graduated high school and its only now that I am an adult that I have thought more about the true impact of this tragedy. I think we were all touched in some way. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

  20. Sboilesen
    Sboilesen says:

    My 9/11 story is not nearly as tragic as yours. I wasn’t in the city. We were lucky. 

    But I can relate what you describe at that moment you thought you were going to die. I had a major auto accident when I was a single mother with two young boys. It completely changed my world view. And I completely changed the direction of my career. I re-married about a year later, still recovering from pain from the accident. I left corporate work and became an alternative therapist. Those years of healing, and helping others heal taught me a lot about what matters in life.  I didn’t make a lot of money, and often wondered if I made the right choice. But I had quality time with my boys and time to grow and mature in things that matter and will be here when I’m gone for good. 

    My learning:  Its OK to stop competing. Especially when the kids are still growing up. Those years go so fast… I know its a cliche’, but its true. My kids are grown with kids of their own now. I’ve returned to the corporate world and still have lots of energy and passion. But its all relative to the rest of my life. When I look back at the years I had extra time with my kids, I would not change a thing. They are the great men they are because I was willing to give them what they needed, and what I needed. I’m still a high achiever but know when to slow down or stop.

    Tragedy has a way of putting life into perspective. A holistic approach to living is so rewarding and fulfilling in a way I never get from just focusing on career.

  21. csts
    csts says:

    Penelope, have you noticed how much more relaxed, how much more cheerful, how much more comfortable in their own skin your two sons look in recent photos than they did in earlier ones?  Congratulations.  What’s more high-achieving than that??!!  :)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks. This is how I want to think. So thanks for writing it down. I want to see the world this way. 

      People always ask me if they need coaching. And this is a good example of the value of coaching. We each learn something by seeing ourselves reflected back, from someone else’s point of view.Penelope

  22. Matt Tillotson
    Matt Tillotson says:

    I get that NYC is where people fight it out to be the elite of the elite. But with the Internet, people can make a meaningful impact anywhere. You’re living proof of that.

  23. Matt Tillotson
    Matt Tillotson says:

    I get that NYC is where people fight it out to be the elite of the elite. But with the Internet, people can make a meaningful impact anywhere. You’re living proof of that.

  24. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    Penelope, did you keep in touch with the woman who helped you? I can see wanting to…and not wanting to, so I’m just wondering.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      She didn’t want to. I can understand that. I was absolutely crazy that day. And that’s all she knows about me. 

      I keep in touch with one of the people from my support group, though. He moved to western Massachusetts. Just writing this comment makes me think: I will email him now. 

      Penelope

  25. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    Penelope, did you keep in touch with the woman who helped you? I can see wanting to…and not wanting to, so I’m just wondering.

  26. lb
    lb says:

    When I went back in the blog archives & read your initial post re your 9/11 experience, I felt like I couldnt catch my breath. I could taste the ash in my mouth.  Your words were so real that I felt like I was there.

    I was living in the middle east when I heard about the attacks.  It’s been 10 years, and I sometimes still have a hard time processing what happened.

    Please never stop telling your story ….

  27. Roberta
    Roberta says:

    Yours is the only post I will read about 9/11. I won’t read the “commemorative” issue of Time. I won’t watch all the specials on Sunday. It is too much. It is still raw and un-nerving. But I can read your story because you were there. And your story is real and heartbreaking.
    Not everyone has to live in New York to have a meaningful, high achieving life. You seem to be thriving in spite of yourself!

  28. Yelena
    Yelena says:

    I think about these issues with my own children when I hear advice about having them do "do less" and "be kids" – When a child understands achievement and competition, and is the given best opportunities that you as a parent can afford, the world becomes theirs. As adults they can choose NY and they can choose grand careers; or they can choose a quiet life in Wisconsin. But without the exposure to "the best" and "the most" how many choices are you eliminating? Our lives could be cut short at any moment, but you can't live thinking that nothing is really that important because of it. Only she who has had everything, or can have everything can say she made the choice to "stop competing". You don't want that choice to be made for you. Teach your children to be the best, and they will decide what path to take. I think it's cool that you drive your kid 8 hours roundtrip to cello. I would do the same thing.

  29. Bs_mcnerney
    Bs_mcnerney says:

    Maybe you should research all of the successful, highly intelligent, individuals who grew up on a farm.  There are quite a few so I would say that the life you had may be a symbol of achieving greatness.  The skills you seek your children to have are transferable from urban to farm.

    • guest
      guest says:

      Yes, I think McNerney is right.  Here is an example ( n = 1).  One of our in-laws grew up in Arkansas, among good ol’ boys.  Went to college somewhere sort of local, but got a PhD in physics at Yale.  Started a company, very successful – in Southern California.  Fast forward to retirement age; he’s a multi-millionaire by that time.  He and wife bought a place with many acres (and they do rent out some of it for cattle grazing) a few hours north of L.A.  And the reason they bought it?  Porch swing.  And the neighbors were in the good ol’ boy category.  Back to roots . . . after having much success.

  30. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I don’t know if I’m a fighter, and that scares me.  I’ve never been a high-achiever, but I do go after specific things once I’ve decided that I want them.  And I always wonder, is that enough?

  31. D[]
    D[] says:

    Thank you!  I made some tough career and family decisions and I keep looking back wondering “what if I”.. our moves sound exactly the same, except mine was a little later with a little older children.. and I moved to paradise, not Wisconsin.

    Big step down for career pay, mediocre schools, great community!

    We don’t sacrifice anything but our own selfishness when we do what is right for own children.   

  32. R_rosenbluth25
    R_rosenbluth25 says:

    This post was very profound. I was in New York City commuting to work on 9/11/01 and now live in Chicago. I still struggle with feelings that I could be doing more with my life, and my job but I think part of that is growing up in New York City. As usual, your blog posts are very profound and thought-provoking. Thank you and keep sharing, it means a lot. 

  33. Kathryn C
    Kathryn C says:

    great story. I was just thinking about “slowing down” today, I live in LA. It’s nutz here, it drives me batty sometimes. This story makes me want to jump ship for something simpler. But sometimes I feel like the grass is always greener. 

  34. Karelys Beltran
    Karelys Beltran says:

    I was a little late to school that 9/11. I lived in Mexico. I got to my classroom and it was empty. I felt a pang in my stomach then figured out that my class was in the library. They were all glued to the tv and I heard some boys say “this will be world war III” but the teachers were telling us all to be calm and not fear.

    The USA had always been this symbol of untouchability, impenetrable, the one who would protect us from anything because it was the bigger stronger brother.

    My hands were so cold and sweating. I could not stop replying my dad’s words the night before this happened during dinner “when the united states coughs the rest of America has pneumonia.”

    He was referring to the economy and how the USA set the rhythm for everyone.

    That morning, as the teachers were promising that we would NOT die and that there wouldn’t be a war in American soil for the attacks, that we should calm down, I kept wondering how long the repercussions would last. And if we were any safer by being neighbors to the US; it was obviously not the untouchable super power.

    It’s been 8 years since I became a US citizen and lived here. But I can’t forget that morning in Mexico, in that border town.

  35. Patriceriley
    Patriceriley says:

    Hi Penelope, thank you as always for your post. For ten years, I tried the method of talking about past traumatic experiences, but I never got better.  I found recently a therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) which has really helped me understand the way my brain has been working –  I learned that for a trauma victim, the memories of the traumatic experience are so overwhelming that the brain cannot move them from one side of the brain to the other –  the brain is unable to process and file them away.  When I was repeatedly telling the story of the trauma, the unprocessed memory was re-experienced as happening in the present.  My brain couldn’t tell the difference between what was and what is, and I’d experience flashbacks of extreme panic and fear:  in telling my story, I was essentially re-traumatizing myself.  

    If the talk therapy doesn’t work for you, EMDR might be of interest.  Therapists don’t really know why EMDR works, but it does.  In each session I recall the worst moment of my week and then move my eyes back and forth repeatedly from one point to another, and then tell the therapist what triggering memory from the past comes to mind.  We repeat the eye movement over and over and my brain brings up all sorts of associations and goes down all kinds of sometimes random tangents until the therapist asks me at the end of the session how severe the “trigger” now feels in my body.  The severity always decreases, and I begin to really feel the effects in the day and weeks after the session, when I realize that the memories I’ve been carrying around for twenty or twenty five years suddenly never cross my mind anymore. I’m free in a way that I have never felt.  Best of luck to you!

  36. MissyMay
    MissyMay says:

    I’m a regular reader of your blog… 28, pretty young still, very high achiever, wanting to make everyone proud….This post is touching and 911 certainly touched me in a humanitarian way…but this made me think of my little sister, a heroie addict, and I started to cry.  So different I know but just another example of a situation that cannot b controlled but is so incredible sad and difficult to come to terms with…..

  37. Roslindrose
    Roslindrose says:

    As far as whether your kids can succeed or not, here is my story. I went to public school most of until high school when I started going to a little private school. Most of my life I lived in a town less than 8000 people. While both of my parents worked, we also sat down for dinner every night. Also, my parents were involved in my education and supportive of whatever I wanted to do.  Despite then going to a little private college, I have managed to get an MPH and am close to finishing an MD.  While I know this isn’t your ideal path considering your many posts against the cost/benefit ratio of grad school (which I don’t entirely disagree with), I think it is possible to have success through many routes.  Despite living in a rural farming community, they have you as a mother, which is going to greatly influence how they see their life and how to shape their hopes and dreams.

  38. Maria Trevor
    Maria Trevor says:

     Hello,

    I was in the train from Kings Cross to Ruseel Square when the bomb went of….and those 10-15 minutes I felt exactly as you describe…..and apart from thinking of my husband I was thinking of the village my mother comes from and where I spent all of my summer holidays…I felt that they would like me to be brave and dye with dignity…and that kept me going and being brave for others in the train…I was 25 years old and had left Greece to work in London, I was on my way up in terms of career and I continued working hard…however we left London and moved to Cambridge…..and starting planning coming back to Greece!

    Thank you for your blog! and good luck!

  39. Denise
    Denise says:

    Penelope, this is my favorite post from you. It really strikes a chord in my heart. Please keep telling your stories.

  40. Kimtons
    Kimtons says:

    I was born in Brooklyn New York it’s always been my home even though I’ve lived all over the world.  When 9/11 happened I was living in Australia and was struggling with returning to the states to pursue my career or staying in Australia for a quieter safer but perhaps a more mundane life. 

    I got the call at 2am from another American friend who was in China her first words were “Turn on the tv America’s under attack they’re attacking New York”   My aunt used to work near the WTC and  I was sick with worry because I couldn’t get through to them to find out if everyone was ok.  Luckily she was off sick that day no one I loved died but we were all deeply affected.

    I decided to stay in Australia, I met the man of my dreams and had three daughters, my career- well it’s been ok.  I too still struggle with not being great but you are so right in the end what does it matter if I only had 30 seconds left to live being great would be the last thing on my mind.  My daughters and my partner are more than enough.  Thank you for sharing your struggle for being honest and reminding all of us that it’s ok, everything is OK in the end. 

  41. Chris Keller
    Chris Keller says:

    Danny T wrote:
    Are you achieving to receive, or achieving to give.  I know many people
    who are amazing at what they do.  Many of them are amazing, excellent
    people who love giving of themselves to
    see others grow bigger. 
    Sometimes they receive big money as a result, and other times they
    receive nothing.  But I have observed that the ones who love to give it
    all away are the happiest, the most satisfied… the least restless. 

    Yes. Now you are doing the generativity thing, Penelope. You are giving it to your sons. You are the wind beneath their wings. It is their turn to take the baton in the relay–and run.

    One of the poets wrote that you can see the whole universe in a drop of water. You don’t need to travel, to live in New York.  You have a microcosm of the world in a raindrop, or on the farm in Darlington.

    In the “olden days,” when Hippie values prevailed, there was a move towards non-competitive sports and games. We were all in it together, no one-upsmanship allowed. It was a very good time.

    We should all (re)consider being in it together, if we have 30 clear-minded seconds.

  42. Mike Nolan
    Mike Nolan says:

    An
    American tourist was at the pier of a small coastal Belizean village when

    a
    small boat with just one fisherman docked.

    Inside
    the small boat were several large fish. The tourist complimented the

    Belizean
    on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

    The
    Belizean replied, “Only a little while.”

    The
    tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more
    fish?”

    The
    Belizean said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s

    needs.”

    The
    tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

    The
    Belizean fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my
    children,
    take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I

    sip
    wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

    The
    tourist scoffed, ” I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and

    with
    the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger

     boat you could buy several boats. Eventually
    you would have a fleet of

    fishing
    boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to
    the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the
    product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal
    fishing village and move to Belize City, then Los Angeles and eventually New
    York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

    The
    Belizean fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

    The
    tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”

    “But
    what then?” asked the Belizean.

    The
    tourist laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right
    you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would
    make millions.”

    “Millions?…Then
    what?”

    The
    American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing
    village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take
    siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could
    sip wine and play your guitar with your friends."                                                                                                                                                
    Author Unknown

    • Guest
      Guest says:

      This story doesn’t work at all — it pretends that larger, system wide issues don’t exist. They do. And burying your head in the sand is a good what to get nailed by them:

      The sea gets over fished and then there’s no fish for the fisherman to catch. Or new fishing technology causes the price of fish to plummet and the fisherman can no longer support himself. Or there’s a disease in the fish and all his catch gets quarantined. Or the fisherman gets cancer and has no way to cover his medical bills. Or his kids get a crappy education, and are then stuck fitting for a shrinking number of lousy low skill jobs. Etc.

      • Mike Nolan
        Mike Nolan says:

        or… it is simply a story to make you think about choices you make.  Penelope has made a choice to slow down, and to focus on the quality of her life, and the people she loves. 

        Yet through her writing and advocacy, she still affects the larger world.

        Not a bad choice, in my book.

        • Guest
          Guest says:

          Actually, my objection to the story is it doesn’t present a real choice. It presents the primitivist lifestyle as one of all positives and no negatives. In contrast, I think Penelope is acutely aware of the tradeoffs in switching to a “simpler” lifestyle. I recall an insightful remark in one of her posts about how adult life isn’t choosing what you get, so much as choosing what you give up. (I’m probably butchering it with my paraphrasing.)

          • Guest
            Guest says:

            the trouble with this story is that people get lost int the presented details and miss the final conclusion… after 15-20 years, the fisherman will be back to his siesta and village evening but his kids will have a future, he will have financial security and money for medicine in his old age. if he continues to live the slow life soon market forces might defeat him or he might end up with a tighter budget in his old age… i would love to slow down, i need to push for financial security 

    • tschitschi
      tschitschi says:

      Actually, it’s based on a short story by Heinrich Böll, called ‘Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral’ (meaning an anecdote to lower the motivation to work).

  43. Simone
    Simone says:

     …where were you 9/11? I remember it was my first month in Chicago I
    was getting ready for work had Good Morning America on saw the first
    tower hit and i thought “what an idiot, the pilot fell asleep at
    the wheel” told my roommate and we talked about how the airline was
    going to be sued out the wazoo… turned off tv went to starbucks went
    to work… when i got to the office my boss was like omg a second plane
    hit she was online… we spent the morning
    frantically searching the internet for news and then when we realize
    what was going on shut the office and went home b/c we wanted to see it
    on tv…

    …now as a soon to be new yorker i can appreciate
    the resilience of the people and the city itself… what i find striking
    listening to everyone’s story on how this experience impacted them this
    anniversary and every year is how no one person whose had these lovely
    epiphanies still doesn’t feel ambivalent about life… there’s no real
    sense of holy peace or elevated greatness that transcends the day to day
    crappiness of life… (one of the big reasons i trashed my career
    cashed out the 401k to travel was i thought i was missing out on some
    big experience that could change my life)…

    now i think that
    we’ve been lied to hollywood style when these stories of traumatic
    moments are presented and reframed to have these great epiphanies and
    then lead to some big grand gesture that changes everything and leads to
    fulfillment and nirvana level type happiness i.e.” i survived 9/11
    left my seven figure job on wall st to teach in the inner city its the
    best thing i ever did, i’ve never been happier, can’t you see my glow?” (yeah but i bet your job
    is still a pain in the ass, traffic still pisses you off and you’d divorce
    your dumb wife if it wasn’t for the kids)…

    in summation: i
    wish the media would present the truth, the whole truth and stop selling
    us “happily ever after” stories… we’re adults still being told
    bedtime stories and this mind fuck is screwing us over, not allowing us
    to be happy with reality (or at least a reality w/o a happy damn ending)
    and I’m beginning to see and trying to accept this is not how life
    works.. there are no “and they lived happily ever after” for anyone…
    which is why I really really appreciate this post Penelope Trunk! This is the real beauty of keeping it real…

    p.s. As for your bigger questions on your happiness, your kids happiness (on the farm, off the farm)… I think (for what its worth), accepting ambivalence will get you a lot further in your struggle for happiness or an interesting life or happily ever after.. b/c no matter what you do or where you are ambivalence is always there.. in the midst of joy or sorrow… and also self-acceptance will get you along way too… I mean c’mon Penelope, you can achieve everything you want but do you really think its going to change who you are fundamentally ( if your a crazy and neurotic is being VP or CEO of something going to change that?)… Crazy, insane, neurotic, bitchy, moody, whatever!  I think your pretty great just the way you are and I bet your kids think so too.

    You should read Heather Havrilesky work (after you she’s my favorite blogger/writer)..

    For the crazy, bad mommy thing go here (http://mobile.salon.com/ent/tv/iltw/2009)..

    for the just plain crazy and (this has been reblogged for twenty something advice on life) go here (http://www.rabbitblog.com/) starting at The Dumpening Letter…

  44. Acorn
    Acorn says:

    You can have “merely a peaceful life” in NYC too.  NYC isn’t only Manhattan.  Just because  over achievers congregate in NYC doesn’t mean you have to participate.  You have to be your own person.  Even NYC has homeschoolers.

  45. Rigson88
    Rigson88 says:

    I never knew personally any of the 9/11 victims,
    but I will always grieve for them and sympathize with the loved ones they left
    behind.  Looking back after ten years, I
    still remember how it was to be traveling shortly before 9/11. Airport security
    was already a hassle. From a line of passengers boarding a plane, especially in
    the United States, you
    could be asked to step aside during a random check, but that went quickly and
    airport police let you go in less than five minutes if they realize that you
    were, well, "clean."  Security went into
    total extreme.

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