Shortcuts to Common New Year’s Resolutions


One reason I have achieved so much in my own career is that I’ve taken shortcuts. For example, I played professional beach volleyball without learning how to play indoor sixes very well—I can really only play doubles, which is what people play on the sand. But it allowed me to skip a lot of years of indoor volleyball training and still play pro.

I’m always fascinated by people who find shortcuts. Tim Ferriss is a shortcut taker, but he totally annoys me because he pretends his shortcuts don’t mean he still had to do hard work. One of the reasons I was initially attracted to the Farmer is that he is good at knowing what shortcuts to take and he values hard work.

Just last week, in fact, he moved his pigs to a new barn, where they will be able to mix with the cattle herd. It’s not something anyone in our area does, but he had a hunch it would work, and now he manages one herd instead of two. I love that I’m learning the rules of farming by watching the Farmer cut corners.

In lists of the most common New Year’s resolutions, most are career-related. So I thought I’d take a look at the most common things people tell me they want to do, and I’d tell you shortcuts to getting to that goal. Because I’m pretty good at learning the rules and then figuring out how to work around them. This still means you have to do some hard work, of course, but it’s a smarter way to spend your energy and still get to what you want.

Goal: Get a book deal
First of all, I’m not convinced that people need to get a book deal. That said, if you want to get a book published, don’t write the book until you write the proposal. That’s how you get a book deal — from a ten-page proposal, not an actual book. So here’s what you should do: Write a proposal and if you don’t get a book deal from it, write another. It’s a lot easier to write ten proposals to get one book deal than to write a book that no one bids on. And, if you don’t invest tons of time in one, single proposal then you won’t feel bad if you find out the proposal sucks. Because you’ve got another in the hopper. Here are tips from my agent on how to get a six-figure book deal.

Goal: Sell your company
You don’t actually need to have a big exit. You just need to build something and then, well, sort of give it away. Because the idea of “selling a company” is actually just the idea that you build something that someone else wanted. Sure, $10 million would be great. But so few people get that much money for their company. It’s much more common to get somewhere around $100,000 when all is said and done.

And yes, that’s a lot of money, but you’d probably still work after that size exit, and you’d probably change very little in your life. The value would be that you built something that someone wanted. So sell your company by finding someone who can use what you’ve built and will give you a small, token fee ($10) but a good job at the company. You can use that staff position as a break while you figure out what company to do next. And maybe you’ll start a company and sell it all over again.

Goal: Change careers
You’re going to need to show you’ve done the new job before you can get the new job. It’s not fair, I know. But it’s how the world works. So just make up a job, do it, and then put it on your resume. You don’t need pay or permission to do the job you want. Just start doing it. And if you already have the job you want on your resume, you’re much more likely to get hired for the job you want.

Are you worried about being exposed as a fake in an interview? First of all, there’s not a law that says you can’t have unpaid jobs on your resume. And you can have freelance jobs. So that’s what a made-up job is: freelance, for free. And then keep at it so that when an interviewer wants to talk about this job and what you gained from doing it, you will look great. Because you’ll say you made the job up, to get yourself experience, and here’s what you did, and here’s what you learned, and you’ll look like a self-starter and a results-oriented super-performer. Because only that sort of someone would make up a job and then do it to gain experience.

Goal: Skip entry-level drudgery
Start a blog. Think of a blog like a high-end resume. Most peoples’ resumes are a list of the jobs they’ve done that never show how you bring great ideas wherever you go. A blog, on the other hand, is a list of your ideas. You tell the world your opinions regarding your industry or interest. If you have good ideas, people will start listening. But you have to keep writing, to keep trying to find your niche and the audience for your niche. When you get the influencers in your industry to read you, then you become a respected voice in the arena. And that’s your ticket to a beyond-entry-level job because people who listen to you will also be willing to help you get a job. (Want to get a jump-start on your blog? Try Blogging Bootcamp.)

Goal: Launch a consumer product
Don’t sell the product direct to consumers. That’s the hard route because you have to build your own sales channel. Instead just make a prototype and sell it to retail buyers. Those buyers have a lot more power than a single consumer. And if your core-competency is product design, then you don’t want to spend all your time marketing to consumers. So get the prototype done and if you have no bites, then make another prototype and try again.

This will make your failure cycle go fast, which is one of the key factors in finding huge success. It’s rare to have a big win on your first try. But it’s universal that the way to get through failure is to keep trying when other people would stop.

Goal: Become a writer
People ask me about this goal more than any other. And here’s my advice: Just write. No one can write more than three hours a day. And most of us can find an extra three hours to do what we love. You are already a writer. No one has to give you permission to do what you love.

Of course, this is the problem with most New Year’s resolutions – that the only thing between us and our goals is self-discipline.

45 replies
  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    I love these ideas b/c they are all things I might actually acomplish. My New Year’s resolutions are usually things that make more work for me – cook more, make my bed every day, etc. – I love these are all ways of doing less work, which really should be the goal of all resolutions. Happy New Year!

  2. rachel
    rachel says:

    I have been reading your blog for months and I am happy to say that i actually have done all of the things you suggest, starting a few years ago on my own -and as a result have made more money in the past 3 years than I ever have. i freelance, I blog, I am a writer, I develop products, I consult, I don’t let anyone own me-I take time off as needed to go to trade shows and live life the way I wanted to live it when large companies owned me and thought I should be grateful for the crappy benefits they gave me.

    Love my job, life and the way I live it and I love reading your column that reiterates that i do what i already started doing!

    • Christina
      Christina says:

      Rachel after seeing your post, I want to read YOUR blog but you didn’t link to it?! What’s the web address?

  3. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Dear Penelope:

    I loooove your column. I read it faithfully and not only am I enlightened, but entertained as well…you make me laugh! And you are real…and that’s a huge draw.

    I’ve got a stupid question about writing a book. I got a lot out of this post on the importance of writing good proposals and I linked back to your agent’s info on the topic, which was also helpful. Can you comment on how a ghostwriter fits in to that process, how to find one, how to collaborate best with one, and how they get paid? That would be so helpful!

    Thank you for all you share with us. And PS: I love that you call the Farmer, the Farmer!!!


  4. terri
    terri says:

    Don’t think i would agree with your advice on how to Skip Entry Level Drudgery. It’s the rare individual at an entry level age or level of ability that can become successful through blogging. First you have to have some experience in the field- generally that requires Entry Level Drudgery, like it or not.

    • Jessica Sadoway
      Jessica Sadoway says:

      I agree with you in part, but I think it depends on the type of job. We’re also not talking about going from nothing to VP without a stepping stone or two.

      There are a lot of information-based jobs out there these days, and information is easy to get for free – if you work hard enough to get it. But the shortcut isn’t meant to be a picnic. You’re essentially doing the entry-level work (researching, networking, producing, asking tough questions, and learning the ins-and-outs of your industry), but without the employer. It goes along with Penelope’s shortcut for changing careers. Just start doing it!

  5. Cubicle Rebel
    Cubicle Rebel says:

    I so agree with “you’re already a writer.” It amazes me how often people say “I WANT to be a writer” as if they’re not already one. You mean, you want to be a PUBLISHED writer? And even then, many of them are already published, perhaps in a journal or locally. I AM A WRITER. Period.

  6. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    writing is the one thing i’ve always been complimented for, that i’ve never actually pursued. i’ve wasted a lot of time trying to force other things to happen; i don’t know why i never even gave it a chance.

  7. Joe Brockmeier
    Joe Brockmeier says:

    “No one can write more than three hours a day.”

    I’m going to chalk this up to you being flip, rather than meaning this as a hard-and-fast metric for how many hours a day writers work.

    I’ve been freelancing or writing full time for 12 years. Believe me when I say that yes, people can and do write more than three hours per day.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I wasn’t actually being flip. I think there are a lot of things writers do that aren’t writing. Talking to editors, doing interviews, doing research, pitching stories, reading copyedits etc. You could do that ten hours a day.

      But I do not ever recall hearing someone say they sit down at a computer (or typewriter) and write page after page after page for more than three hours. Most can only do two hours.

      I’m in the two hour camp. After two hours, my writing gets much less snappy.


      • Joe Brockmeier
        Joe Brockmeier says:

        “But I do not ever recall hearing someone say they sit down at a computer (or typewriter) and write page after page after page for more than three hours. Most can only do two hours.”

        I don’t know if anyone sits and writes for three+ hours continuously, but you said “a day” – and I can promise you I know several people who write more than three hours a day.

        I average about 10 hours a day at the computer, and about four hours a day is writing. As you say, a lot of it is other things related to writing – but actual writing, I spend more than three hours a day on.

    • Liza
      Liza says:

      You say you write All day-but what is the quality level? Quality > Quantity. Be a smart worker, not a hard worker.

  8. prime
    prime says:

    Finally someone said that in order to become a writer all you have to do is to start writing. thats it. no magic bullet. I ‘m tired of people asking me how to become a writer but spend more time in a cafe than witing

    • merino
      merino says:

      it does depend on what kind of writer and writing one is talking about: creative writing and work-writing such as in getting information on paper are different kinds of writing, which need different kinds of attention, preparation and mindsets. Preparation, planning, layout, thinking are all parts of writing, and this can be done for more than 3 hours a day. If one adds up all the preparation-thinking going into a creative writing piece, it will also add up to more than 3 hours a day, but the act of sitting and typing (visible act of writing) might occupy much less time. However, any kind of writing needs practice, hard hours of writing and thinking about writing.

  9. CLandes
    CLandes says:

    I’ll be bookmarking this one. I gotta get my arse in gear with some of my ideas that are just rolling around in my head, harness my passion, let got of my mental roadblocks.
    Thanks P.

  10. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I love the last two “shortcuts” because in my experience these are fairly common ways of doing business for both writers and product manufacturing. This illustrates why research is so important when looking to penetrate a new field: you’ll waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel if you don’t bother to learn how everyone does things.

  11. Christy
    Christy says:

    The phrase ‘do what you love’ is classic and it is classic because it is true. Another well-written post!

  12. Anna
    Anna says:

    So just make up a job, do it, and then put it on your resume. You don't need pay or permission to do the job you want. Just start doing it. And if you already have the job you want on your resume, you're much more likely to get hired for the job you want.

    Are you worried about being exposed as a fake in an interview? First of all, there's not a law that says you can't have unpaid jobs on your resume. And you can have freelance jobs. So that's what a made-up job is: freelance, for free.

    That is brilliant… I love the idea.

  13. Liza
    Liza says:


    I like the part on consumer products. Our mitten company is growing – and we’re trying to figure out what’s next and how to make a transition. :-).

    We’ll be thinking about your advice. In the meantime- do you like soft, warm mittens? ;-)


  14. Helder
    Helder says:

    I’m a long time silent reader, but this time I just had to comment on this post… “Make up the job you want” is just the best advice ever: simple that it’s almost obvious and at the same time subversive. As i’m currently unemployed I see this as the best advice to keep pushing my skills and maintaining a work routine… because sending sending resumes and contacting possible employers isn’t helping me much at all.
    Thanks for the advice and Merry X-mas.

  15. Adam Dudley
    Adam Dudley says:

    In my experience there are many more things between us and our goals than simply than self-discipline. E.g. poorly defined goals, self-sabotage, the actions and influence of other people that don’t want us to achieve our goals, skill deficiencies, talent deficiencies, no plan or a weak plan, no support network or allies, lack of passion, not knowing your strengths, etc, etc, etc. All of these constraints must be dealt with before we can achieve our goals.

  16. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Penelope, I am new to your blog and having read your most recent one, I looked at this one. So “Farmer” likes hard work but dosen’t do it himself. Hmmmm. Is that your job as far as he’s concerned?

  17. Butterflyist
    Butterflyist says:

    Good post, though I for certain write more than three hours a day! Quite easily in fact. I think that idea of writing only a small amount of time generally applies to wispy creatives who need to float off and take breaks, play with their muse and smoke :)

    I’m queen of the shortcut, and very much think it’s possible to skip entry-level drudgery. I came into journalism with no training whatsoever, and didn’t even hear those stories about how you should ‘pay your dues’ and start writing small – I approached the big guns straight away and was writing for national British newspapers within 4 months of saying “I want to be a writer.” So I’d add ‘Shun the preconceptions’ to this list as well.

    However, I can write, and this does matter.

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