In therapy lately I am learning to identify my feelings. Maybe you’re thinking this is elementary, but did you know that envy is about wanting something you don’t have, but jealousy is the fear of losing something you already have?

I am thinking about those two things. I am almost never envious, but I am often jealous. Most of my emotions, in fact, are rooted in fear.

I am thinking a lot lately about where my joy comes from, and one thing I love is writing well. When I have a blog post that people love I am happy for weeks. And the excitement of doing good creative work gives me energy to do more.

So I have been thinking about how to get better at writing, and I’ve been trying to notice stuff that I wish I had written. The process teaches me a lot about identifying my own emotions.

1. A New Yorker article.
There is not much in the New Yorker I wish I had written. Most of it I think is too long and could use a stronger editor. (Like this article about Ikea.) But there is a piece in the Nov. 28 issue that is just one page, and so funny that I carry it with me and make people read it just so I can watch them laugh.

It is We are the One Percent, by John Kenney. Will you click to read it? Go read it now.

I’ll wait.

I am not funny. I mean, I am funny but in an unintentional way. When I try to make a joke it is usually a pun. I love puns but I have realized, late in life, that people do not think puns are funny.

When people read my writing and say that I am funny, I feel lonely, because I know better than to try to be funny on purpose. So honestly, I don’t feel that funny. It’s a lot like when people say that I write stuff just to get a lot of traffic. If I knew how to churn out a 300-comment post on demand, don’t you think I’d do it every day?

In fact, it’s like funny. I have no idea when it’s coming. Feeling: Lonely, because I’m always surprised.

2. An email from Melissa.
I wrote to Melissa that I messed up my PayPal account and I hit my limit on money I can transfer to my checking account and I wanted the money right then, while I was in Florida, with the kids. We were at the Waldorf in Boca, which I would have never chosen, but there was a wedding.

And actually, in the list of things I wish I had written should be the pricing plan for this resort. It reminds me of buying a printer. They seem so reasonably priced until you get killed on the ink. And that’s what happens here—when you have to pay five dollars for an apple juice, and $25 to get the hotel to remove the $5 juice from the fridge in the room so the kids don’t drink it.

Anyway, I asked Melissa if I could pay her through PayPal and use her credit card at the hotel. This is the sort of fucked up behavior that Melissa and I have done in the past, so it seemed like a reasonable request.

Melissa wrote back, “No. I’m not doing stuff like that anymore.”

And I thought, “She is really smart. Of course we should not do stuff like that anymore.” It is bad boundaries and I am working on having better boundaries with everyone, even Melissa.

I am hoping she will send me an email asking for something bad so I can write a response that blows her away with my ability to establish good boundaries. Feeling: Determination to change and excitement about what my life could be like with good boundaries.

3. The ad copy up there.
The girl. In the hot outfit, with all the guys around her. Do you see her? It’s an ad for work clothes, of course. But it’s an ad that gives women the freedom to use their sexuality to get everything they can get. I love that. Women are doing better than men are at work in their 20s. Women earn more and women are less likely to get hit in layoffs.

OK Cupid – one of my favorite blogs for the combination of amazing data and amazing analysis, and really, that should be on my list of stuff I’d like to write too, except that the guy who writes it – Chris Rudder – has his personality all over it which makes me just want to enjoy it and not be it. Like Joel Stein’s column in Time magazine. It’s too too too him for me to want it to be me. But I love reading it.

Anyway, OK Cupid concludes that women are in highest demand when they are in their late 20s. Which makes sense to me—they are high earning, stable, and still very hot. So women should leverage their sexuality to get promotions, make sales, get high-earning husbands—great legs help with all that stuff.

I want to write advice like the advice in this ad. Be great. Reach high. Inspire people around you by being inspired yourself. And when you don’t feel that way, at least look that way and eventually that good look will get you back on track.

Feeling: Hopeful. The ad reminds me of all the positive psychology research – that you can create hope in yourself by giving it to other people.

If I focus on what I wish I’d written, I realize that what I’m scared of has nothing to do with other writers. What I’m scared of is not growing. It’s freeing to recognize that, really. Because I can’t control what other people write. But I can control how much I push myself to grow. And I’m convinced that jealousy and envy — whichever is your sin of choice – have very little power over us when we are growing fast enough to surprise ourselves with what we can accomplish.

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69 replies
  1. D
    D says:

    I think you do try to be funny (and succeed). The comparison of hotels to printers is funny, and I bet you intended that.

    To me the sign of a great writer is how she uses metaphor, similes and details. You are good at all those things.

  2. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hmmmm. I would readily pay a bill for a friend using my credit card if that friend sent me the money by paypal. Sometimes we just have to unite against the insanity that is the screwed up digital money system, particularly in the US, where there are all kinds of hoops to jump. It hurts me in no way to help, and it helps my friend.

    Continually lending to a friend who never pays back is another matter.

    • terri
      terri says:

      Melissa is an employee/former employee, not only a friend. The rules change when you have a work relationship because even when that work relationship is over, the senior person wields power (as a reference, etc.). So Penelope is right regarding setting boundaries. Her comment “So women should leverage their sexuality to get promotions, make sales, get high-earning husbands – great legs help with all that stuff” is correct too as long as those women plan to work as professional hookers.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        i want to comment on D (the post below/above? me).

        it’s true!

        men can look extremely sexy in their suits and stuff that fits great. their stature is sexy, their hair is sexy, their voice can be sexy but it’s treated as whatever.

        but with women, if you try to use your sexiness as an edge OMG YOU GOTTA BE A HOOOOOKER GURL!


        i like P’s idea about making yourself feel great because i feel like crap and it shows in my prescence at work.

  3. Andi
    Andi says:

    I agree with Sarah with regard to helping out a friend who can’t access money that belongs to her. I don’t understand what part of this is “fucked up behavior”. Not trying to be dense, but if everyone who is supposed to be paid is getting paid, what’s the big?

    As for the funny… Penelope, you bring it whether you intend to or not. Along with a host of other emotions. Which is why I love you. You’re a human being! Welcome to the club — there are a bunch of us (some more human than others), so you shouldn’t have to ever feel alone. But I get it, if you still do anyway. I still love you. xoxo

  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    I remember when I learned to identify my feelings. It wasn’t obvious for me, either.

    And I love puns. You can tell me puns anytime.

  5. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    “So women should leverage their sexuality to get promotions, make sales, get high-earning husbands…” Seriously? If you’re skating by on your looks and prostituting your assets to get through life, you probably don’t need to seek out that kind of twisted career advice because it’s already falling into your lap.

    "Shit is f*#%ed up and bullsh*t." Loved the one percent article.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Just because you’re leveraging your looks to get ahead in your career doesn’t mean you don’t need career advice.

      Also, I don’t see people having a shit fit that Chelsea Clinton is on the board of IAC. That’s an incredibly huge position for someone with her (small amount of) experience. Surely she got the job in part because she’s Chelsea Clinton. But really, she just leveraged her asset (her parents) and managed her career really well with that asset.

      This is what I’m telling women to do with any asset they have. Men have been doing it for centuries — in the castles, on golf courses, whatever.

      It’s great that women can do it now. Hooray. And with Botox, women can extend their good looks for even longer. More benefits. Hooray.


      • Pen
        Pen says:

        I’m guessing that the thing that turns people off is that you emphasize women using specific assets. Namely manipulation via looks and sexual power.

        Now in the comments you mention Chelsea Clinton, and yes, she has leveraged an asset too; but it’s not the same type of asset that you emphasize in your posts. There is a subtle difference.

      • downfromtheledge
        downfromtheledge says:

        Actually I think people get upset when anyone gets something they didn’t really deserve or earn – whether it’s because they have the right family, connections, money, personality, whatever.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        who’s to judge if you deserved/earned something?

        if you feel like you deserved a position/promotion but didn’t get it because you weren’t as hot as X or you didn’t have the connection/family that X has so you didn’t get it.

        the truth is, if you had had any of those things you would’ve opened a door and walked through it then do a great job with your skills. then other people would’ve been envious and accuse you of not deserving it but JUST getting it because of your hotness/family/connections etc.

  6. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I felt really young until I turned 25 in December. Now I feel like I’m running out of time. I know that is ridiculous. But I don’t have fancy work clothes and I work from home which I think is such a waste because I mean look I am 25! I am supposed to be networking and wearing fancy work clothes and even though I feel fat 99% of the time I am about to run a marathon (I signed up so now I have to) so I can’t be that fat. Right? I don’t know. But I do know that I am constantly inspired by you. And I hope that maybe at least when I’m running I look like the kind of person that has stuff together because I have the focus to listen to my very intellectual audiobook that I heard discussed on Diane Rehm while I run fourteen miles.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      harriet I feel really old most of the time (i’m 24) because i’m responsible. and i feel like maybe i should show more cleavage because hey i got great boobs and no kids and they’ll be saggy once i got kids!

      it’s confusing.

    • Angela
      Angela says:

      I’m 35 and can remember feeling similar when I was in my 20’s. My advice: Less angst and more enjoying your life. Just enjoy being young and don’t worry about measuring up to some photo-shopped image. Define success on your own terms.

  7. Mike C
    Mike C says:

    One of things that’s really hard about aspergers is that you are oblivious to being oblivious and you make mistakes without realizing they are mistakes. Then when you hit a brickwall, usually a social situation that you manage to screw up because you misinterpret things or apply the wrong rules, it is really traumatic. I love this post Penelope and I too need to focus on personal growth so that I can avoid hitting walls in the future.

  8. MANA
    MANA says:

    You are teaching young women how to scrap whatever moral integrity they have in favour of the unbridled pursuit of self-interest. That has a name, and it is not “Good”.

    And you justify this on the basis that it a) gives you a jolly thrill, and b) fills the lonely void in your heart.

    Consuming the world for self-gratification without serious consideration of the moral impact is the deadly curse of the ’empowered’ western woman.

    Do you really think your loneliness will disappear while you make a living from urging impressionable young women to their doom?

  9. Kathryn C
    Kathryn C says:

    I love Joel Stein too. Loved the latest on his twitter edits.His articles are the perfect length for me. And I also love OK cupid but why don’t they update anymore?
    Completely agree on leveraging your assets. Great point to the reader, on Chelsea Clinton. GREAT. I sometimes want to write blog posts based on your reader comments. Maybe I’ll do that.
    Missing your posts!

  10. Jack
    Jack says:

    Women are free to take Miss Trunk’s advice to “leverage their sexuality” to excel in the workplace, and many do, but they then shouldn’t turn around and complain when that display of sexuality attracts attention from those they don’t want it from, as is often the case.

    Most of their male peers they are competing with for such promotions and commissions are not going to respect or tolerate a woman who tarts it up when it’s in her interest and then claims she’s been been subjected to a sexually hostile workplace when it backfires on her.

    Many of her female peers won’t either.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jack. Women are doing better in their 20s at work than any other demographic right now. So I don’t think women in their 20s need to worry that men won’t respect them. Men in their 20s are not earning as much as these women are, and men in their 40s and 50s are the most laid-off demographic in the workplace.

      This is not 1950. Or even 1980. The only power men have in the workplace is in upper management because by the time people get there most of the women have dropped out of the workforce. By choice.

      Your threats of women losing the respect of men in the workplace is laughable.

      And men have been sexually harassing women since the times of cave men, so I don’t think women leveraging their sexuality in the workplace is going to increase sexual harassment – it is already as high as it could possibly go. The University Association of Women reported that women get harassed in their first job, in high school, and it doesn’t let up for decades. And you know what? No woman would be surprised to hear this.


      • Samantha
        Samantha says:

        Hi Penelope
        Exactly. It’s as laughable as the concept I read recently that women should not be in medicine, because it is too critical a field to have people dropping out to have babies. Translation: “men don’t approve/men are threatened” . Medicine as a practice is being re-defined by women , especially family doctors. Women are more in demand now and have different standards of success: working 80 hours a week, for example, the conventional prestige measure, does not impress anymore, nor is it necessary to be a great doctor. These badges of honour are not universally recognized anymore.

  11. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    Sometimes you leverage you assets, sexual or not without really being aware of it as it is just who you are or what you identify with.

    Between 20-30 I was granted two great positions in which I had much to learn and I was able to do, luckily. Over time however, I realized that both my male bosses did not only see my abilities as a worker but also saw something attractive physically to them.

    I don’t know that it was dominant or incredibly apparent to anyone at the time, but in hindsight it was. If I had leveraged that, I would have been way better off.

    It’s evolution, it’s just there, it just is. It’s making the most of something that already exists and if both parties benefit from it, what the hell. It’s win-win.

  12. Penny
    Penny says:

    Being able to identify your feelings sounds really important, you should write more about this! I have aspergers too.

    As for females using their looks for career advancement. Why the hell not? If that’s what get’s your foot in the door, who cares?It’s still going to be your brains and skills that keep you going. I know of what I speak.

  13. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Do you want to be a better writer, or do you want to be more successful as a writer? They’re not necessarily the same thing. Many sucessful writers are hacks… I imagine your sexuality would help your success, but it’s not a factor in your ability to write well.

    You are a genius, by the way, at turning posts about boring topics like “writing well” into controversial ones like sexuality in the workplace.

  14. Sarah Altman
    Sarah Altman says:

    I just guffawed alone in my room, reading Kenney’s article. Writing like that makes me glad I read.

  15. Roach
    Roach says:

    You are one seriously mentally ill, immoral, annoying, self-absorbed broad. Learn to manage you’re money. You should honestly sit down with a financial planner and place hard limits on how much you can spend at a time. You don’t have problems with boundaries. Or Seretonin. Or anxiety, necessarily. You have problems with morals: self-control and how you treat other people. Get your ass to Church and read some Aristotle while you’re at it; it couldn’t hurt.

    PS For the 25 year old chick, the clock is ticking. Now’s your greatest power to snag a high quality husband. You’ll be less desirable as you age.

  16. Mark Wiehenstroer
    Mark Wiehenstroer says:

    I really enjoy reading your writing. You’re a very good writer. However, I believe no matter who you are there’s always room for improvement and it’s fun to grow each day regardless of the profession. As you say, it doesn’t have to do with anyone else but yourself as it’s yourself that you have control over. So my advice for you is the good advice you gave in a recent blog post – search for and get a good writing coach. Oh, yeah, and BTW, please write more blog posts!

  17. Kusandra
    Kusandra says:

    Sexuality, desirability and beauty are always part of the equation regardless of whether the woman is ignorant of it or savvy about it. I wish I had understood this better when I was 27. These factors played a part in my getting opportunities but my brains and work ethic is how I advanced my career. Dialogue for women about this from all points of view is better than the pretense and phoniness that permeated the workplace in the 90’s and early 00’s.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Sure, there is no reason not to look good, wear well-tailored and nice clothes, look sharp and put together. There are however, very good reasons not to play the sex card at work to advance yourself: do you want to be promoted into a position where you can use your profession, knowledge, intellectual ability, skill? Then maybe you should display those and not play out the sex-card. On the other hand, if your workplace is the place to find the rich husband – please go ahead and play the sex kitten. You will get what you came for, and probably can live up to the schedule for a women’s life presented here a few months ago.

      P.S. Harassment is also about boundaries: if you openly use sex and looking sexy you say to others that your boundaries are set on low – this is a signal for more frequent and open advances.

  18. Daphne Gray-Grant
    Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    Great post. I am a writing coach and I can tell you that if you really want to improve your writing there is one essential trick.

    You need to SEPARATE your act of writing from the act of sales/marketing/publication. You can’t write better until you stop worrying about what other people will think. When you write, WRITE (and don’t do anything else).

    When you edit, EDIT. And when you sell/market, well, SELL. Keep these three tasks completely separate and your writing will improve, guaranteed. (Not that I think you need to improve it all that much! It’s pretty interesting.)

  19. Nina
    Nina says:

    I wish I knew what are my assets….then I would def practice on how to leverage them! I have always been employed in a way where I have been told what to do, which maybe don’t really encourage any personal growth? Three months ago I started planning my own little thing, and being so new to it i realized how much I have to grow and learn about my self to understand what to do and when to do it….still learning and still creating….

  20. howard roark
    howard roark says:

    I am really sorry I ever started reading this blog. The weird female thoughts expressed publicly are really disturbing. Instead of focusing on accomplishment and competence so many commenters enjoy revelling in their victimhood or fantasy use of their sexuality to solve professional problems.

    Most depressing blog posting ever. But the Left Wing Thinking should have been my first clue many months ago

    • Can't stop watching
      Can't stop watching says:

      Isn’t it ghastly? It’s like she’s every hideous chauvinistic stereotype come to life. Secretly likes violent men? Check. Uses sex to get ahead in life? Check. Repeatedly gets knocked up because hey, there’s always abortion? Check. Ignores needs of kids to be with boyfriend du jour? Check.

      God help those poor children. At least if their father decides to try and get custody he’s now got all the ammunition he needs.

      • Cliff Arroyo
        Cliff Arroyo says:

        I’m a horrified newcomer and yeah it’s pretty ghastly but amusing in a trainwreck sort of way.

        But, my impression is not that she’s secretly attracted to violent men as much as she’s very openly attracted to Drama and clearly values emotional chaos (so wonderfully exciting!) over boring stability and responsibility.

        The sad part is she’s openly training her kids to do the same. I fully expect any sons to end up in prison (for domestic abuse) and daughters to end up on the pole.

        Weirdest thing in this post: “I am hoping she will send me an email asking for something bad so I can write a response that blows her away with my ability to establish good boundaries”

        In other words, she hasn’t learned a thing and is going to be an emotional vampire on this other woman’s life as long as she has any chance.

      • howard roark
        howard roark says:

        This blog posting confirms that Penelope also has Boderline Personality Disorder. I can no longer participate in her self-destructive activity. As a mother of young children this is very tragic. Worse than a train wreck, this is a slow-motion train wreck on live TV broadcast on several live TV stations simultaneously.

        Those of you who continue to participate are ENABLING a parent’s self-destruction.

        My conscience won’t permit this.

  21. me
    me says:

    “I’m convinced that jealousy and envy – whichever is your sin of choice – have very little power over us when we are growing fast enough to surprise ourselves with what we can accomplish.”

    No truer words have ever been written.

    An insightful reminder that whenever I find myself wallowing in my own private little self-pity party, I need to just get over myself. And instead focus my energy on identifying a productive way forward.

    I really need to tatoo this on my forehead. (Well, as long as I dont get busted for violating SOPA, that is ….)

  22. Antoniette
    Antoniette says:

    Thanks for this, Penelope. Since I never want to write a post or an article that begins with, “Things I Wish I Had…” your post has infused a sense of urgency in me to finally publish the stack of articles and posts I’ve written during the past several months. That’s envy, not jealously, right?

  23. Heroine Worshiper
    Heroine Worshiper says:

    Women are peaking in their mid 30’s now. They’re in demand at older age because of that great mass of horny men called the baby boomers.

    Get better at writing by reading more. People who create videos of their writing will rule the world in the age of bandwidth. The world will not look kindly on people who just write.

  24. emily
    emily says:

    There was a good article about a year ago covering a woman in New York City who got fired from her law firm for, essentially, dressing too sexy. People are so threatened by women’s sexuality – and the comments here show that’s true. It’s exactly why women are sexually harassed in the work place – its not to intimidate but to try and confuse women into being less than they are.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Why do you assume that people feel threatened if a woman dresses in a manner as to clearly display her sexuality? I am not talking here about just wearing a sleeveless dress, but clothing which openly shows an intentional display of one’s sexuality. I think many people (men and women) feel simply embarrassed. Why would I as a woman want to see in a professional meeting an overt display of sexuality? It is not going to work on me as a positive asset… but it distracts from the topic at hand . Asking for professional attire (and I would take this in a rather broad manner) is not because one does not want to allow women to express themselves – it is to keep focus. This is what the often used word professional behavior means: focus on the work, the task at hand. Would any of you respect a lawyer who wears sexy surfing attire to a meeting to express himself?

      • emily
        emily says:

        Redrock: I’m sorry the corporate world has been a place you’ve had to live for a long time. But just because you’ve had to suck it up doesn’t mean that when women come into the work place they should have to go through the same alienating process. Let us liberate you already!

        And God Lord, we’re not talking about wearing a bathing suit and a headband to a business meeting (although I once had a manager who wrapped his tie around his head while telling us what it was that he wanted us to do, and do now.) We’re talking about wearing clothes that make you feel good, because being in touch with your body’s response is a part of what can help you make good decisions no matter where you are. “Using your sexuality” means not keeping yourself under wraps because someone might not like you if you disagree with them.

        This really isn’t a woman thing – this is a human thing. And it’s one that women have more perspective on because of how our bodies are seen every day. Would lawyer’s jobs actually be so undermined if not everyone at the table was in a suit?

      • emily
        emily says:

        Hi There Redrock: There are boundaries to how much each person may want to use their own strengths to their advantage – be it intellectual, sexual or even financial power. The question is – who is to define that boundary? Answer – not you.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        this one is in reply to Emily’s comment: I am not in the corporate world and I did not as you so eloquently put it “have to suck it up”. The discussion here was not about dressing in clothing which makes you feel good and comfortable and strong, the discussion was about using your sexuality as a tool to advance in the business world. And I simply do not think it is a good idea to do so extensively. Feel free to disagree.

  25. sandyb
    sandyb says:

    not many people are willing to openly write about the feelings of envy and jealousy; so glad you did – and your point was clear: we all feel those things, even about people we know, but it’s a choice, just like growing is.

  26. Annie McManus
    Annie McManus says:

    I think if you looked into Borderline Personality Disorder with Histrionic Narcissism you may start getting the help you need. Or you can just delete this comment.

  27. Diane Dolinsky-Pickar
    Diane Dolinsky-Pickar says:

    Penelope, I am glad that you ended on such a positive note, really a manifesto that says as long as your are growing, you are not going to feel demoralized and stuck in what others say about you. And right you are! In fact, many of the things you see in yourself, are simply human. We are human insofar as we are not perfect. Some folks are anal about money (my brother-in-law). Others don’t give a rat’s tushy about it. If you find yourself constantly needing to borrow someone else’s PayPal account, well, right you are for looking at what that is about. But your behavior is not the same as you. You are that inner beautiful spark of Gdliness, and I would wish that you knew that. So, we can mend our behavior or we can rant and go overboard–I do it lots–but we feel best when we concentrate on what we can control. And you said it well: I can control how much I push myself to grow. In fact, as a blogger myself, it is a great day when I have spent time feverishly writing. I have been told that my face lights up when I speak about my blogging. So, it really is true. Doing your passion will bring out your creative energy, and bringing out your creative energy will bring out your holy spirit, your Gd-given core. At least, that is what I think. Others are free to disagree. Far be it from me to tell others about their life. I am just about figuring out mine.

  28. Havaladırma
    Havaladırma says:

    As for the funny – Penelope, you bring it whether you intend to or not. Along with a host of other emotions. Which is why I love you. You’re a human being! Welcome to the club – there are a bunch of us (some more human than others), so you shouldn’t have to ever feel alone. But I get it, if you still do anyway. I still love you.

  29. Michael
    Michael says:

    You are so transparent. It’s very refreshing to read your work. I count authenticity among the six attributes that make a person irresistible!

  30. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Great post. It really got me to thinking . Practicing letting go and allowing flow is what I am working on. There are underlying feelings that block that at times

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