15 Things overachievers do

1. They use lists. High achievers organize their thinking with lists, they organize their time with lists, and when they want to spur their creativity, the best tool they have is to force themselves out of the comfort of their list.

2. They use pharmaceuticals. Adderall is de rigueur for the high-powered jobs in high-powered cities to the point that there is a shortage of available Adderall, (and a site to monitor the shortage). Pharmaceutical frenzy is nothing new for gen-yers who used prescription drugs to get a leg up on everything. New York magazine’s ode to Xanax lets you diagnose the type of overachiever you are with the type of pharmaceutical you like best.

3. They let doors shut all the time. Overachievers know their mom was lying when she said they could be anything. So it’s not that big a deal when they see doors shut. They pick a specialty, they give stuff up to get stuff, they know adult life is about making tough choices.

4. They talk about their weaknesses. Not in a stupid way, like, “I wish I could not be so perfect.” But in a real way, because every strength comes with weaknesses and we’re not good at everything. Overachievers know they aren’t being hired for their weakness, so they let people know that they see themselves clearly by talking about weaknesses.

5. They work for free. Internships that are (illegally) unpaid, startups that are not (yet) funded, speeches and blog posts that help you do the (unavoidable) work of building your brand. These are all acceptable paths to greatness, you just need to know when it’s okay to work for free.

6. They drop out of school. Most powerful people go to the same small group of schools. For all other schools, college is a ponzi scheme. Besides, today the top-tier schools are set up to favor homeschoolers over kids who go to conventional school.  And don’t even get me started on grad school: it’s so bad for your career that you’ll have to leave it off your resume.

7. They get tons of coaching. High-performers get coaching—they pay for it themselves, and their companies pay for some as well, because corporations know that high-potential employees only get to full potential with coaching. Also, people who are on their way to the top ranks enlist mentors to help them get there. (What’s the difference between a mentor and a coach? The type of access you have.)

8. They get pregnant at 25. If they’re a woman, that is. It’s clear that only a very small, anomalous group of women can have a high-powered job when they have young kids. So women should make a plan to have kids early, and then they can position themselves for a high-powered job once their kids are all grown up.

9. They come out of the closet. If they’re gay. People who are openly gay at work do better than people who hide it. Probably because, people who hide that they’re gay cannot make true connections with people at work. The photographer Jeff Sheng has done amazing work around the importance of coming out. (Most recently, his Fearless project documents overachiever athletes coming out, and the photos in this post are from that project.)

10. They don’t talk about being well-rounded. Top performers are people who focused on something to get great at it. As kids, it means they stop learning to meet national standards because the standards create mediocre learners. And as adults it means you find a specialty so you remain employable.

11. They don’t get divorced. Sure, the divorce rate is really high. But not for rich, educated parents. (Example: divorce rate among Asian college graduates is around 1%.) Divorce decreases your resources by half. But more importantly, divorce selfishly messes up the kids’ lives, and overachiever parents want to raise overachiever kids.

12. They don’t write books. The book industry is dead. They have no control over distribution channels and they have no control over author publicity, so the value publishers add in the book business is pretty much zero. Amazon so completely dominates the book industry that Forbes declared that Amazon is now ripe for disruption—they are the publishing model to beat. So for now, if you have an idea, put it in a blog. Harvard Business Review says that people who are serious about ideas are blogging.

13. They don’t let themselves get fat. The Economist reports that obesity in the US is largely something that does not affect rich, educated people, (which is consistent with research that shows good-looking people make more money.)

14. They sell out. Usually I do a post at the end of the year that’s a list of the most popular posts of the year. But it’s so bad for SEO; I wanted to write something that would resonate even at the end of next year, too. So these are links to my favorite posts this year. Disguised. I didn’t get to this one, though: It’s the post with my favorite photo of 2012.

15. They steal stuff. Overachievers know they have tons of ideas so they don’t care if people steal some of theirs. Overachievers are more likely to bend the rules to make life easier for themselves. That’s why I stole the idea for this post from Thought Catalogue.

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  1. kitty kilian
    kitty kilian says:

    A great answer to Thought Catalogue’s list. Working for free is one of the things that can work really well. I also remember your advice about starting a business while your husband is earning the family income ;-)

    • Rich K
      Rich K says:

      You do realize that Psychologists are just mystics without a crystal ball,Right? And they overcharge for the services rendered also IMHO.

      • csts
        csts says:

        You do realize there are two types of psychologists, right? The ones you’re referring two are clinical psychologists — they’re involved in the practice of psychology. The other kind are research psychologists — they’re involved in the science of psychology. Research psychologists are those who provide convincing empirical data about characteristics of high achievers vs. low achievers, for example, and it does turn out that a willingness to fail and learn from the failure (as opposed to fear of failure, which actually has a chilling effect) distinguishes most high achievers who are well adjusted. The science is just as rigorous as other types of science (physics, etc.), with the same standards. The practice varies, just as it does in other applied sciences such as medicine, neuroscience, etc. The part of the practice that we tend to associate with art or intuition sometimes looks like mysticism, just as the superb medical diagnostician who can identify what’s troubling some patient whom many other doctors have been unable to help sometimes seems like a mystic, too. And of course all of them are constrained by the limits of managed care, which reduce options for helping patients. I wouldn’t dismiss Psychology Today just because you’ve had experience with clinical psychologists who didn’t convince you they knew what they were doing, just as Scientific American can tell you a lot about the science behind hybrid cars even if you’ve had trouble with mechanics doing a good job of fixing yours.

  2. chris
    chris says:

    I am at a very different stage of my life . . . thus my perspective:

    that this notion reeks of pressure and is the antipathy of being at peace. And perfectionism.

    I cannot relate at all to scrabbling to get to the top. “Sufficient for the day . . . ” seems right to me.

    Am I a dinosaur?

      • Ryan Chatterton
        Ryan Chatterton says:

        First, I can’t really make up my mind if I’m an overachiever or not. I do stretch myself a lot. I guess I try to over-achieve at the things I want to do.

        Perhaps there are subgroups of overachievers because I totally resonate with what you guys are saying, but I also know that I can and will do much more tomorrow than I do today. Maybe it’s the difference of doing something for yourself or doing it because you feel like you have something to prove to others.

        Overall, if trying to get “to the top” (however you define that) is something that stems from your definition of whatever that top is, then I think it’s fine. The only mistake I see is pursuing something that is somebody else’s dream instead of yours.

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I keep a dry erase marker in my bathroom so I can make lists and work on character development for my fledgling short story at the spur of the moment across my bathroom mirror. It’s not a perfect idea because I don’t like people to see it, so I always make sure it’s clean if people come over. My thoughts are messy and I get embarrassed, but I’m working on allowing (some) people see (some) of my ideas in their raw state. I think that will help me get better, at everything. And also online dating has given me some confidence, because so many guys who are online dating are so terrible at sending messages that surely even my crap ideas can’t be so bad. I started a tumblr with some of those messages (no names, and no one who I messaged back). I think maybe there’s even a market for coaching these guys so they actually get dates, but I suspect these are the ones who approach dating like sales: just as a numbers game. http://thingsguyssay.tumblr.com/

    • The Dame Intl
      The Dame Intl says:

      Ugh, guys fail at online dating, I will be writing a whole blog post on it in the new year. 99.9% of the messages I get, I delete. Def. a market to train them (in anything ;)).

    • Sabrina
      Sabrina says:


      I made money in college rewriting online dating profiles for socially inept men ($50 bucks a profile!), I can’t imagine a modern Cyrano de Bergerac-type service that far behind.

      And I have the same struggle about letting people see my ideas in raw form. Letting someone see my Beautiful Mind ramblings I believe is the true benchmark for vulnerability.

  4. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    I will not make some thought provoking comment on this post because it is not necessary. I love this post and all the links. I was checking your blog out before I trudge back into work. This post makes me happy about my choices and my thoughts about choices for my son. Much more to click through. Merry Christmas to me.

  5. tj
    tj says:

    I initially rebelled against point #2 – drugs – but then I asked myself
    would I feel differently were either coffee or yoga mentioned – and I’d say yes.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      That point about Adderall being “de rigueur for the high-powered jobs in high-powered cities” shocked me. I have only known about the junkies on the Wall Street since I read a John Carney blog on CNBC a year or two ago. Now I am reading that all the high-octane urban movers seem to be using illegal drugs to fix their brains, and Penelope doesn’t see anything wrong with that.
      I think maybe the prevalence of dope use in the financial sector may help explain the Lehman Brothers implosion and how everything went to Hell in 2007 — something from which we still have not recovered.

      • Rajive
        Rajive says:

        I agree. It is utterly irresponsible and actually disgraceful point 2 is mentioned in this post. The post, by itself, is exemplary in it’s wisdom.

        I think the author needs to educate herself, and then the rest of us given her reach, on the effects of drugs and medications. I learnt this not just in personal life after recovering from cancer, but also from such books as ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ and the ‘Brain Diet’ … you can google these. Funnily, these first explain all these tiny interconnections in the body that we ignore while making irresponsible judgements like Pt 2.

        Best wishes.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m so glad you asked. Because someone hired me for coaching and then it turned out that he had a big business is selling Adderall illegally. (He hired me to figure out how to use his skills to get a real job.)

      Which makes me think that probably the answer is no, there is not a way to get non-prescription Adderall legally. But also, I think it is legal to buy the Adderall from another country, just not legal to sell it here. But maybe that’s not legal either.


  6. Milsters @ Little Pieces of Light
    Milsters @ Little Pieces of Light says:

    What an amazing post. I’m going to have to share this with my younger sisters who are currently in college! I completely agree with point #5 – something that kids of this generation are having a hard time grappling with given that there are so little jobs out there already. But I worked for free A LOT when I was younger, and all of those small gigs led to everything I’ve ever done since then.



    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, I think this whole blog is about an overachiever getting stuck: me! I think the most interesting parts of peoples’ careers are not when they have huge success, but in between the moments of huge success, when they are lost or stuck or both.

      I think something that differentiates overachievers is that they don’t get stuck for long. They keep trying stuff.


  7. TD
    TD says:

    This list makes sense to me. It also makes me anxious.

    I do have one point of disagreement. Please don’t use Asian Americans as examples of low divorce rates. Asians are culturally extremely divorce-averse and wouldn’t divorce even if they weren’t high earners. In fact, Asian divorcees are more often than not treated as social pariahs. So whether they are rich or poor, the pressure to maintain status, honor or “save face” is so persuasive and intense that they consider divorce only when things really suck. Divorce rates in Asian countries have been traditionally low but it has been rising among the new middle class in recent years. One can argue having more money is making them more eager to see divorce as a viable option. I have noticed that the really rich almost never seem to split. But I don’t equate all high achievers with super rich, so this point is irrelevant in this conversation.

  8. redrock
    redrock says:

    There is a huge fixation here in the US on the top 10 Ivy league (or west coast equivalent) schools. Whether a school serves your purpose of getting an education in the line of work you want to specialize in is a very different question. Some schools are superb in one or two areas, e.g. nursing, or accounting, or physics. THe hallmark of the top 10 (or 20) schools is that they are quite good in a broad range of topics, which makes overall for a great intellectually stimulating environment.

    Looking at the rather stupid Forbes list of powerful people: it includes several powerful people who spent only a year or two at the institution in question, and quite a number of them went to schools who nobody on this side of the Atlantic knows about (e.g. Angela Merkel, University of Leipzig, degree in Physics). And Putin’s path to power is independent of where he got his degree – his contacts are from his active KGB career – it is like a former CIA spy becoming US president.

    The fixation on these top schools is not meaningful for the average (and even average overachiever) – choice of school, which delivers what you want to learn is key. Want to become a power broker in the stuffy old guard of Yale? Sure, go for it.

    • Meridian Hutchins
      Meridian Hutchins says:

      Fixation on the Ivies is a HUGE problem–mostly because they add zero value these days. I actually won a scholarship (at my non-ivy but top-25 MBA school) from a company because they wanted someone who didn’t fit today’s Ivy mold–i.e., they had seen plenty of Harvard and Yale grads come to their company and act like they were God’s gift, and have no willingness to work hard or learn.
      More and more hiring managers are actively avoiding the Ivy grads because they want people who will actually be useful, rather than drug-addled egomaniacs.

      • Scarlett
        Scarlett says:

        “Ivies add zero value” reeks of sour grapes. The graduates I know (from Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, MIT-yeah not technically an Ivy) are extremely intelligent and VERY hard working. Now, the second tiers (Tufts etc), where parents pay for an Ivy-quality education for kids who often don’t earn it, may be a different story.

        Going to an Ivy isn’t the be all and end all, but generalizing that students from those schools don’t work hard is silly.

  9. Kelsey
    Kelsey says:

    This list made me feel really bad about myself. Honestly for my generation having kids at 25 is not possible because no one can get a job where they can afford kids at 25. Most of my generation is delaying having children because we want to have a good job first. It’s like a double edged sword. We can’t un-live our lives so a lot of this is not useful.

    • Miriam
      Miriam says:

      Having kids is not expensive unless you are attached to sending them to private schools (instead of moving to a neighborhood with a decent school system) and unless you are planning to pay for sending them to college (instead of them getting grants for undergrad and then doing work/study for grad school). And there are plenty of ways to get cheap/sliding scale medical care.

      Oh, and playing means playing outside in the dirt – not private yoga classes for toddlers.

      Been there, done it. Moral of the story? Have kids when you want to, not because of some overrated idea of how much it’s going to cost.

      • Pilar Abril
        Pilar Abril says:

        … but moving into a neighborhood with a decent public school system DOES in fact cost. If you can’t afford the rent/mortgage then your kids will be forced to endure in a substandard education in a substandard school district. Maybe you can make up the difference by getting tutors but if you can afford them that you probably could afford to just move into the nicer neighborhood. Maybe you yourself can tutor them but that would require you to have both the time and knowledge.

        Also, I didn’t know funding a college education was so simple. I guess the vast majority of grads, which are now leaving college with 20k in debt, are just doing it wrong this whole time. The Huffington Post just published an article essentially detailing that low-income kids are 6 times less likely to graduate college than more affluent kids EVEN if they have the same grades or better. Screw the meritocracy myth. Kids don’t need the best if the best but to say have children if you don’t have the money is foolish advice.

        Typical, classist viewpoint.

  10. Nazneen Khan
    Nazneen Khan says:

    Penelope, I think it’s a utterly manipulative that you don’t post any comments that are against your ideas. How sad. Can you imagine? This amazing internet and flow of information is being manipulated by people like you, who only channel one track mind. Maybe you think this is the only way. I mean, you must have rationalized it that it’s one of the things that you “should” do as an overachiever. Ha ! That’s not being an overachiever, that’s being un-ethical ! It looks like in your definition of the world, it is ok to leave ethics behind to be an overachiever. My, what is the difference between you and say …. Gadafi?

  11. Nazneen Khan
    Nazneen Khan says:

    Sorry, I did not think my post was going to be posted, because yesterday’s did not. So I ranted. I apologize. I retract what I said. My yesterday’s post was merely to point out that Adderall is full of horrible side effects, and should only be taken if medically necessary.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s very rare that I delete a comment. And I never delete a comment just because someone thinks I’m an idiot. Believe me. This site is crawling with commenters telling me I’m an idiot.

      Maybe you should just try reposting the comment. I am actually really interested in peoples’ experiences with Adderall.


      • Kristen
        Kristen says:

        I am confused here… are you promoting Adderall? It is easy to infer that you are suggesting people take drugs in order to achieve more or to be like over-achievers. Drugs can be very dangerous, and reactions will vary from person to person. The person who takes adderall to be more of a go-getter at networking parties once in a while may be fine and never have complications, but the next person who tries it may get addicted or really messed up. The person who truly suffers from ADD may benefit while the person who is mentally rather stable may become totally messed up. It is too much of an easy answer to tell people to pop a pill. And do they really? Over achievers or just plain achievers are taking drugs? Is that the message? Maybe the achievers are the ones avoiding drugs and living a healthy lifestyle with juicing and organic foods and probiotics and exercise and such.

  12. Ebriel
    Ebriel says:

    I like this list. While I don’t see myself as an overachiever (just obsessed with things), much of it was familiar.

    Selected substances when used with awareness can be helpful. For example, I have a cup of coffee before a lecture – it gets me expansive and expressive and confident. And we always serve wine at art openings; this increases the chances of sales from tiny to…well, something higher. Auction houses and casinos know this well.

    Mentoring’s hugely important. I bought Penelope’s e-book for Christmas. By reading it, I realized I’m being mentored by someone in my industry (for a job I’m getting qualified for) and didn’t even know it! Also got some tips to help out with my current 3 mentees.

    Excellent list to end off the year. A huge compilation of links. I’ve pasted them into an email and will go through them tomorrow.

  13. Christopher Kober (@chkober)
    Christopher Kober (@chkober) says:

    This is a great list, whether you agree with it all or not, but it certainly brings up a few very interesting point about (young) achievers. Overachievers do not have an easy life…. This list certainly gets you thinking, and obviously it is not exhaustive… There are many things that (young) people do in order to be more successfull in life. I particularly agree with these points:

    + “They let doors shut”, because todays world offers too many opportunities. One has to focus.
    + “They don’t talk about being well rounded”, similar to the previous point: You must focus, and know what you are good at and what not.
    + “They get tons of coaching”, because there is only so much you can learn autodidactively.

    Thanks for sharing the lest, even if “stolen”, because I might never have seen it otherwise.

  14. Nathan Olson
    Nathan Olson says:

    Stopped in to visit your blog because I recently discovered that you are responsible for getting Brazen Careerist off the ground so to speak. Might mention that I submitted a post to their blog that was recently published, and very much appreciated dealing with the person who manages it.

    The inevitable self-promotional nature of this commenting business is a bit awkward. But, I suppose, that it could be viewed as yet another way to develop healthy and mutually beneficial relationships.

    In terms of this post, I appreciate your emphasis on coaching and on the need to let some opportunities fade. True enough, wisdom requires that we recognize our limits as well as our ongoing need for advice.

    Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, I want to wish you all the best as you settle into a new way of life in Wisconsin.

    Merry Christmas!

  15. Shouting Thomas
    Shouting Thomas says:

    I’m a recent recruit to your website, Penelope.

    While I’ve enjoyed it, I am left wondering…

    What, exactly is it that you do? Is there some actual skill that you have that you overachieve at?

    Or do you just overachieve at self-promotion?

    I’m not the only one wondering.

    • chris
      chris says:

      at Shouting Thom:

      You are a recent reader, it is clear. Go back and read other blog posts to get a sense of context. You will soon see what qualifies Penelope to be whom she is.

      Penelope has tried many things and lived in many cultures. I feel that her advice has breadth because of her wide experiences. I feel that Pen walks a thin and a wise line between playing the game, influencing the game and staying true to her values.

      Penelope, like Nietzsche, has made bold moves and chosen shock-value, at some turns. She is like an inventor. And like a philosopher.

      In other times in history, there were thinkers. They philosophized, acted as advisors and consciences for their culture. That is how I see Penelope. In addition, Penelope is incisive and “laser” in her analysis. She seems to know what is the bottom line.

      I think these things qualify her to write a blog, write a book and give advice and coaching.

  16. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    oi. Reading this list makes me feel the same way I did reading Atlas Shrugged, should I dig a hole and kill myself now or wait and see if anything changes?!

    Fortunately I have been reading P. long enough now to know to ignore the parts that make me feel like jumping off a bridge, and just memorize the nuggets I find in her writing that inspire me.

    Plus many people at work that make me wonder at jumping off a bridge are just like P., so learning to deal with the emotions P. stirs up in me, helps me process all that when I am confronted with it at work.

    It’s a dog-eat-dog world, unless you are a cat, and you are very good at climbing trees.

  17. Dale
    Dale says:

    One obvious change over the last century is the “don’t let themselves get fat” point. Almost all the powerful men of 1900 were fat (as well as most middle-aged upper class women.

  18. John Deming
    John Deming says:

    This blog is waaaay too much fun, provocative, thoughtful and honest. I homeschooled my daughter and from what I can tell, pretty much with your attitude. She’s a Thiel fellow and at age 18, one of Forbes 30 under 30 in science and tech. Downside: I miss her. We had so much damn fun for those 10 years.

  19. Andy
    Andy says:

    You had me until “They come out of the closet.”

    Come on! Like maybe 2% of the adult population, at the highest? Give me a break. Way to pander to contemporary culture.

  20. Adriana B.
    Adriana B. says:

    Hi, Penelope,

    Reading your thoughts about plagiarism, and how getting credit for your ideas is overrated, I had a question for you.

    I’m lucky to be part of a network of experts who help each other find solutions for challenging problems and answers for elusive questions, as well as connect with interesting work opportunities.

    One of the key things that I believe makes this network so successful is that we are all naturally committed to recognizing both privately and publicly the contributions to our work. I see among us a pattern of receiving and giving public credit for contributions leading to a completion of a project or product, even if the assistance was minimum in the scope of the entire effort.

    I’m a big fan of the book “How to be a star at work” by Professor Robert Kelley from Carnegie Mellon University. In his extensive research, he has found evidence that that star performers credit lavishly. To quote from his book,

    “In an economy where knowledge is the stock-in-trade of so many businesses, there are no reputations worse than being pegged as an idea thief, as a pseudo-star who stands on stage and acts as if there were no supporting players, or as a taker who doesn’t reciprocate. These behaviors relegate workers far beyond the average ranks to the small minority that no one wants to work with.”

    I’d love to learn your thoughts on this — do you disagree with the view that it’s smarter to credit people from their contributions than to simply “steal” or plagiarize their work?

    • John Deming
      John Deming says:

      I just copied your reply to send to my daughter who at 18 is already a huge overachiever in Silicon Valley. She’s a Thiel Fellow who was just named one of Forbes 30 under 30 in science & healthcare. Here she is http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mkg45jfej/laura-deming-18-2/

      I love what you wrote. I believe that we who “are all naturally committed to recognizing both privately and publicly the contributions to our work” can only gain in reputation vs those who don’t. Hopefully the latter will learn by our example. Thank you for expressing this principle so well. It’s called gratitude, which in another form is called compensation. It’s the rocket fuel of the future.

      • Adriana B.
        Adriana B. says:

        Hi, John, thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment.

        Indeed, “being grateful” is the perfect way to summarize what I wrote about the importance of recognizing other people’s contributions to our work, even small ones.

        I’m glad you are encouraging your young, accomplished daughter to follow this path — I have no doubt that following this principle has played a substantial role in the success the colleagues in my network and I have achieved in our careers.

  21. mysticaltyger
    mysticaltyger says:

    I like everything on this list except for using pharmaceuticals. This using drugs for everything is really, really F’d up in my opinion. What are the long term effects of using Adderall? No one knows, except maybe Big Pharma…and they’re not telling.

  22. NB
    NB says:

    Has the word “overachiever” been reclaimed and spun as a positive thing? I always thought it had a negative connotation and was an insult. Someone who was not inherently smart or talented might be described this way if they ended up in the same circles as those with innate abilities or family connections. This entry makes more sense describing strivers or Type A personalities, because there is no assumed dearth of talent or natural ability; they are successful, proactive, efficient, driven, confident leaders.

  23. Randy
    Randy says:

    Randomly found your blog and I have to say this is remarkable! I couldn’t agree more with all of these points. Its definitely a spooky feeling with how much this resonates with myself. It’s like my future self traveled back in time, changed sexes, and posted this…

    Great job! I look forward to reading your future posts!

  24. Scarlett
    Scarlett says:

    As someone who works in the pharma industry, with a family member working for the firm that represented Shire in a tussle over manufacturing volume, I can say with some confidence that the Adderall shortage has little to nothing to do with abuse/use by overachieving professionals. It’s a lot more complicated than that, including patent laws, ANDA agreements, etc… I’m a bit surprised, Penelope, that you’d employ this kind of reductionist logic.

  25. KL
    KL says:

    i’m mystified by some of the tacit assumptions here. e.g., that being rich and holding a “high powered” job are indicators of success or achievement, that pharmacological use can in some meaningful way be correlated with achievement (&/or that such use is to be recommended regardless of a person’s diagnosis, if that person wants to be an overachiever), that rearing children and sexual identity are to be considered and addressed in terms of career impact, that the small set of schools attended by the “powerful” is not a part of the collegiate ponzi scheme, that specialization is not only to be encouraged but even lauded by you here as critical both to employment and excellence.

    wow. out of curiosity to see how someone could arrive at such an interesting set of beliefs i read around your site a bit, esp. w/r/t homeschooling. it seems — and i could be wrong as i didn’t go very far — that you take liberties w/research, either relying on a single study or appropriating a source such as the book “flow,” e.g., to represent a “wide body of research” pertaining to something other than that which it in fact addresses. i also saw that you and your husband took an interest in peak oil, and also farming, so…

    since i’m at a loss for how to properly respond to this post, other than to say it hurt my heart to think you must have a sizable audience, i would just recommend taking a look at the first chapter or two of wendell berry’s “the unsettling of america.” it addresses your list and what i believe to be your worldview (esp. about specialization) broadly… but also to your interest in agriculture and energy.

  26. Ridingo
    Ridingo says:

    Thanks Penelope. these 15 items reminds me of this: “they do not want more, they are unwilling to settle for less.”

  27. CUtiger1995
    CUtiger1995 says:

    Amazing list and it resonates with me all the way through. Even as a Gen. X’r having had children with my wife at 24 and 29. This list applys. My drug of course is caffeine not prescription in nature but a true stimulant indeed. My lists are in my head, and I always get out of my comfort zone.

    Currently my family and I are living in Germany working for a multinational corp. And yes I have put in way way too many free hours to get where i am in life.

    Thanks for the list and making me feel not so alone. Also mentors are always a good thing to maintain and staying in touch with them is key as well. Even when your ego has a block against your weaknesses these mentors will put you on the correct path to imroving them.

    Again great list…. Vielen Danke…

  28. Arfus
    Arfus says:

    Some flat out disagreements: (a) many very successful professional women I know deferred kids to age 33, when they were secured in their jobs: it worked out very well for them; they had impressed enough people to be able to take the time to be a mom–their firms wanted them back and were willing to accomodate them: not so at 25. (b) not getting divorced is not always up to you: so most smart people expect they may be within the 50% divorce rate of first marriages: they use a pre nup or get divorced early before they hit 30 so spousal support is minimal; (c) dropping out of school is idiotic if you want to be an engineer, doctor, research scientist, lawyer or MBA, etc. There are scads of people without degrees looking for jobs: don’t be one of them: but if this point is directed to people who only plan to get a 4 year degree in sociology or religious studies, fine–but those people may be too dense to succeed anyway. And you forgot one: Don’t listen uncritically to people like professors and teacher: they often know least about the most: go talk to people in the field you want to be in; work hard; stay off drugs; like people; do what you like. Oh and for gods sakes, don’t vote ever for higher taxes.

  29. theBuckWheat
    theBuckWheat says:

    To the list I would add: THEY NEVER GIVE UP! My personal metric on a startup business idea is: if I don’t do it will someone else?. When I have an idea that passes that test, I cannot give up.

  30. arminius
    arminius says:

    I love this list overall but it really seems to me that as written you are advocating illegal use of prescription drugs. People with ADHD or who otherwise have legitimate uses for drugs like Adderall and Xanax already have prescriptions for them. New users inspired to use by this column are relatively unlikely to just go to their doctor and ask for them, much less ask successfully. “Doctor, I am a 45 year old IT professional and I think I have undiagnosed ADHD and want some Adderall. Please just go on my word and give me some.” Doctor: “LOLwut?” So, what do they do then? Exactly?

  31. Joseph P. Martino
    Joseph P. Martino says:

    Regarding point 8. I used to teach the introductory course in Management at U. of Dayton. One class session was on managing your own career. I always prefaced this as being my own personal advice, not University policy, but I would advise the women in the class: “Be like Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. Have your children first, then become Prime Minister.” I still think it’s good advice.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      it is probably unavoidable: very few prime ministers will hold that job before the age of 50. Which means any woman will be hard pressed to have children after holding this position (or even during). Great advice indeed.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      so, you are telling the women in your class to plan their life around family and then maybe they will have a chance to do something else, and the guys can just go out and do what they desire? From my personal experience I had teachers tell me things like: ” women should not study chemistry”, the girls just work hard but the boys are brilliant – the best advice I can give to any young woman hearing this kind of advice is not to listen and follow their heart wherever it takes them.

      To take your prime minister example: Margaret Thatcher was a research chemist, then a barrister and then went into politics, she did not plan or take a decade of home stay in the middle of her career. By the way she was 54 when elected PM, Indira Ghandi was 49, and had the great advantage of coming from a “political family” or rather dynasty, thus her career path might be called unusual. However, I am pretty sure that none of them took any extended breaks to have children – they combined family life with their career, probably with the help of grandarents and nannies. I doubt the advice of first planning for family and then you can have your grand career applies to many of them – the list is short http://womenshistory.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=womenshistory&cdn=education&tm=8&f=10&tt=14&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.guide2womenleaders.com/women_heads_of_governments.htm
      and anybody who feels like it can certainly check out their biographies for details.

  32. bill
    bill says:

    Well now we know the things, some quite strange, that Penelope does.. Overachievers, not so much.

    Pharmaceuticals indeed.

  33. elmo
    elmo says:

    This is a sad world that you live in. When morality is no longer a “critical” part of your skills, you have surrendered to the dark side.

    I teach my daughter that she can, indeed, do anything she puts her mind to. In my own experience, the only things I ever “failed” at were things I gave up trying to do. In other words, I QUIT, not that the goal was impossible.

    While you have a few good points on your list (lists, for example) I am truly appalled at your lack of stress on integrity.

    Achievement without ethics is an empty reward. Sad.

  34. Ken Royall
    Ken Royall says:

    I know many successful people who don’t do anything on this list. Beware of lists of things that overachievers do written by someone who nobody has ever heard of. There are a million ways to skin a cat, the key is finding what works best for you.

    • Angela
      Angela says:

      One more thing, not sure why everyone is getting so worked up about promoting excellence. That’s kindof the point of this blog and if you didn’t already know that or if that’s not what you’re into, then just move on.
      My favorite advice from you this year was “to specialize.” It has helped me see things clearer and allowed me to confidently encourage people who really should pursue what they love, but who are fearful and hesitant.
      I go back and forth about aiming for the top of my industry, but it seems silly not to if I’m serious about what I’m doing. At a certain point I might be happy to just sit back, but I doubt it. I think that’s how it works with entrepreneurs. If that’s not your thing, that’s ok too. But this conversation is about success and authenticity. Being crabby about it just seems like a waste of time.

  35. Hank
    Hank says:

    Directed to this list by another author… It’s ludicrous. Encouraging pharmaceuticals, pregnancy and dropping out as high achiever behavior is obscene and reckless. Never posted a response to ANY on line article before and this one compelled me. Ick.

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