This post is about productivity. I have to tell you that because this is a career blog and career blogs need topics that fall into the career space. You can’t have a blog that doesn’t have a topic. Even Mark Cuban, who seems to not have a topic because he writes about basketball and colleges and eating at the iHop still has a clear topic: How to make a ton of money.

1. Life is easier if you embrace hardship instead of trying to avoid it.
My blog topic is not how to make a ton of money. It used to be. When I was in my twenties, and early 30s, my focus was money.  But somewhere I realized that I wanted an interesting life more than money. I think it was when I was at Ingram Micro, a Fortune 50 company, and I was blown away at how boring and risk averse everyone was. The Fortune 50 is a study is seeking safety in product lines, in workplace practices, and in a stable life.

I am not the safety-seeking type. So I stopped trying to make a lot of money and started trying to do interesting things, and that’s when my career really took off. Investors love interestingness.

2. Focus on being interesting and then hurdles are predictable.
I found that if I focused on making my life interesting, money came. But if I focused on money, I got stuck. So I have spent the last ten years understanding the difference between going after money, going after happiness and going after interestingness. I have found that I am most productive when I follow my instinct for what will be interesting because people are more focused and more engaged when they do what interests them.

A lot of you will say you want to do what you love, but your vision of doing what you love is really limited. Like, you think you want to be a yoga teacher, but the yoga business is mostly about marketing yet  you have this idea in your head that teaching yoga is interesting. But teaching yoga for someone else is being a worker bee and it’s working for free. Teaching yoga in your own studio is mostly a marketing job. (Even Mark Cuban says this, actually: follow your action not your passion.)

So let me be clear that choosing interesting work is difficult. It’s the hard path. It is not interesting to do something easy because if it’s easy, you already know the path and the outcome. How could that truly be interesting? You are lying to yourself.

3. If you admit you’re a cliche, you can use tried and true methods to help yourself. 
When I launched Brazen Careerist, it was a blog network. I had already found my fifty favorite Gen Y bloggers and I had my editor, who is still my editor, edit those bloggers.

For the most part, he hated editing the bloggers.This was before he got medication so he was also surly and biting, and one of his biggest complaints was about posts that began by explaining why the person has not written in so long.

Because of this I am very careful not to open a post with that topic. Instead, I am slipping it in here, in the middle.

I have written about my life for my whole life. It just happens that it’s my job now, but I’d do it anyway. This is probably not good—for one thing, it pegs me as very likely to kill myself. For another thing, when I am uncertain about my life I shut down. In my webinar about how to write about your life, I realized, while I was teaching it, that writing about your life means facing your life. I am having a hard time facing my life now.

4. Be clear on what you hate about yourself. You have to see it to move past it.
It’s a pattern. Here are the times I had a hard time writing about my life:

When I had a baby. (I started republishing old posts and I got fired for breaking my contract.)

When I launched a company. (I wanted to write about entrepreneurship but I got scared that people only wanted to read about climbing a corporate ladder.)

When I moved to the farm. (I wanted to write about the farm but I thought people only liked me because I was from LA/NY and other big cities where I’ve landed.)

Now. When I’m scaling back my career to homeschool my kids. I can’t even write that without feeling a little sick. I don’t want to face that. So I don’t want to write anything because I don’t want to see it.

I coach so many people who want to have kids and are feeling sick about the idea of scaling back their career. They feel sick about the idea of being grouped with stay-at-home moms instead of high-achieving men. I get it. I feel that way too. The first thing I noticed, in fact, when I started homsechooling, was that I miss being surrounded by men. Because that’s what happens when you have a big career and you are a woman. Most women drop out, and it’s the men that are left. You get used to being surrounded by men.

5. You are not special. You are like other people. So find people who are like you. 
But luckily, people send me tons of links about scaling back careers, and I am getting confident in my choices. Here are some of my favorite links:

The Harvard Business Review says that it’s not the women who need to lean in, it’s the men. The author, James Allworth, points out that all the studies about what makes a fulfilling life show that it’s relationships and not work. So to tell people to forgo relationships in order to work more is absurd. Sheryl Sandberg’s book assumes that women are not in high-powered positions because women make the wrong choices. But people who choose to have a smaller career and pay attention to family relationships are making better choices, and men need to lean in to their relationships.

Another link that makes me happy is that the best educated moms are the ones most likely to opt out. When I saw the headline it made immediate sense to me. Those are the moms most likely to feel that they have a choice—because their husband earns enough money and they themselves are capable of generating income from home. The research also makes sense because the best educated moms are the ones most likely to be able to process the data that explains why it’s not a given that everyone should try to have the biggest possible career. It’s new data and it’s difficult to process after twenty years of feminist diatribes about the glass ceiling. But the smartest women are the first to go against the grain—which is what opting out is, since the media does not encourage it.

Here’s what I’ve learned from not writing about my life because I was scared you wouldn’t like it: I’ve learned that you don’t care what I do in my life as long as I’m interesting. If I am doing something that’s scary, and I tell you, then you can identify with me when you do something scary. What this community is, really, is people who want to do something scary. Because life is very, very boring if we don’t scare ourselves.


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  1. Amy Jahnke
    Amy Jahnke says:

    Fairly certain I need to read this post another 7 times, and let it stew in my brain for a few days…because it resonates so much. For some reason I not only feel stuck, I feel left behind – and I don’t like it at all.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom P.

  2. Tom
    Tom says:

    Spot on. I love reading things that make me feel like getting punched in the gut and the last two points hit hard. You have to know your weakness to move on, and we as individuals are definitely not special.

    However, I do have a hard time finding people like me

    Great post!

  3. Kellie
    Kellie says:

    HI, Penelope. This is the first time I’ve read your blog.

    Another possibility: people like you and are interested in you for you, not for what you do.

    The hard writing times you mention are all transitional moments. Maybe that’s the issue–not the scaling back, but the feeling of uncertain ground under your feet. It’s hard to be definitive when you’re feeling things out for yourself.

    Maybe you need to be okay with uncertainty, and realize that readers don’t expect you to have all the answers. Again, this is the only blog post of yours I’ve read, but a few things poke out at me (reposting old posts instead of talking about your baby–a subject as big as the world!, big corporate job until you realized you were surrounded by risk-averse people, liking being surrounded by men, uncomfortable with the notion of “scaling back,” happier when you realize all the best educated moms are dropping out, etc.). All of them suggest (to this non-psychologist) that you’re focusing on achievements and being okay in the eyes of the world rather than just showing us who you are.


  4. Careers advisor
    Careers advisor says:

    Penelope, you’re offering some real-world tough advice that many people need to absorb. Life is hard and won’t be handed to anyone on a silver platter (unless your family is filthy rich). The rest of us need to grit our teeth and be resilient.

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