Before you aim for someone’s job, look at the price they paid to get there

Whenever I write about grad school, someone writes in the comments about how I’m just bitter that I didn’t get a degree.

But what I’m really bitter about is that no one wanted to have sex with me. Some famous poet was a visiting professor, hitting on every grad student but me. And Leslie Epstein was there, who is not only king of the Jews but the father of Theo Epstein, a big name in baseball. Leslie said I’m the best sex writer he’s ever read. So why wasn’t he asking me for sex?

Probably because I’m the master of bad sex. There is no anal penetration that I cannot ruin with a piece of poop at the end of the paragraph.

So no one hit on me in grad school except maybe Susanna Kaysen. I was starving and homeless and she was getting movie deals that included Winona Ryder riders. And if I had not been so Aspergery I would have done anything to get her to edit my memoir – she is a master of the line edit. I’ll always worry that my memoir could have been edited better. 

But, to my point, what I learned while I was not getting hit on in grad school is to never write drunk.

I don’t want any of you to think that I am endorsing grad school. Here is another specimen from my collection of links about how grad school is a waste of your time.

I learned not to write drunk because everyone thought they’d write better drunk but they only wrote more like themselves.  So, if you’re a good writer sober, you’d be a good writer drunk, but you can just write sober. Why add the extra calories? Because when your book is published you are better off looking hot. Of course. Everyone is better off looking hot, especially if they want to fuck their boss.

I’ve been trying to decide if I am going to use the word fuck. My husband, Matthew – who now has a name on this blog- thinks it’s trashy. I want you to think that I’m interesting in bed in a sort of trashy way and that I say fuck all the time. But I don’t. I’m probably really boring in bed. I’m much better on paper.

Oh God – my editor is going to throw this whole post out for not being useful. He’s going to say, “Try writing something when you’re not drunk.” Even in the best case he’s going to say, “I have to think about it. I’m not sure if it works.”

Which always makes me write back “Fuck fuck fuck.” That is a common salutation to my editor. I’ll say “I need a post today! I haven’t posted in four days!” I know the world does not stop to notice when I don’t post in four days. But I feel like a failure. What am I doing if I’m not posting?

Well. I’m drinking.

In case you are wondering, Cassie told me to read this book Drinking: A Love Story, which shows how easy it is to become an alcoholic, so I stopped drinking for three weeks as a check-up. So I don’t think I count as an alcoholic. I’m just like one of those tiresome grad students who writes drunk except in grad school the editor is the classroom full of people who want to take you down, in front of the teacher, so the teacher will fuck them instead of you.

There is a rule for my blog: the more crazy the post is, the more useful it has to be. My editor follows this rule. I gave him this rule. By the way, he is not a rule follower. It’s ironic because he has this big job making sure his company follows FDA rules, he secretly sends me poems that are too hard for me to read but it’s clearly because there are no rules being followed. How do you judge a poem with no broken rhymes?

It’s okay, I think, to drink. Because I’m sad. I’m sad that my life has become driving my kids everywhere. I’m in the car more than 48 hours a week. It’s absurd. Don’t do it. It’ll ruin your life. So I’m sad. I came home tonight. At 11pm. From driving. And I have to drive again at 9:30 am. My experience of planting corn is pulling up behind the seed truck, and taking a picture, on my way home. And remember the 20,000 bulbs I planted last fall? I’ve seen them for about sixteen minutes. Because I’m never home. I’m driving.

You can’t have a nice house in the country and a good job in the city. You know that. I’ve told you a hundred times. But it’s just like how the preacher’s daughter is always knocked up: the career coach always has a life-destroying commute.

But here’s what I’ve learned, again and again: picking a career is picking a life. Look at the person’s life, not the job, and decide if you want it. If so, choose their career.

But watch out. I homeschool my kids and I have a husband who is home all day to help, and I live on a working farm and I have a great career. Who wouldn’t want this, right? But some nights, I come home and drink. People don’t tell you that. When you ask them how they got the career, they don’t mention how they drank a bottle of Chardonnay on nights when they drove too much.

Remember that people will brag about what they’ve achieved, but they don’t brag about the price they paid to get it. So find someone who will tell you the worst parts of their life. Because it’s easy to see what’s great about someone’s life. But if you’re picking a career by picking a life, the only people who are useful to you are those who will tell you the bad stuff too.

My editor has been fired a lot before he got his job now. I don’t know if he’ll cut this paragraph. The thing is, he’s really good at work now. I like my editor a lot.  But if you asked my editor about what his life is like as an FDA rule enforcer, he would never tell you that he was fired from the military for misconduct. Or about the stealing. Or about how it feels like his marriage is ending.

You know why I love my job? Because I just want to write that truth. It feels good to tell you what I see. I know I don’t have the best social skills, but I see things clearly because I don’t worry that people will hate me.

But I worry that my editor will veto this post. When you look at my life, if you think you want it, remember that you will be choosing to live and die by your editor. If he cuts this post then me deciding to write while I was drinking was a total waste of time. If he approves this post, then I’m a creative genius. That’s how thin a line it is between career success and career failure for me. So when you’re choosing what you do, make sure you like the process. It’s a choice you can control.


106 replies
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  1. Becky Motew
    Becky Motew says:

    I found this site by accident. I didn’t think there were any more blogs worth reading. Wow, I was wrong.

    And you put your name on it too.

    Fantastic. I’m about the age of everyone here added together.

  2. Skweekah
    Skweekah says:

    My head hurt after reading this post.

    BTW, Charles Bukowski wrote while drunk. He’s an amazing American author. A legend.

  3. Robert Klein
    Robert Klein says:

    Wow, this is hysterically funny. I watched your networking video on Cornell’s MBA site, and then read some of your blog…hoping I would have an “aha” moment, but it never came…but lots of note taking during the Cornell video, and lots of laughs on your blog. I’ve still not figured out what I want to be when I grow up…but I love solving problems, I love my family, all the good stuff…problem is I’m 46, married the 2nd time, with my 3rd child (18 years, 15 years and 5 months), having worked in 4 or 5 industries, and about to graduate from MBA school (don’t hate me if I feel I got a lot out of it ). Mostly it gave me some new buzzwords to use, and context to use them in for those unpredictable conversations that can be life altering. My old plan was to read as much as I could from great thinkers such as yourself, seth godin, daniel goleman, and others, (is it disrespectful if I don’t capitalize?) and eventually there would be some sort of mind meld, and I would be more like these great people, but what I’m finding is that I just don’t get much sleep…and I now buy used books for 1 penny plus $3.99 shipping instead of paying full Amazon retail…
    thanks again, I think I’m better now.

    • dan ashman
      dan ashman says:

      I dont understand how can you be 46 and not know what you want to do? Do you know what you want to do but dismiss the idea? Did you know what you wanted to do but were too lazy or failed and now you are lost and confused your whole life?

      • Robert Klein
        Robert Klein says:

        Dan, you took me literally, with some harsh words, a sales pitch and then lol? Not sure I’m feeling sincerity here…Actually I love to do many things, and have been successful at most. I was speaking conversationally. My life has been focused on making a better quality of life for people and having fun at the same time. Professionally this has been through new product development. I have a few kids, one of them has special needs now 18. The MBA has been great, sorry if this dissappoints. Thanks anyway!

        • dan
          dan says:

          robert you are delusional. i took your words literally cause they were meant literally. i’m not sure why you said you don’t feel sincerity from me, since i was being as straightforward and honest as possible and that is why you took insult. oh wait, now i understand, you are just dumb and confused and can’t talk straight.

          lol yeah sales pitch. you are the one who said you watch penelope’s youtube videos, take notes, read her blog, laugh at her funny writing, expect an “aha” moment from her, and consider her a “great mind”, and i am the one selling something when i say the logical conclusion to your beliefs is that you work with her personally? go work at mcdonalds son.

          i don’t care if your mba is best thing in your life or if it was a waste. but in your first post you did not say it was great. you said all you got out of it was buzzwords and “context to use them in,” now if that is worth the price of MBA then nice job buddy, you got real low expectations in life.

          • Robert Klein
            Robert Klein says:

            Wow dan, you sound angry. Im not trying to confuse you or anyone else I enjoyed Penelope’s video and blog, and also like to leave a comment once in a while like I did here, but Lufe is not so simple as you make it out to be. I suppose I should say thank you for your candor. I find it more helpful to engage with others in a nice tone though. I hope i didnt insult you in any way Perhap I misunderstood your intent. Thanks anyway.

    • dan ashman
      dan ashman says:

      Robert you are really trying to confuse us I think what is going on here? You say Penelope is a “great thinker” and you scour her youtube video and blog for hints on how to solve your entire life situation but why don’t you just pay her $350 for a personal session with her? You can pay to get an MBA cause you’re confused on what to do to learn buzz words but you won’t pay $350 to personally talk and get advice from a great thinker lololol

  4. Kate
    Kate says:

    Penelope – I am a long time reader but don’t usually comment (I actually think this may only be the second time commenting). I really appreciate your post. I drive 1 1/2 – 2 hours each way to work. Every day. I do this because I have a successful career in a big city that is not amazing for raising kids. I have a wonderful house in a smaller town where my in-laws live and help my husband and I out with our daughter. It is the perfect place to raise kids. Sometimes I get home and want to go straight to sleep or straight to wine. It is tough, but it is worth it for now.

    Thank you for posting this, really.

  5. Heather
    Heather says:

    Hey Penelope,

    This article is on The Browser, one of my favorite sites to find interesting content. I was excited to find you there!

    Take care,


  6. dan ashman
    dan ashman says:

    What is the social skills class you have to take your kids to?

    I don’t understand this driving thing. To develop a skill like soccer or piano a kid just has to play and practice a lot so I don’t see the need for all these lessons. Through some combination of cutting courses entirely, paying a huge sum to have a teacher come out to your farm to teach your kids, and having just one teaching lesson a week with more focus on practice at your home, I bet you could make just one trip a week.

  7. zzx375
    zzx375 says:

    Hopefully the vocabulary that was tested in the GRE verbal section was more robust than the word choices shown in your piece.

  8. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I’d like to believe that you wrote this post uncensoredly drunk because then it would feel like this was unedited and spontaneous. Someone up there wrote… A quote from Carl Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ”

    You write about your dark side, and so what? So you say the word ‘fuck’. So you think you’re a bad fuck. So you’re a mom. This is why I think you’re a good person. Because you are unafraid. Of telling the truth.

  9. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Reading this post reminds me of the book The Devil wears Prada. The movie doesn’t compare, the book is more stark and poignant.

    Newbie assistant gets a good look on what it takes to be on top and it isn’t pretty…but she learns some valuable lessons, like taking risks, learning how to deal with burn out, what works and what doesn’t and how to get things back on track, quickly….

    One of the points you bring home I absolutely love, get someone to tell/show you the downside of it all so you can get the whole picture, or @ least work with someone that invites you to help with their dirty laundry, work wise, to get the whole experience….

  10. job seeker
    job seeker says:

    Penelope you are absurdly correct. Making your own life and getting job is really tough now a days. keeping in mind about your loved ones is the most important thing while you are spending time outwards. Your sobbing and outrageous writing is quite hilarious. Yours words is quite familiar with the life of normal people. And you should kept a driver penelope.

  11. Lisa Rangel
    Lisa Rangel says:

    Great expression. It’s all about looking at the price paid, sacrifices made and commitments held to reach the levels of success a person achieved–before making a comparison to your own life or a decision affecting your own life. Agreed.

  12. JRA
    JRA says:

    Thanks regarding expressing this kind of with all of us you actually learn what you will be talking about! Saved as a favorite. Nicely in addition talk to this site Is equal to). We may have a very url adjust understanding in our midst

  13. Quiddoo
    Quiddoo says:

    You are very funny and love the way you write and say things. Im always afraid of what others might think but I should stop being afraid and let myself go, trusting more in myself.

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