3 Rules high achievers never break

In case you were wondering what happened to the 20,000 bulbs I planted, here they are. But don’t worry that this is going to be a post full of happy spring cheer. That sort of post would embarrass me.

First of all, these bulbs didn’t come up until after spring. Partly because it was 50 degrees in Wisconsin this spring, and partly because my bulbs probably have some sort of photosynthesis version of schizophrenia since I planted fall bulbs during a blizzard in Janurary. But even those came up.

But first, look. When you plant bulbs in a blizzard, it is too cold to put the bulbs at the right depth and make each bulb point up so it’s ready to sprout. I ended up planting some bulbs in the muted moonlight of thick snowfall. I shoveled snow until I hit dirt, then I dug a little deeper and dropped handfuls of bulbs into piles. And even those came up.

Which goes to show you one more case where you should not follow rules. But you don’t need another blog post on not following rules, because I think we all agree that this blog is a monument to not following rules. But there’s no rule that always never applies, so here’s when you need to follow rules.

#1 Rule to never break: Love your process, independent of outcome.
You know why people don’t do stuff like that? Because they worry about outcome. But I was obsessed with the process—I just liked planting bulbs. I liked learning about all the different kinds. I can identify hundreds of bulbs just by their shape. I liked learning about the bulb industry. (Really, do not buy bulbs if you don’t know where they were raised. Bulbs are like chicken: for sure it’s the worst-case scenario.)

This is how I got through all my startups: I love the process. The likelihood of a huge grand exit is so small. But the process of building a company is so fun. That’s how you think about anything you are doing with all your heart. You love the process more than anything, even the outcome.

I saw it when I played pro volleyball. I had so few years of playing compared to the women from California who had played all their lives. I was incredibly focused in practice, though. And I loved to practice. I practiced as much in six years in California as some people practiced in their whole life. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers gives great data about how important it is to love the process of practice if you’re going to be great. At anything.

So back to the flowers. I never really saw them. I was driving back and forth for cello. Spring is recital season, and we spent most of May in Chicago with me telling my son he could quit cello and him crying that he doesn’t want to quit but he wished we lived in Chicago and me taking another Xanax.

There were the good days. Like when we bought a scooter.

But mostly it was a month of too much travel. Jeanenne, my assistant, took the pictures of the flowers because she worried I’d miss them. And because when builders put on our addition they realized the whole house needs re-siding and when we replace the siding, we will destroy my garden. So it’s good I like the process of planting since I’m going to have to do it all over again.

#2 Rule to never break: The difference between crazy and innovative is how far from the box an out-of-the box thinker resides. So stay as close as possible.
So we are in Chicago and out of Chicago and I was telling myself that it’s okay that I’m never home because my son loves cello and I love planting more than celebrating my success, so everything is fine. And then I fainted and it was bad.

Back story: We were supposed to stay overnight at a hotel but I got this idea that we were going to drive home because I’m sick of hotels. But then, as I was on my way back to Wisconsin I started doing the math and we would get to Wisconsin at 2am and have to leave again at 5am and even if I could physically handle it, my son would notice that it was stupid. He would demand to know why we went back home that night. And I’d have no reason that made sense to him, and I try very hard to look like a normal person when I’m parenting.

So I am on the highway and thinking that, and then I am thinking of my very favorite article about startups – about how venture capitalists like to bet on innovators who are just shy of crazy. Then I’m scared I’m in the process of crossing the line to crazy, so  I pull over and get a hotel room.

So we end up in Hampshire, Illinois. Don’t bother Googling that. The only important thing to know is that it’s near Elgin, which has a really nice, new hospital, which has a team of neurologists who specialize in people who faint.

So we go to the hotel, and even though it’s the middle of the night, I make my son wait in the hallway while I check for bedbugs. After sleeping in too many hotels, I’ve become a fiend about bedbugs.

He tells me this is a bad hotel.

He’s right. Is there an award for a seven-year-old who can judge a hotel quality from the carpeting and the door to the room? Can I put him on a reality show or something? Oh. Wait. I forgot. My family is too normal for reality TV. (I’m going to say that a million times. Like, how can you judge me when I’m like you — too boring for TV?)

We stay anyway. He falls asleep in one second. I read The Best American Food Writing from 2011. I would never have bought this book, but the publisher, Da Capo Press, sends me their catalogue every quarter and I get to pick any books I want. That is so fun. So I try to pick books that force me to read out of my comfort zone. I read story about a Korean immigrant family assimilating with a Thanksgiving turkey and kimchi. Then I go to bed.

Then I wake up, get up, and faint.

I wish I could tell you what else I did, but when you hit your head as hard as I did, you get amnesia.

I realized, later, that I woke up and sent some emails. Because when I got home from the hospital there was a brand new four-poster bed, and my husband asked where it came from and I realized I told the delivery guy to just open the door and go in the house. Anyone will do that, even though they are not supposed to, once they drive as far away from civilization as our farm. People think rules don’t apply when you get that far away.

What I remember is thinking to myself: that was the biggest hit to my head that I could ever imagine. Then I laid there. On the bathroom floor. Then I tried to get up, and I couldn’t get up. Then I crawled to the hallway and told someone to call 911.

My son told this story: “Mom was on the floor with blood everywhere and I yelled to her are you okay and get up please get up, and then I went to the bed and cried.”

Okay. So I never taught my kids to call 911. It’s a failing. It didn’t occur to me because what would come to our house? A helicopter? I don’t see how 911 works if you don’t live in civilization.

Enough people have asked my son if he called 911 that now he just says yes. He’s a people pleaser.

So the ambulance comes, and the whole time I’m telling people, when I’m conscious, to please make sure my son doesn’t see me. It will be too much for him. Tell him I’m okay.

Meanwhile, he follows us into the ambulance.

#3 Rule to never break: Everyone needs a vacation.
In the hospital, I can’t feel my feet, and I ask whoever is poking around at my veins to write instructions for my husband about what to do with the kids. “Tell the kids I love them. Tell my husband he can’t put them back in school. Tell my cousin to help with cello.”

Finally, they put a staple in my head. The nurse washes enough blood off my hand so my son will hold it. Matthew and my older son arrive from Wisconsin. Things are stable enough that my kids are fighting over who gets to place the order for dinner at the hospital.

Then they leave. My son goes with a friend to his concerts. Matthew goes with my older son back to take care of the animals. I am left with neurologists and cardiologists and food services.

I am so happy. I read about burgers in Boston and how to cook without recipes. I meet with the neurologist who says I can’t get an MRI yet because the magnetic force would rip out my staple. I get an ultrasound of my arteries that is like an advanced biology class, if only I could stay awake. I meet with a cardiologist who says I have extremely low blood pressure. I thought it was from being in such good shape from volleyball, but it turns out my brother and mother have been fainting for years and I didn’t know it. It’s genetic. You have to learn the warning signs. Mindfulness. Forced mindfulness. I love it.

So I spent three glorious days in the hospital. Reading and writing and remembering why I like my job so much. I like the ideas. I like the process of synthesizing ideas. I called people to talk about online education business models.

Me: What do you think about the scalability of Udemy?

Them: What is this number? Where are you?

Me: Oh. A hospital. I’m getting some tests.

Them: Mental hospital?

Do you know how you can find out what you love to do? Go to the hospital for three days. My son would play the cello. Matthew would leave, go home, and do chores. I worked on my ideas about my webinar strategy. I was so happy to have time to myself.

I’m home now, but I’m still too dizzy to drive. So I canceled two weeks of cello lessons without feeling guilty that I’m a bad parent, and I’m home with my flowers and my webinars, and really, no one has ever been happier about a staple in her head.

105 replies
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  1. Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven)
    Mary Ostyn (Owlhaven) says:

    My fervent thought after reading this post: I hope you can find a way to drive less and be home a bit more without fear that you may be depriving your kiddos of opportunity. You all deserve down time that doesn’t involve hospitalization.

    Thanks, as always for your writing.

    Mary, homeschooling momma to 10, INTJ, very familiar with that ‘doing too much’ thing

  2. karelys
    karelys says:

    I spaced out once thinking I wanted to commit a petty crime to go to jail and have a break from life.

    Then I had to run back to work still hungry because I didn’t have enough time to eat food.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      Ha! I thought I was the only person that ever fantasized that jail would be a welcome break from life.

      • Michael
        Michael says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks about that. That or going to the ER and admitting to suicidal.

        • karelys
          karelys says:

          Michael, admitting suicidal thoughts will probably prove to be a time waster because they will say “ok, we’ll take you in but you can’t leave for a week” and while you are there you realize that to dig yourself out of the whole is a very step by step process that you could’ve done at home.

          Trust me. I’ve seen movies. While you’re at it watch “It’s kind of a funny story.”

          I’ve been studying suicide for a few years now. It’s very interesting.

          Anyway, healing yourself from depression/suicidal tendencies is like loosing weight. It’s very day to day and it’s a lot of grunt work. It’s not always like “ooooh! I had an epiphany! I don’t want to die anymore so I am going to workout and do all things right and take medication yeah!!!” It’s very much like “I don’t want to take this pill but I love my family so much THIS is my act of love. If love ever looked tangible and if it was visible in action it is this right now.”

          I am going to finish my coffee now.

  3. CL
    CL says:

    You set up a Skype cello lesson for Zehavi when you were traveling, but you can’t do that when you’re at home?

    Also, I hope this is an opportunity for you to stop your insane commuting. You are the queen of looking at the research and figuring out what will make you happy, yet you’ve been commuting for way too many hours a week.

    Please feel better – we would miss our favorite career blogger.

  4. Maia
    Maia says:

    The idea of loving the process despite the outcome is so true. It just made me realize that there are things I keep putting off, because I think the outcome won’t be good. But time to stop doing that. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Also I’m glad you’re ok and you really should take a holiday more often without waiting until you faint from exhaustion next time!

  5. chris
    chris says:

    Penelope, a “simple” vacation would probably not do it for you. I believe you need a vacation with high drama attached to it. What do you think?

  6. Dana
    Dana says:

    I had to chuckle … you stayed at the Super 8 at the truck stop in Hampshire, didn’t you?? It is a “bad” hotel … says the person who moved to Hampshire 7 years ago because I thought it would be a great idea to raise my son in the country.

  7. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Okay, so I’m totally with you on #s 1 & 3, but holy crap, that’s scary.
    An even better reason to get a driver…I hope you feel better soon and can snap a few pictures of those tulips yourself.
    No one can be everything to everyone.

    Sarah M

  8. Jen Knapp
    Jen Knapp says:

    P –
    Love your post but more importantly, sooo sorry to hear about your ordeal. Really hope you are up and around very soon!! Also really hope that you were thoroughly checked for signs of a concussion…
    Be well,

  9. Katt
    Katt says:

    Four years ago, after my thyroid cancer surgery, I had to have radiation treatment. My radiation vacation. A whole week away from my life, holed up at the house of my sister the nurse while she brought me meals and I read and wrote and gamed. It was great.

  10. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    My advice, if you’re able to follow it – Carl Honoré, the author of the book ,”In Praise of Slow” and a TED talk by a similar name.

    You are the workaholic as you were in CA (“I practiced as much in six years in California as some people practiced in their whole life.) and in your start-up life later on. It’s who you are. You just have to learn how to manage it rather than the other way around. I’m sorry to hear of your experience but it could have been worse. Maybe it’s a wake-up call. I hope so for you and everyone who cares for you.

  11. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    Great post! The link to “5 Reasons to stop trying to be happy”…. I needed to read that too. I need to spend less time persecuting myself for not being great at everything. Just focus on doing certain things in a great way.

  12. Alyssa
    Alyssa says:

    Where did you find that bed?!? How do you choose that woodworker? I’m trying to help my friend find *GOOD* custom cabinetry in his area … I’ve just started haunting woodworker forums and haven’t come up with a strategy for evaluating online woodworkers yet. I’d love some pointers.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, we have been sleeping with the mattress on the floor for forever while I was looking for a bed.

      Then, I was driving by a shop window near the cello lessons (of course!) and I fell in love with the bed frame. At first I told myself that the store is clearly marketed to rich people who have all their furniture custom made by painstakingly slow craftsmen and then the furniture gets passed down to their grandchildren, blah blah. I told myself don’t even think about it.

      But you know what? It gets boring at the cello lessons, and I started going into the store just for something to do. And I went in so many times that I couldn’t restrain myself.

      Everything in the studio is beautiful. It’s called Sawbridge. I know I put the link above, but I’ll put it here too. If only carpenters were social media fiends and paid for link placement on blogs…



  13. Jael
    Jael says:

    What did I tell you? You needed a break. I’m sorry you hit your head, but I hope you got some sleep. My heart is with you. Hugs.

    I’m so inspired by you. Not the staple. But you.

    More hugs.

  14. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    Some of my favorite childhood memories are building forts – and when it was all done, we all looked at each other and said “Now what do we do?” But we were kids and it was being on vacation – it was all fun, no pressure. How do we keep that fun process going as adults, without having to check into a hospital for 3 days, is the big question.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s a great way to ask the question. And you could even ask it for kids. I mean, it’s not like school encourages kids to build forts and destroy them. School wants results-based learning. So I think it’s a social question: how do we, as a society, encourage that sort of cushion-fort building? And what’s interesting is really, it’s the startup founders who are the only one’s doing it. And believe me, most of them are starving.


      • Stacy
        Stacy says:

        Interesting, I never thought of it as a social question. If we as a society focused more on the journey and the natural learning process, perhaps we wouldn’t view “failure” as this bad thing to be avoided. But at some point we all need to add value to the process and how do you measure that (in both work and school environment)?

      • the last word
        the last word says:

        That is a great question. Is there value in building just to build. I oersonally think so. In fact my son just took down his fort this evening. My mom let me build forts and play in the mud. No really thicj bkack mud. That was the best ever. I am a kinder teacher and when I would pull out the blocks it was funny because I was the only one that would. Or the bikes and the parachute. Come on why cant kids just play a minute.

        I had a start up dealersip. In 09. We lost abt 40k we actually dont know how much we never did the taxes. It was pretty frustrating teaching a full day taking care of three kids and going out to sell cars to make no money. It was a failure but if I had more time I loved meeting people to test drive cars. We made more money when we were just starting selling cars out of the gwrage. No lease and irs. I sold this salvaged tacoma on craigslist that had carriage damage underneath. I posted it for 11k with mo hits. Then I put it in for 12k with one or two hits but no one wanted this truck. I loved driving it myself. Finally I asked for 15k and sold it for 14500. That is do funny to me because I valued the salvaged truck at my preceivef value before I drove it. Then I fell in love with it and raised the orice to the value I wanted. I love that strategy. If you cant sell something for less raise the orice. We made 4500 on that truck. Made no money at the real business. I dont want to do business again. I dont want to deal with the IRS and all the regulations. That was more stress than selling cars.

        So build forts and make a mud pit for your kids to play in. I have to figure out how to do it as we have rocks in the soil.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Thank you for this! As I was convincing myself that it’s not in my DNA to love processes I remembered that I loved playing with Barbies when I was a child because of the process of setting up “the house.”

      Then I’d tear it down because actually playing seemed so boring. But the process was unclear and about discovery.

      Wow, thanks!

      Really the comments are pretty great in this community!

  15. Carla Hinkle
    Carla Hinkle says:

    If you are driving so much you end up in the hospital for 3 days, that is too much driving. Period. For you AND your son. You live in the country; you don’t live in Chicago. You can’t act like your son will have the same cello experience living in the country as he would if he lived in Chicago.

    I hope you make some adjustments.

  16. sandra shern
    sandra shern says:

    I have the same disorder, neurogenic cardio syncope. You need salt, and lots of it! They wanted to give me a pacemaker, but after seeing an amazing cardiologist, he took one look at me and said I just needed salt. After fainting numerous times, and my heart stopping for more then 30 seconds while having a seizure, I just needed salt. I haven’t fainted in over five years. As you know, the most dangerous part is hitting the floor. Salt, water and rest cured it for me and it runs in my family as well. I hope you feel better soon, and I totally know how you feel. Sorry!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Sandra, my mom emailed me tonight. She said, “Did you see the comment on your blog about salt? My cardiologist told me the same thing!”

      So you’ll be happy to know that my mom liked your comment. And so did I, because now I’ll feel like I’m taking care of myself when I douse my eggs in salt.


      • sandra shern
        sandra shern says:

        I saw an awesome electrophysiologist (or look for a cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology) who saved me from a pacemaker.

        You can’t eat too much salt so feel free to go crazy with it. Your blood pressure will increase to normal in time. AND drink a ton of water. V-8 and salty soup is an easy way to go. If you do your research on this disorder (which I am sure you will) salt (like potassium) is an ion that keeps the heart going. There is new data showing a correlation between low salt and heart attacks due to low blood pressure.

        MAKE SURE TO GET A TILT TABLE TEST if you haven’t already had one. It will show what happens to you when you faint. In my case, my heart stopped for a long time but everyone is different. Fainting is awful and obviously very dangerous, especially if no one is there to help you. Many doctors, even cardiologists don’t diagnose this properly. If you start pounding the salt and water and getting rest, reducing stress, I bet you will feel better soon. Even if you don’t faint, you may be fatigued if you don’t have enough salt in your body.

        Take care of yourself!

        • Angie
          Angie says:

          The fainting is so scary. I’ve fainted several times and come close dozens of times more, and I always thought it was low blood sugar. But my blood pressure is perpetually low—if I go to a healthcare provider outside of my PCP, they almost always ask if I’m a distance runner or something. (I’m not.) A doctor did once tell me to eat more salt, too. And they told me to take potassium supplements, especially if I’m working out often. But I haven’t been diagnosed with any particular disorder that causes the fainting.

          Also, I heard recently on a radio interview that many medical emergencies involving passengers on planes are due to low blood pressure. The doctor in the interview was saying that it’s really important for people to be well hydrated when they travel because their blood pressure tends to drop during the flight and be hydrated helps prevent that becoming an issue. Someone who has low blood pressure and is dehydrated would be at higher risk of an incident.

    • Kevin
      Kevin says:

      Something similar runs in my family: vasovagal syncope. I was the first to be diagnosed with it. Mine is triggered by invasive medical procedures, mostly anything involving a needle going into a vein. A few years ago my brother had a fainting spell at work (fortunately he was a police officer and was being examined by paramedics at the time) and was told by his cardiologist he needed more salt. Now the diagnosis has changed to be a vasovagal reaction to adrenaline spikes. He had to medically retire because he gets worked up every time he pulls someone over for speeding and wonders if they’ll be pointing a gun at him when he walks up to their car.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      When I was pregnant my heart felt like it’d go out of rhythm and I wanted to faint. Blood pressure was fine when I’d go to the midwife but the problem was while driving, walking, etc.

      She said salt.

      Of course I thought she was nuts since salt is like evil of the world #2 according to many doctors. But I trusted her. I dunked in heavy on epsom salt baths. And didn’t hold back on the sea salt on my food. And threw some salt in the lemonade (better than gatorade).

      It worked wonders!

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      Yeah! I was on a no-salt kick after hearing how bad salt was supposed to be and developed symptomatic low blood pressure. My doc said eat salt to taste & I have ever since. I like a LOT & BP is now normal. Ha, they call 120/80 borderline these days.

  17. Rebecca@MidCenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidCenturyModernRemodel says:

    See, I knew it. You have been doing too much. The sacrifice for the cello lessons isn’t really worth it. Because, at the end of the day, is he going to be a concert cello player? No, don’t answer that, because you obviously believe he will be. I work with someone who has a daughter in acting lessons and a son with pitching/hitting coach. This guy thinks his daughter will be a famous actress and the son will play in the major leagues. And this is why they don’t need to go to college. Seriously? That is like winning the lottery and being hit by lightning. What are the odds? As parents we get so invested in the possibilities of our kids that we lose our grip on reality. I think you should write a whole blog post about that. And I am not exempt at all from this disease by the way (pot kettle). But we all know what the odds are, yet we hope against all hope and work against all odds. Why? And I am so glad you cancelled lessons for a few weeks. Nice to take a break for both of you.

  18. Di
    Di says:

    Seriously. Isn’t there someone in Madison who gives quality cello lessons? It’s a college town, for cripe’s sake. And do you have any time with your older son if you’re always on the road with the cello?

  19. Rich
    Rich says:

    I cant say I disagree with your list, but I guess I was expecting some examples of successful people or teams that apply these things. Between bulbs, cello lessons and a 3 day hospital stay I missed the application.

  20. Gary
    Gary says:

    Rolling. I hate that the things people do that amuse us are often traumatic for them. Like the joke about the slinky. I didn’t know your sons had names? I loved your linked post, that was before my time. I’ve had an interesting life so far, I don’t think I have the enzyme for happiness. Oh we’ll, life sucks and then you die. Since we know its inevitable, why don’t we just try new things and enjoy the ride. I really don’t care for finishing, either, but I do get lost in the process!

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      PS I really do care for your health. I didn’t say anything because I know you are probably looking forward to the next injury!

  21. Razwana
    Razwana says:

    Cracked my head.
    Bought a bed.


    I know that you didn’t BUY the bed and then forget. But still. Great story.

    – Razwana

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Razwana, I need your help again! I wanted to use this new gravatar photo, now why can’t I rotate it? Or can I from the computer; I’m using my iPhone now. Thanks, G. ☯

  22. Diana
    Diana says:

    A very frightening post, I’m so glad you’re alright.
    And an interesting comment about the salt, I had never heard that.
    However, when you hear about 20 000 bulbs, what you want to see in a post is an endless sea of flowers. The photographs in this post sure are nice but kind of leave one wanting more… I could take similar pictures in my garden, and I have no more than 30 bulbs.
    Pretty please? I’ve been waiting for the flower pics ever since the first post about the bulbs. When you’re well enough to take pictures, that is.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      Yes!! Me too!! I want to see oodles and oodles of flowers! I too have been waiting a long time to see what 20,00 flowers looks like!!

    • abby
      abby says:

      I’d also like to see a photo of your 20,000 flowers and find out where you purchase your bulbs as I was about to plant some summer bulbs next week.

      • Becky
        Becky says:

        I have been wondering about your bulbs and as my daffodils dried up and my tulip leaves got mowed down I figured that you were having a hectic and/or stressful time there in Wisconsin. I’m glad to hear that it is overwork and not marriage problems this time, because matters of the heart seem harder to me. But then the sacrifices we make for our kids are matters of the heart.

        Your blog can read like a novel–there was foreshadowing of trouble related to driving. I wonder if people have dramatic arcs programmed into our subconsciousness. I was reading about an author who says that the novel is dead and instead fills books with lists and essays, but I would think that he still needs some type of set-up, conflict and resolution.

        As another one of your devoted readers who likes to give you advice, my hope is that you can look at this and some of the other emergencies in your life and see that you usually have identified that there is a problem prior to it’s precipitating a crisis.

  23. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    I’m glad you’re okay, Penelope, but I’m also glad I’m not the only person who thinks like this. Sitting in a hospital being forced to not work for a few days, having no one expect anything from me because I was in a hospital, sounds perfect right now and I have actually fantasized about it a bit. I would be willing to deal with the injury to have that.

    Instead, it seems the stress is injuring my mental health, rather than physical. (I guess that should be obvious, when I’m daydreaming about injuring myself badly enough to be hospitalized.)

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Happy and fulfilled looks different to different people. A high achiever would be miserable “taking it easy” just chilling with family.

      Why does the spider weaved the web? because it’s a spider. It wouldn’t be happy being like a sloth. It’s gotta weave and the moment it stops it’s because it died.

      It’s just a matter of finding a way to be yourself that isn’t destructive.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      some people are called high achievers, but in reality just love the process. Why is high achiever such a bad thing?

  24. Grace
    Grace says:

    You know, I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a while now, and I never had the desire to actually comment. However, your insanity (or sanity) makes me grin ear to ear. I’m not the only one who does crazy shit till forced to stop!

    Despite that, though, I really do hope you are getting well and more healthy. I don’t know if a hospital is really a good happy place. ;-)

    Udemy is a weird name. Educamy? — Even weirder, and it reminds me of a card game. (Auto)Didactemy? … Sounds like a medical experiment!

    Perhaps Udemy is the best choice for now.

  25. chris
    chris says:

    Here’s the thing. If you really believe in/practice #1, loving the process, you don’t have to “win” or be #1 (at the cello recitals).
    You can take lessons, practice, listen to/watch other cellists via u-tube . . . and play for your own pleasure. You have an out–you don’t have to travel to a recital. Maybe travel to a concert with a
    master once or twice a year–that’s it!

    I love the martial arts. I’m on the thresshold of becoming a black belt, but there are obstacles, one of which is the ability to travel to a distant location for testing. So, I decided that even if I never get my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I will go to classes, loving it as I do. And that is enough for me.

    I, too, am trying to 1) love the process and 2) know my limits.

  26. Jani
    Jani says:

    ” But you don’t need another blog post on not following rules, because I think we all agree that this blog is a monument to not following rules.”

    This. This is why I adore this blog and why it is only one of three that I frequent regularly (who am I kidding? religiously is probably a better word). I laughed so hard because I feel like my life is one big monument to not following rules, not because I didn’t want to, but because I never understood them well enough to follow.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You really hit the nail on the head when you write about not understanding the rules. The people who break rules are not breaking them to be iconoclasts or whatever. People who break rules generally try to follow rules but run amok of the rules when they seem so inane as to almost be invisible.


      • Robin
        Robin says:

        Most my successes have been from going outside the box.
        After all it is fear that keeps me there to begin with.
        Jump and grow your wings on th way down…

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Your picture makes you look mischievous.

      I think I read this blog because I don’t have someone to talk to that stretches my thinking like P does and because the comments are really good.

      I just want to have some sort of book club but with the blog where we read and discuss and drink wine. But no one cares so I just read here and comment on people’s comments. Viva la internet!

      • chris
        chris says:

        I am in the same camp. With this addition–that like Penelope, I contribute to a blog in order to exercise my writing muscle.

        I think a lot of the readers of this particular blog are very good writers as well as good analysts.

        Right now, I am reflecting on Penelope’s response and Jenn’s response where both are surprised/have to smile/laugh at the responses that give advice. Their word choice intrigues me–I’m guessing that they are pushing back without wanting to be argumentative . . . This is a great writing device, that doesn’t shut down the discussion, but rather sparks further discussion and keeps the debate civil. If only the politicians could function at this level!

  27. Jani
    Jani says:

    And now that I’ve finished reading the rest of your post…

    Clearly having some down time away from the kids (or life in general if you don’t have kids) and the intense schedule is good for creativity and productivity – so why is that not as big a deal when people talk about how to build successful careers as say, networking, or building your personal brand online?

    My Mother and Grandmother are both artists (mostly watercolors, oils and pencil drawings). The one thing they taught me that has stuck with me is how important white-space is. (White-space being the empty, background, or bland space around the focal point of a piece.) Without it, the viewer’s eye doesn’t know where to go because the focal point no longer stands out. This concept is so vital to design that it is taught to everyone who studies art.

    I think downtime is the white-space of a career – it’s the part nobody focuses on because it’s not what stands out, but without it, ones career isn’t as sharp and poignant as it could be.

  28. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    The following was classic and made me laugh out on loud on the train on my way home from work:

    So I spent three glorious days in the hospital. Reading and writing and remembering why I like my job so much. I like the ideas. I like the process of synthesizing ideas. I called people to talk about online education business models.

    Me: What do you think about the scalbility of Udemy?

    Them: What is this number? Where are you?

    Me: Oh. A hospital. I’m getting some tests.

    Them: Mental hospital?

  29. Lis Brodie
    Lis Brodie says:

    Jeez Penelope! Can’t you hire a cello teacher to come to you? At least you need to scale back. Your son is motivated to practice on his own and he’s still very young so he’s already ahead of the game.
    If I learned one thing from our coaching session it’s that what’s important is not having it all and being perfect, but creating the best possible life for everyone in the family. It sounds like for you that would include some down time.
    Take care of yourself!

  30. Deb Jones
    Deb Jones says:

    Penelope – you are simply brilliant. I love your blog. You make me laugh and learn! God Bless YOU!

    You can take your life and weave a message of hope for us all. I don’t know what your religious back ground is but you remind me of Romans 5. Here is my paraphrase: Boast in all joy in your sufferings because sufferings produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope…and hope does not disappoint because Jesus pours out the holy spirit into our heart.

    As a coach teaching financial abundance to my clients, your abundance overflows in your writing keep it going for us all!

    I am praying for you and your family to have more abundance!

  31. amy
    amy says:

    How does UW Madison not have a music program that your kid could get in on? Reach out to them, they have orchestra, music up the wazoo! Cant you hire someone to take him to some of the lessons in chicago? UW has those buses that go Chicago all the time, have someone take him on the bus. commuting like that for cello is nuts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      What surprises me about all the cello comments – that I get on every cello post – is that people don’t think I have tried all avenues to get out of driving to cello lessons. I mean, I hate the driving, and my kid hates the driving, so of course we’ve tried everything.

      He has taken lessons with a cellist who teaches grad students at UW Madison. It did not work. He needs someone who teaches little kids.

      And cello teachers who teach little kids don’t do it without the parent in the room. Because the parent is the one at home who is teaching the kid how to practice.

      I am also surprised that people are really quick to say this is not sustainable, but parents do this all the time for kids. Taylor Swift’s parents moved their whole family to Nashville when she decided she wanted a record contract. And for every Taylor who succeeds there are 500 families that made that type of sacrifice that we never hear about.

      We watch the Olympics every four years, but we never talk about the fifty kids who didn’t get a place on the gymnastics team that year. All those kids have parents who did what I’m doing – they support their kids in their wildest dreams, and hope their kids grow up thinking that persistence in chasing dreams is important and caring about each other is important, whether or not those dreams come true.


      • chris
        chris says:

        But is perseverance the ONLY lesson?
        Is setting limits not a worthy lesson/goal, as well?
        Can you do both with respect to the cello journey?

        In addition, you need to calculate carefully about
        whether the other members of the family are in.
        It is abundantly clear that Penelope is all-in. Are
        dad and big brother resentful at times about the
        sacrifices they have to make in order for the cello
        lessons to continue? Do you talk about it? Thrash
        it out? Having made a commitment, do you ever
        revisit the decisions you have made?

      • Carla Hinkle
        Carla Hinkle says:

        Of course the cello lessons in Chicago are LITERALLY sustainable. That wasn’t what I meant. But that does not come without cost to everyone involved. You, ending up in the hospital (what if you’d fainted while driving?). Your younger son, spending hours upon hours in the car. Your older son, who is supposed to be homeschooled by you, right? But you are always in the car, driving to cello lessons. Your husband, who theoretically needs some of your attention.

        Of course there are lots of families who do crazy things for a kid’s interest. That doesn’t make it a wise decision. How did the parents’ marriage fare? The family’s finances? The kid, in other areas of his/her life? You are a researcher, isn’t there any research about the effect a crippling commute has on other areas of a person’s life?

        Maybe you’ve thought all this through and still come up in favor of cello lessons in Chicago. But from the presentation here it seems like you have just gone all-in for cello, and aren’t evaluating the pros/cons of it for the whole family any more.

        • John
          John says:

          from the presentation here it seems like you have just gone all-in for cello, and aren’t evaluating the pros/cons of it for the whole family any more.

          I’m pretty sure she’s evaluating CONSTANTLY during the hours behind the wheel.

          She starts companies. She coaches people. She’s probably at least as smart as you.

          You’re treating her like she’s a vegetable.

          • Sean M
            Sean M says:

            She almost became one. That is the point. Even the most intelligent, sucessful people miss things. It’s what makes us human. Would passing out at the wheel and potentially denying life to the child you are pleasing with cello, yourself, or perhaps causing your husband and other child to loose their mother and wife. Just because you love something doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you or those around you. How can you homeschool if you are hardly ever home? Why were you SO worried about your HUSBAND putting the kids back in school? (Because you are worried, probably correctly, that deep down, that you are the only ADULT who is, as other comments have stated is “all in.” It seems as if your LIFE is revolving around this cello — if that is how you are going to proceede, you probably should think about changing other circumstances in your life so that this is a reasonable goal, well, more reasonable than it is, at least.

            On an unrelated(Sort of) note: Your life is too normal for reality TV….sure, because your family REALLY needs cameras, zero privacy and full on invasiveness on top of everything you already handle. Are you high? I can’t even imagine why you would want to make things even more complicated in your life….perhaps it’s your searing megalomania.

            Try this, (I think your brain tried to without you!): Try getting the fuck off your high-horse. You are so damn proud that you are denying your children the socialization and professionality they need in their development (nevermind, your a mommy, you know ALL THE SUBJECTS!) — People don’t live in bubbles — your massive commute should make that abundantly clear, so why do you act like you live in one so much? I feel bad for your husband, it really does not look like he gets ANY chance to be a parent, or a partner. You talk about him and what he does like one of your children….Maybe you should just stay home once in a while and talk to your family, instead of commanding them.

      • Susanna
        Susanna says:

        But what is the point? You want him to be the next Yo-Yo Ma? I played cello and still I don’t see what is the point. The cost is very high. What is the payoff?

        I also wonder what message it sends the kids when the parents orient their whole life around driving the kid everywhere. The message: we are their servant and we have nothing more important to do.

        Personally I put the brakes on any kid activity that involves me driving more than 4 miles, or me sitting more than 2 hours.

        • chris
          chris says:

          If you do NOT have something to be passionate about–your sport of choice, your music, your hobby, you (the child) is at high risk for drift. Then, in turn, after drifting, the kid is at high risk for getting into some kind of trouble. They have time on their hands, as the old saying goes, and they run amok. I myself raised 5 kids and it was only after the fact, late in the game, when some of them got into trouble, that I realized that they had nothing about which they were passionate–nothing that they really loved, that took up their time and energy, that they had to practice in order to gain expertise. In my case, we didn’t have the money to invest in a sport or in music lessons. Nonetheless, I wish I had helped them find a talent, a passion, and helped them towards expertise.

          • Sean M
            Sean M says:

            Drift happens to all people, all children, everyone, in every walk of life. The difference is who hides it well, gets away with it, or is able (like most people) to “Drift” back into the good zone….In fact, most of the people in my life that have “drifted” as you say, were the ones who were over-programmed with the express purpose of preventing what they made worse.

            Obviously passions are great, as long as they are non-destructive, put you have to remember that you cant dictate to anyone else what their passion IS, and (this is to Penelope: CHILDREN MAKE MISTAKES _ YOU CANNOT BASE YOUR LIFE AROUND THE WHIMS OF A CHILD_)

  32. Franc
    Franc says:

    Yo Penelope – you are one of the few bloggers that give me hope. I note that low blood pressure is given short shrift as compared to high blood pressure. I have the same issue. Heal your body. I love the white space idea.

  33. Penny
    Penny says:

    It’s funny you mentioned Taylor Swift’s parenting relocating for her – perhaps that’s a better alternative then? Relocation? If not into Chicago proper, at least to somewhere in between? Maybe that’s a more logical sacrifice to make (and hopefully does not jeopardize your health in the same way)?

  34. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    Hey Penelope,

    I want to say that I got really scared when I read this. I am glad you are OK. Hope that nothing serious is wrong.

    Also, have you considered that perhaps unconsciously you are trying to create a situation where you have to make some sort of drastic change?

    I get that you are happy in most ways, but part of you does not belong there…maybe your son’s cello lessons are the excuse for getting far away from the farm.

    If that is true, it’s OK to acknowledge it before you end up getting yourself killed. Like bring the cello lessons to the farm, and schedule regular trips away. Maybe do speaking tours, in person coaching, etc.

    I think you need the drama.

    Two cents, just because I care.


  35. Rich Berger
    Rich Berger says:

    This is one of your best posts (at least during the period I have been reading them). Breakneck speed through hairpin turns, narrowly-avoided derailment and coming within a whisker of crashing and burning. But then, I am not living your life.

  36. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I’m new to your blog and loving it so far.!

    I have to laugh at the fact that so many people think that this comment box should be filled with their advice to you on how to run your life:)

    The thing that drew me to your blog in the first place is that you are unique, outspoken, and blatantly honest…totally unique, totally you. I’m thinking people should just accept that and stop telling you what to so.

    • chris
      chris says:

      All her readers know who they are dealing with–driven, self-determining, dogged, alternative lifestyle Penelope.

      But I think that as unique as Penelope is, she is like all of us who need and appreciate feedback. She needs a “sounding board”. Her readers are her sounding board.

      She will measure the responses she gets and thoughtfully (re)consider her options. In fact, the responses sometimes seem to lead Penelope to tackle a question/topic that she hasn’t yet thought of.

      The advice is all over the board, on this and on other issues. That kind of thing leads you (and me and Penelope) to keep our minds open.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I do like the comments. I read every single one and decide what the consensus is, which comments are most helpful. I know from all the coaching i do that we each learn a little about ourselves when we give other people advice. So I see the comments section as all if us growing together.


  37. Lily
    Lily says:

    Oh Penelope! I am glad you are on the mend!

    I completely agree with you about the hospital stay – a forced vacation, to have time to think about what you want to think about. You made this workaholic, start up founder in a male dominated industry, busy mum, stop and be mindful – at least for a moment.

    So glad your bulbs turned out, regardless of broken rules!

  38. MARIA
    MARIA says:

    Dannielle ,the best comment so far ! Well done !!!!!!!

    I believe that Penelope is unconsciously trying to commit suicide by driving like crazy all week.

    Those kids are pure victims of a control freak

    Hope you get some help soon

  39. Gary
    Gary says:

    It sounds as if we’re turning failure into a virtue, a goal, a positive life event. Now, I’ve known failure, and I’m certain I will again. I’ve experienced, read and heard of how it wasn’t the end, how it could be just what one needed at the time, yada yada yada. I can wax philosophical too, because I know these things to be true, (wait for it…) BUT, it can really be really awful! We’ve been terminated, we can cost others their jobs, we can lose our company some contracts and lots of money, it can follow us around and hurt our future employment prospects, it can lead to drug abuse, nervous breakdowns and suicides–or not. We grow and become wiser, and can use it to our advantage, but failure is not a desirable thing, even if it is a fact of life. Let’s just bear this in mind as we navigate through our lives. G

  40. Brian Spaulding
    Brian Spaulding says:

    “…in the muted moonlight of thick snowfall…”

    This brought me right back to the winter nights on the farm where I grew up – Wonderful! If this tulip gig doesn’t work out for you, I think you might have a career in writing.


  41. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    I love this post, only because I constantly tell my husabnd, “none of my girlfriends could handle my life”…and I mean it with pride. I am constanlt juggling way too much and then when it is time to relax all I can see is the endless list of things I need, should, could or would like to, or need, to be doing instead of relaxing. No wonder I love red wine – it is a forced relaxer and for an overacheiver ENTJ like me, I need a froced system in place. Because, like your mini vacation at the hospital, I too actually enjoy relaxing and processing – list-making and just simple down time to let my thoughts mellow. But, of course those hours and days are hard to come by. So, aI push on – overbook, overstimulate and complain. I am working to pencil in down time. As with sex, if you don’t – it won’t happen. And when I do pencil it in, it is jus as enjoyable as if I was a spontaneous person. Which, I am definitley not! I don’t even like to use the word in a sentence.

  42. Ralph
    Ralph says:

    Good stuff! I have to remind myself to take a vacation. I’m usually up at 3am and my vacations usually are no different. But I guess thats because of rule #1 :)

  43. Joan Davis
    Joan Davis says:

    Of all these rules, #3 would surely be the last thing I’d have to break. No one can refuse having a vacation once in a while after all.

  44. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I just read this today and really honed in on the “love your process” part. It motivated me to work on finding the process I love and to not get so bogged down with the end results–which I’m now thinking was stifling my love of the process. Funny, now I’m reading another book and opened to a page that said almost the same thing! I think it’s something I needed to hear. I guess I’m really just wanting to say thanks for the motivation and inspiration!

  45. Fiona Scrymgeour
    Fiona Scrymgeour says:

    I worked corporate senior roles for years and never felt I really was in control. Now I work my personal development business from home and love it! My rule is 1 thing at a time and enjoy doing it!

  46. J
    J says:

    Love Fiona’s rule – 1 thing at a time and ENJOY it! Great, great rule! If only I stuck to it ;P
    Another great article, thanks =)

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