We flew first class to Seattle so we could get the cello on board without a fight for overhead space. So imagine the come down when my son walked into the dorm room at cello camp. “Oh,” he said. “A dorm room is like a one-star hotel.”

I thought to myself: Who am I? Am I a person who flies first class, or am I a person who shares a bathroom with ten strangers?

There are cello lessons all day and we run around Seattle Pacific University with me marveling at the dahlias (are they perennials here?) and my son doing too-risky parkour (“Mom. I think my penis broke.”)

My son tells me I have to sleep in the top bunk because he doesn’t want to fall out. I climb up there and remember the kid down the hall who rolled out my freshman year, so I sleep on the floor.

Am I a person who has a garden that covers an acre? Am I a person who has no bed?

I can’t sleep. I’m obsessed with the research about how stable people can shape their past into a cohesive story. Successful people do not think of themselves as disjointed or as experiencing life like a schizophrenic. People who can give back to the world are people who can see themselves as a consistent person making rational choices at the time.

This is why I can’t sleep. I am making my story over and over and each hour it seems more bipolar. My past choices feel inconsistent and irrational. I tell myself I need to get a grip. At least get off the floor.

In the morning we move furniture. “Let’s get the top bunk onto the floor,” I tell him.

“Mom. You can’t rearrange the room!”

“Yes you can. That’s what college dorm furniture is made for. Everyone rearranges it.”

I move the desks. The book shelves. I put his bed by the window. He thinks stuff won’t fit in my plan. I worry that he isn’t good at moving furniture in his head. Visual thinking is a sign of intelligence. What if my roommate is an idiot?

Or maybe he’s just really employable because being a visual thinker is also a sign that you’ll get fired from every job.

You know how if you get put back in the same familiar situation you act in the same familiar way? I’m reverting.

Like, I stole a chair out of the lounge and put it in our room. My new furniture arrangement had space for it.

“Mom, that’s stealing.”

“The chairs are there for people to use,” I tell him.

I am ruining him. I am making his high SAT score irrelevant by adding my compromised college morals. So I tell him we have to practice before 8pm to be good hallway citizens. Which is a joke, since the kids who suck at their instruments practice the latest and the loudest and way past 8, but the point here is morality, not truth. There is a difference.

While he’s asleep I also look for a cup for our room. I tell myself that I will put it back in the kitchen when we leave. I read that anorexia is a genetic condition, and MRIs show the anorexic’s brain does not have enough swelling from the pain of deprivation. I wonder if the kleptomaniac’s brain is similar, but in the opposite direction. Maybe the kleptomaniac’s brain has extreme swelling from the feeling of deprivation?

Am I raising a son with the strong self-discipline of a cellist? Am I training my kids to be thieves?

The bulimic’s thinking is not the anorexic’s thinking. For one thing, the bulimic is not a perfectionist like the anorexic, which is why I am fine writing anorexic, which is a common word, even though the proper word is anorectic. The bulimic is more the pragmatist. You can get a runner’s high from running or from throwing up. Which is easier? You think it would be throwing up. Until you are in a mental ward. Because I can tell you that no one goes to a mental ward for running. Well, the anorexics think they do, but really they go to the mental ward for not eating and then running to lose a few more calories they didn’t eat.

The next morning, it is difficult for me to go to the cafeteria. The aroma of bread products and ice cream greet you at the door, the all-you-can-eat format still scares me, and Fine Young Cannibals playing in the background completes the flashback.

The cafeteria is full of young musicians. My son is the king of the cafeteria, looking for boys to sit with – even if he doesn’t know them. Then he remembers I hate people and he says, “Mom, today we can sit alone and tomorrow with other people. Okay?” I want to tell him he doesn’t have to take care of me, but I don’t. I’ll tell him next time. This time I don’t want to sit with people.

Am I someone who can fit in with other people? Am I someone who is mired in inappropriate thoughts that isolate me?

I look for something to eat for breakfast and I see a section of protein-rich food like chicken and turkey and hummus. I think that college food got better while I was gone. Then I noticed that the other group of kids sharing the cafeteria with us is ballet dancers. They are tall, blond, gorgeous, stately, and their food intake is being regulated. Then I notice everything: The girl who comes out of the bathroom with red cheeks. The girl who sneaks a cinnamon roll on the way out. The girl who is too big to be a dancer but still wears her tights to breakfast like the others.

There are only four male dancers in a roomful of girls. I should launch startup camp for high schoolers and have it at the same time as ballet camp. It would be the perfect blend of quirky, genius boys and hot, graceful girls. I would have the most popular startup camp ever. I need to stop thinking in terms of Internet-only businesses. What about cafeteria mingling of undersexed teenaged boys? Now that’s a problem market with a clear need for a solution.

Am I a serial entrepreneur with countless successes in my wake? Am I an eating-disorder queen still obsessed with calorie counts?

But this saves me from my flashback and startup fantasies: The conveyor belt. Where the dirty dishes go. I see piles of dirty dishes and I get calm. Because I was the dishwasher at my college. I did it with my best friend—two years washing dishes together three nights a week. We talked the whole time. We made a system where we’d let everything pile up and then blast through it in a half hour. Which means we got paid to eat dinner and talk. I have never loved a job like I loved that one.

The best memories I have in college are of the warm soapy water and great conversations in the small quiet room at the end of the conveyor belt. I didn’t learn much in college. I never took a writing class. I never figured out why people date if they’re not going to marry. But I learned about work. Any job is a great job if you do it with a friend.

I’ve had amazing jobs at high levels where I felt alone and it was not nearly as nice a memory as I have of washing dishes. I am at a stage of my life where I have to make decisions about what is most important about work for me. And it’s having friends. The experience of working with friends is so powerful that it can even calm me down in a roomful of purging ballerinas. 

I am still that girl who wants a friend, and a job, and a place that feels safe. That’s my story.

61 replies
  1. ZipStyle Seattle
    ZipStyle Seattle says:

    Couldn’t agree more about friends making jobs great. It’s so hard to find that, too – element of luck involved.

    Did you have a chance to explore Seattle at all? It’s gorgeous right now.

  2. katie
    katie says:

    Repeat after me: The law of large numbers applies to populations, not individuals.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_large_numbers

    That is, studies are great for generalizing a population, but they cannot be used to diagnose an individual.

    If 99% of smart people are good at rearranging furniture in a room in their heads… that means that 1% aren’t. You do not know where any *individual* stands.

    Go, right now, and learn Baysian logic. Thank you. :D Or stop reading studies. Because you need to learn to interpret them….

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I love this post more than any of your recent ones. I am trying to figure out a story for myself, and in the process terrified that all I’m actually doing is looking for a guy who is successful enough that I won’t have to worry about fixing myself. The med student who didn’t mind I was stuck. The track coach who helped me train for my ultramarathon. The entrepreneur who sends me text message compliments I wish I could copy-and-paste to my LinkedIn profile. But maybe, when I remove them from the narrative, my story is exactly what I’m left with.

  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    I can’t sleep. I’m obsessed with the research about how stable people can shape their past into a cohesive story. Successful people do not think of themselves as disjointed or as experiencing life like a schizophrenic. People who can give back to the world are people who can see themselves as a consistent person making rational choices at the time.

    This is a lie that “successful” people do not think of themselves as disjointed . . .

    I am convinced that battling with adversity and with our demons of self-doubt prime us to find ways to adapt, to compromise and to recover.

    Bluffers see themselves as consistent, making rational decisions all the time. Also, inexperienced people may seem to sail through.

    Penelope, you are perhaps too self-aware, to the point of torturing yourself about your weaker qualities. Stop it.

    We are all uneven people with good/not-so-good qualities and good/not-so-good days. We all have checkered histories, and we did things that we now see clearly as mistaken.

    You re-arranged the room–adapting to your needs and your memories and yes, your fears. Bully for you! You planned to return the cup–did you?

    You saw the next generation in the cafeteria and they seemed so beautiful and talented. But they don’t have your mind and your skills. They are skilled in one area–music or dance. Their parents are taking care of all their practical needs–they don’t have to worry about it. You/we have to worry about the big picture. Those babies don’t even know the meaning of “the big picture”.

    Don’t lose sight of who you are, of all the diversity you’ve embraced, and all the adaptation and healing that you have accomplished. Not to mention the creative and cutting-edge thinking you’ve done.

    You are strong and wise and funny. Your greatest strengths may also be your greatest weaknesses. Like so many of us.

  5. Amy Jo
    Amy Jo says:

    One of my favorites, I love when you go all over the place because that’s what MY mind does and it makes me feel normal. Bet you didn’t think that would be one of the benefits of your post: to make other people feel normal.

  6. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    “I’m obsessed with the research about how stable people can shape their past into a cohesive story.”

    Who is stable? Is there a test for this? What score do I need to qualify? I think I qualify but that’s only based on my own assessment which is probably biased. There is probably research somewhere that suggest we’re all totally incapable of assessing our own stability so maybe you should start up an impartial stability assessment firm?

    The great part about our own stories is that we are the writers, editors, and publishers of that story. That like all the best self-publishers, we can re-write or change the cover art at our leisure. Today you are the girl who wants a friend, a job, and to feel safe. Tomorrow? Who knows.

  7. Grace Miles
    Grace Miles says:

    It is interesting that you mention the ballerinas; when I did a ton of ballet, I would always be eating or snacking on something (with everyone else) because it takes so much energy to stand on your toes.

    I think our desires are all simple in the end– to have a safe place, someone to share a piece of yourself with, and a way to maintain all that. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S. Why did Zehavi choose the cello?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This blog never ceases to amaze me. I can’t believe there is someone reading this post who went to the school.

      It’s interesting to me that it’s a Christian school. I have spent time in the campus bookstore, of course, and in the faculty book section there is lots of discussion about what is the purpose of a Christian university in today’s society.

      It’s a really interesting discussion to me. So many decisions we make about work seem to me to be based in the sort of “who are we and why are we here” type questions. In that sense, I think there is a huge need for religious-based universities.

      That said, there are signs everywhere about curfew and no alcohol and not overnight guests, and I think life here is very regulated.

      Penelope

      • lhamo
        lhamo says:

        Wow. When virtual worlds collide….

        I grew up going to the church across the street, which is affiliated with the college. My grandfather was the college’s director of development back in the day, and many of my relatives went there. Yes, SPU and the Free Methodist Church are both very controlling/rigid. There are many, many reasons why I left the church/evangelical Christianity, but that is a big one.

        I am so sad that I am back in China — I was in Seattle visiting family until last week! I would have loved to meet you and your kids in person.

        I hope I can find a way to make my crazy life narrative overlap with yours at some point. Love you and this blog.

        If you have time/interest on Sunday head over to the church and hear my sister sing in the choir.

  8. Modern Marketeur
    Modern Marketeur says:

    My best friend of 20 years and I spent our first employed summer together – mopping the sticky remnants of 46 topping options from institutional grade tiling at a local TCBY. It was the best of times. To quote Sartre, hell can be other people (but he lived in France, right? Say no more) but any hell is made better by the right people. Do you still keep in touch with your dishwasher comrade?

  9. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Penelope..my wish for you is that you make friends, keep & enjoy your job like you enjoyed washing those dishes and have the place you are in become a safe haven for you.

  10. Greg
    Greg says:

    I liked this a lot. The image of dorm room furniture really helped. So many of us are willing to just accept the layout and formats that are presented to us, but the truly sharp ones take the ingredients and rearrange to make the narrative fit their needs.

    I think adults need camp. Budding musicians and dancers get the chance to spend a few weeks focusing on just this one thing. Sure, socialization and other stuff happens at the margins, but time is really spent on developing a skill. Why can’t mid career adults do this? Penelope, you live on a farm, so you have space to do this. I think adult camp would make more money than pigs.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The dancers make me want to be at camp. Cellists not so much. I confess to be completely worn out of any desire I ever had to play an instrument after ten years of daily Suzuki practice.

      But if you have an option to go to camp – as kids or adults – it forces the question: what do you want to work really hard on for an concentrated period of time? We should all be so lucky to be able to answer that. And then act on it.

      Penelope

  11. Mike
    Mike says:

    At 47°36’ 23” N latitude, Seattle is farther north than Madison (43°4’23”). Thanks to a relatively warm Japanese current and the Cascade Mountain range, Seattle (and most of the Puget Sound region) is in zone 8b (US Ag. Dept. Plant Hardiness Zone) while Madison is in zone 5a – a big difference. Sadly however, we still have to dig up our Dahlia’s in the fall like everyone else (Dahlia’s are tubers, with eyes like a potato, not bulbs like a tulip), divide them, pack them in a plastic bag with a little mulch and stick them in thy garage over the winter.

    All of that is a monumental pain in the butt. Particularly where I live in Washington, Dahlia’s are just high-end deer food. Therefore, once a week I buy cut Dahlia’s at the Pike Place Market (probably flown in from Brazil) and avoid all of the frustration. What I spend on the Dahlia’s I make up for by not having to refill my Xanax prescription as often.

    P.S. I know you know about Plant Hardiness Zones and Dahlia’s being tubers. I was just showing off. I hope you had a good time while you were here and got a chance to get off the SPU campus and spend a little time in the city.

  12. LeAnn
    LeAnn says:

    “You know how if you get put back in the same familiar situation you act in the same familiar way?” Do you have other resources/posts on this that you can recommend? I have a staff of 11 in a department of 132 and I am always being told to “fix” my staff (low morale, etc.). However, they are not treated well by the rest of the department, and I am always saying I can take my staff out and make them “perfect” (so to speak), and put them right back into the same environment/culture and they will eventually go back to the same way they were before.

    We have grown leaps and bounds since I’ve been here in regards to the amount of responsibility they have, etc. so we are moving in the right direction, but I’m not sure what else I can do to get the way they are treated changed (I am sure there is something I could/should be doing that would help). Even turnover doesn’t help, new people end up with the same negative attitude after a couple of years.

    Are there resources you can direct me to?

    Thanks!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Teach the people who you work with not to be dependent on the people who treat them poorly. We can each control what we learn, what we aspire to, and whose opinions we give credence to.

      Each of us can develop more resilience by going to a bad job and not letting the bad part of the job get to us.

      Also, you can help your team grow and develop skills to get out of the job they are in and into a job that is more fulfilling and stimulating. Or a job where people are nicer to them. As a manager, you can help people find ways to manage their career even if it’s outside their job description (and yours).

      Here’s a post I’ve written on the topic:
      http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/05/28/how-to-be-a-good-manager-be-generous/

      Penelope

      • Sandra
        Sandra says:

        I’m not anorexic or bulemic. I am introverted though and the thought of going to camp never ever appealed to me. I’m more the type of apprenticing with a master in a one on one relationship.

        Reading what you wrote in your reply to LeAnn reminded me of the phone conversation I had with you. How struck I was by your intuition and insight. There was an openess and presence too.

        In your writing you say you have difficulty relating with people. It didn’t seem that way to me when we were talking. Maybe it’s easier when there’s a financial transaction? There were times though during the conversation where I was delightfully amazed. Wasn’t really expecting you to be as funny as you are either.

        I didn’t cry though. You told me a lot of people cry when they talk to you.

  13. Vivian
    Vivian says:

    I worked in the dish room on my college campus too, and thought i was a complete weirdo for having loved it so much. I loved how organized it was, how there was a definitive beginning, middle and end, and the sense of accomplishment when we finished at the end of the day. I remember my first day being in awe of how fast the guys on “the line” were and thinking I’d never be that fast. Sure enough, I became every bit as good as those football players they had in there. The laughs, hard work and satisfaction have hardly ever been matched in my professional career. I love knowing I’m not alone!

  14. Sapiess
    Sapiess says:

    This is a beautiful post, in both content and form. I have been a long-time reader of your blog, and have never left a comment before, but I needed to give you kudos for this one. While your blog has always been entertaining, I felt that the recent posts are more personal narratives than stellar career advice. This one, however, stands on its own.

    Sidenote: I am also in Seattle right now, and am also wondering at the amazing dahlias!

  15. Lex
    Lex says:

    I love this post more than almost any others. Perfect timing, as I’m contemplating a big career decision: take a leap into a new industry, learn new things, work with cool people for half of what I make now, or go the direction of my specialty, sacrifice the time I know it will drain from my family, possibly increase my salary. I’m an INFP and struggling with making a mature decision that’s best for my family, for my soul and feeling guilty for not giving a shit about the trajectory of my career.
    But in the end, my story is and always has been the same as yours.

  16. ucuzukash
    ucuzukash says:

    You saw the next generation in the cafeteria and they seemed so beautiful and talented. But they don’t have your mind and your skills. They are skilled in one area–music or dance. Their parents are taking care of all their practical needs–they don’t have to worry about it. You/we have to worry about the big picture.

  17. Erica
    Erica says:

    “I am still that girl who wants a friend”
    Can you start by being a friend to yourself? Treating yourself with respect and love? Once you have that down, you’ll have the strength to be a good friend to someone else, thinking about their needs and what you can do to brighten their day.

  18. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “A dorm room is like a one-star hotel.”

    Of course, you could look at it as at least a three-star hotel if it doesn’t have bed bugs.

  19. me
    me says:

    “I am still that girl who wants a friend, and a job, and a place that feels safe. That’s my story.”

    Amen.

  20. Susan
    Susan says:

    Did Barbara Wampner teach your son at camp? I think she’s great. Memories of many years of Suzuki camp with my children at Memphis State University . . . .

  21. linda clark
    linda clark says:

    But this saves me from my flashback and startup fantasies: The conveyor belt. Where the dirty dishes go. It’s been the saving grace of this cello camp so far. I see piles of dirty dishes and I get calm. Because I was the dishwasher at my college. I did it with my best friend—two years washing dishes together three nights a week. We talked the whole time. We made a system where we’d let everything pile up and then blast through it in a half hour. Which means we got paid to eat dinner and talk. I have never loved a job like I loved that one.

    The best memories I have in college are of the warm soapy water and great conversations in the small quiet room at the end of the conveyor belt. I didn’t learn much in college. I never took a writing class. I never figured out why people date except to get married. But I learned about work. Any job is a great job if you do it with a friend.

    I’ve had amazing jobs at high levels where I felt alone and it was not nearly as nice a memory as I have of washing dishes. I am at a stage of my life where I have to make decisions about what is most important about work for me. And it’s having friends. The experience of working with friends is so powerful that it can even calm me down in a roomful of purging ballerinas.

    I am still that girl who wants a friend, and a job, and a place that feels safe. That’s my story.

    why do you think youre abnormal? youre brilliant, and your way of expressing the most important things in life is refreshing.

  22. megan
    megan says:

    such a great post; every bit of it hits me personally, from the bits about the ability to tell a coherent personal story, to your visit to SPU (I lived around the corner for years) and the room re-arranging/borrowing of communal resources, and your time in the college dishroom (also did that for years in college – loved it!). running the dish machine was such a great video game – loading it efficiently and getting everything out & stacked up as it ran. I was always struck by how SPU had all the Christian rules and I heard students had to sign a morality contract? but you should see the skimpy outfits those girls wear out on the town for the night…

  23. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I met my husband working at the cafeteria in college. It was a great job. I went to grad school (your advice helped me Master out and move on with my life), and I MISSED the steam tables and the mopping and the dishes.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Jessica, I met my current boyfriend, Chris, while I was an undergrad and he was in high school for work study, both of us working in one of my university’s cafeterias. He in the dish room, I mainly doing salad bar prep. He was pretty infatuated with me, and I considered him way too young (in reality he is only 2.25 years younger than me, but I was was college girl and he was a high school boy). We became good friends during those 2 years of working together, and lost touch after I graduated.

      I went on to marry, and over a decade later we divorced. I reconnected with Chris via Facebook shortly after he had a dream where I made an appearance and he asked me if he could base a character in a story he was working on after me. We’ve been together for almost 4 years now.

  24. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I just downloaded an app called A Beautiful Mess and loved the name because my life is like that and probably everyone’s life. So your headline spoke to me because I’m always trying to tidy up messy beginnings and endings and make them into neat blog posts.

    Maybe we just have to leave our stories and experiences as they are – frayed at the edges like us – and accept that we can never tell a tidy story because even we don’t really know who we are and the messes are what make us interesting.

    Certainly sounds like you are having an interesting summer!!

  25. Kevin Gossett
    Kevin Gossett says:

    The last line may be your elevator pitch, but the entire piece is your story, and both are solid. This is such a good post. I love it.

    I spent this summer taking my 5’9″ 11 year old son to baseball and basketball camps, and had much the same experience with the dorm at Indiana University (where I started my college education) when we got there for basketball camp. College as a 1 star hotel NAILS IT, with a spartan feel that takes you back to a time where there was nothing but open road in front of you, and no double semi-trailer full of stuff being pulled behind. As much as I love the delightful simplicity of living in the dorm at IU for a couple weeks, I wish I would have thought of sleeping on the floor. It would have been more comfortable.

    It was fun, even though I had a huge case of Vertigo descend on my the day before we returned home to Arizona after almost a month in Indiana (thank you, again, MS). Even though getting home was a challenge with the world spinning, I’d do it all over again. For my boy AND for me. Cellos, basketballs, every parent should do this once or twice.

  26. Amanda Baskin
    Amanda Baskin says:

    “A dorm room is like a one-star hotel.” – Haha! So true. :) I stayed in Robbins when I went to SPU. Yes, dorm furniture was MEANT to be rearranged: borrowing lounge chairs – perfectly acceptable. I sometimes went past that and rearranged all the furniture in Weter Hall. Moving furniture in my head is one of my strong points. Finding jobs I can stand is not.

    College food hasn’t gotten better; SPU’s college food is just really good. I am also that girl who wants a friend. I always had trouble finding someone that wasn’t already best friends with someone else.

  27. Arthur
    Arthur says:

    Amazing and very honest post.
    I like reading your articles, really.

    The last sentence sums up what most of us desire I think.
    In the ever social, public world its hard to find true friends, safe place to rest and possibility to be just yourself.

  28. Paleo Mama
    Paleo Mama says:

    aren’t we all genetically hard-wired to want friends, jobs and happines on one place?

    what is it that we did during our evolutionary past:
    hunting and gathering (job),
    with members of the same tribe (friends),
    having a deep sense of meaning and belonging (happiness).
    if this is how 99% of our time on earth was spent,
    does it not make sense that our inner programs remember some of it?

  29. Mel
    Mel says:

    Penelope,

    Are you sure you certain you wouldn’t rather be happy? In this article I see a glimpse of your little girl within who is tired of the pain, to which you seem addicted. I promise, I’m not judging. Actually, I have been reading your posts for a long time and have grown to care about you.

    What makes you think you can’t be happy (not career fulfillment, but real happiness)? Because you have to sacrifice being interesting? Because you don’t deserve it? You do. It seems you read a lot about happiness, which makes me think you want it very badly.

    I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not a writer. I was a 20 something, launching a career when I first read you, and now I’m a 30 something mom and professional… and I feel like a friend.

    I’m embarrassed that I’m recommending a book to you, but my favorite happiness book is The Power of Now by E. Tolle. He offers a much different perspective that could change your thinking. As the old cliché goes… I just want you to be happy. :)

    Thank you very much for all your words of wisdom, insights, and passion. You’ve done more for me than you could know!

  30. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    I’m 50+. Just arrived home after several days at a youth leadership development camp. Funny that these same thoughts were buzzing through my head. The shock of sleeping in bunk beds and using communal bathrooms. Eating entirely on someone else’s schedule – take it or leave it. The thought for me was, “I’ve gotten to old for this.” But the statement didn’t feel exactly right. I think your question is more valid, “Which person am I?” The first two days, I couldn’t find myself. On day three I got my balance and claimed who I am. Built my courage and challenged adults in authority to get out of the way and let their youth lead. As I expected, they were furious with me. Then after fuming a while, they did it in a spectacular way! Later, they thanked me for calling them out about it and the project was a success. That is who I am and I’ve worked 50 years to get here!

    I wonder if anyone else experiences lurky, cranky ghosts in campgrounds? I got blasted by them this time. I spent my first day just trying to clear my personal space. Camps might need to hire psychics to just keep stirring up the dark corners.

  31. Princess
    Princess says:

    Well done. This is one of the most beautiful, thought provoking pieces you have written. I think we are always trying to define ourselves, god knows why. ( Me especially) We really are all walking contradictions. For example I consider myself to be a very outgoing person, and I am very chatty but sometimes I really enjoy not making mindless stupid small talk at lunch with collegues and I like eating alone and just thinking, and that’s ok. Keep doing what you’re doing, because your writing is searingly honest and wonderful.

  32. jacquie
    jacquie says:

    Ahhh Penelope you did a great job of writing an amazing post – this one speaks beyond you – by writing about your favorite moments in working with a friend I am reminded of my favorite moments in my amazing life like finding pieces of school work that my children did over 15 years ago, in a time aged file and thinking what a great mom my 40 year old “me” was to put these things away for me and my kids to discover, like a treasure of gold, now that I am 60. My 40 year old did good. Even after an amazing and arduous life all I still want is a friend, a job and a safe place in life – that still makes life the best ever.

  33. Diana
    Diana says:

    I don’t understand why people start enjoying your posts more and not less – as the comments seem to indicate. You seem to be spiraling down deeper and deeper into the world of obsessions and truly dreadful parenting. The faithful fans nod at every word, but the further you drift from business posts and closer to home, the more boring and incoherent your posts get. This was an unusual low. Seems like you’re going out of your way to make your life more and more miserable. I’m opting out.

    • Barry
      Barry says:

      Interesting comment from Diana. At least she’s polite and well spoken. I get it. But more so, I appreciate Penelope’s open communication and style. Her writing makes me feel less alone. Darned right I’ll keep checking Penelope’s blog for more posts and keep reading. Penelope’s a gift.

  34. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    This is your best post ever. Kids will be who they’ll be and they’ll forgive parents for their mistakes, if they have parents who care enough to worry about ruining them.

    Every time I apply to a new job, I rewrite my story so that it makes logical sense. It seems like I could live in that version, but it’s not the real story. it’s interesting that the parts I leave out are the most telling.

  35. Genevieve Koesling
    Genevieve Koesling says:

    It reminds me of the movie American Beauty with Kevin Spacey. His character quits his miserable corporate job and gets a job working at a fast food restaurant. Like Lester, I think many of us reach an age where we see what is really important. Is it a mid-life crisis or wisdom? Is it crazy to want to scale things back and just slow down?

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      @ Genevieve K

      . . . and simplify. I think you get more and more discerning and selective, too. And as you say, you see the big picture, and finally feel confident about choosing what is important.

  36. rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel
    rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel says:

    Just last weekend, a friend and I took our kids to Best Friends Aniimal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. We stayed in a Holiday Inn but it didn’t suck (I was dreading it). And we petted, walked, played, fed and cleaned animal pens for 3 days straight. There were highs and lows. I only have one kid, and we were traveling with 4 kids total, so it was a shock for me. And, it confirmed my one child status. Sibling drama sucks. Frequently my friend would says “this feels just like summer camp.” And it did. So your post was timely. I felt good about the time spent with the animals and the kids… but at times, I did wonder who exactly I was … because my personality and life was totally at conflict with what we were doing. I am the last person on earth you would expect to find in a Holiday Inn, with 4 kids, taking care of animals for 3 days. But I did it. And I liked it.

  37. Liz
    Liz says:

    Best post ever. (again!)

    I’m not sure why but I have tears in my eyes after reading this.

    I did spend part of the morning with some ballet dancers.

  38. karelys
    karelys says:

    I think I feel successful because the thought of eating food doesn’t scare me anymore. I know I can eat until I am good and not fear that I’ll go past that point and ruin everything.

    And I don’t think I have hang ups anymore about career and jobs.

    Partly because I am not afraid of food anymore and partly because I’ve been close to dying. It gets a very good perspective for life. And although religion is not a big part of me anymore, I can’t fully live the life of an atheist that believes there is nothing beyond death. I’ve lived too long in a judeo-christian faith environment. I am used to it. No sense in changing it, the life after death stuff, because no one knows for sure. So believing that there is nothing or that there is something is about faith; faith that you’ll get it right.

    So anyway, I have no hang ups about career. And a few months ago I noticed I was forcing my story to make sense. To look like I’ve made the decisions on purpose rather being cornered by my environment and my circumstances into choosing between the only options in front of me. I knew I was deceiving myself but I knew that this was the only way to maintain sanity and any will to push forward. And I am happy in this job. I am happy with how our lives are.

    I see friendly and interesting people at work even though it’s not prestigious work. I go home and eat really good food and not even think about calories (most of the time) and then I go under my favorite fuzzy blanket where it’s warm and tangle my legs with my husband’s and let my baby roam around on top of us while we watch Dr. Who.

    I am not sure if I’ll ever be impressive. I am not sure if my story will ever inspire awe. I just know that I am pretty happy.

  39. Deepa
    Deepa says:

    I absolutely loved this post. Esp. the last line. That is me, I swear. All I want is a job I’m primed to do, skilled to do, kicked to do(atleast 70% of the time), do it with one or two or a bunch of people I get along with and feel good enough doing it(i.e. not doubt myself all the time).

    Deepa

  40. CS
    CS says:

    Hey Penelope, great post!

    But…how did you get a cello in the overhead? Is he not in a full-size yet? I think most cellists just buy an extra plane ticket for their cellos so they don’t have to worry about anything. Though I’m sure that you heard all about Mr. Harrell’s horrible treatment by Delta Airlines last year. He even made it on Colbert!

    Anyway, of course adults should have summer camps–DUH! Whatever the business-person equivalent of spending a month in Switzerland playing chamber music in the mountains is–y’all should try to do that a lot more. It is so great to forsake all else and focus exclusively on one subject. Obviously it does wonders for your mastery of the particular subject, but just as valuable are the brief but intense friendships you form at those festivals. I never felt like I fit in anywhere until I attended Interlochen Arts Camp in high school.

    I’d recommend Interlochen (in Michigan) and Chautauqua (upstate NY) when he gets older. Loved those when I was in school. But I’m also not a cellist–so, ask his teacher!

    Cheers!

  41. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    Penelope, I’m a faithful follower of your blog. In fact, your blog is the only blog I read.Somehow I found you, probably while researching digital marketing. I set a lot of limits on the time I spend on the internet, don’t watch tv, listen to radio…basically, I live under a metaphorical rock trying to avoid being subjected to nonsensical advertising and sensationalized media. But you, reading what you write makes me feel good, that there are others who think and act the way I do. But reading your posts also make me a little crazy because you provide so many links to other interesting material. So when I read you, I know it’s going to take a lot of time and I’m going to open a million tabs. I just read your video game post because it was at the top of my LinkedIn newsfeed. I don’t scroll. Somehow that post led me to this post and I feel compelled to leave a comment (something I also never do) to thank you. Thank you for being you, for sharing your life and advice publicly, and thank you for what you said about video games. I can now check that worry off my list…my 6 year old, minecraft, his mind is turning to mush…that worry. Best to you.

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