Five steps to make a breakdown just a little breakdown

I sent this post to my editor and he said to me, “This is not a blog post. This is a breakdown.”

So fine. It’s a breakdown blog post. But it’s a plyometric breakdown. Do you know what plyometrics are? I learned about this when I played pro volleyball. It’s a way to train your muscles to respond fast. You get your jump to happen in a more explosive way by training your muscles to react faster to shock.

Plyometrics are key to any elite training, even elite-level breakdowns.

Step One: Hate as many people as you can, all at once. Also, hate yourself.  

I spent the morning reading education reformers talking about how learning and schools are not compatible and the school model is dead.

But those very people are sending their kids to school. Because it’s really hard to be on top of the national speaking circuit for school reform and also homeschool your kids. So the education reform community is full of people who are full of shit. They say school is dead but they continue to use school as a babysitting service for their kids.

I got so pissed off that I wrote a post about it.

Then I started sorting my email and found a link to Ramit Sethi’s interview with James Altucher.

I think I am running the same business as Ramit but he is doing it better. So, fine. Go watch his videos. They’re great. And here‘s the James Altucher interview. James blogs in a very similar style to mine. And he is better at it because he grew his blog much faster than I grew mine.

But here’s what drives me fucking nuts about Ramit’s discussion with James. The interview is about why people don’t face their fears. And here’s what I think: Ramit doesn’t have kids. He jet sets between NY and San Francisco preaching to people about fear when honestly, my biggest fear is that I can’t keep up with people like Ramit who have no responsibility in their life except to grow their business. What about that fear? The fear of competing with people who don’t have kids.

And here’s another fear I have: Fear of competing with middle-aged men who abandon their family and marry someone younger. Really. I am sick of it. James Altucher married his yoga teacher. He has two kids he does not live with. My fear is that I am the one living with my kids and I’m competing with men who left their kids behind with their mothers.

Step two: Make it worse. List all your fears so you can get them in one place to better obsess over them. 

My fear is that I’m becoming irrelevant to the world because all my fears revolve around being a sub-par parent.

I fear that I hate dealing with people who don’t have kids living with them because their life is so simple.

I fear that I’ll be relegated to the ghetto of mom bloggers, or the ghetto of moms in the workforce, and I hate all the moms. I don’t want people to see me as just a mom.

I fear that my career advice is going to bore the shit out of you because it’s boring the shit out of me.

Also, I have started drinking at 8am. It’s a great way to face the day. Probably this is the last time you’ll hear from me about alcohol until I am in rehab. With Elizabeth Vargas.

Step three: Prepare for action. Figure out the people in your life you have to get rid of.

The other morning some guy called and said, “Hi, Penelope. I’m your neighbor. I live on the farm just over the hill from you.”

I could tell it was time to pour a glass of wine. Which I did not do, because now I am just drinking out of the bottle.

He said: “I didn’t know you were so famous ’til I searched you on the Internet.”

I was quiet. Random calls from the Internet go fast when I don’t talk.

He said, “I found your site by typing into Google women near Darlington Wisconsin who want to have sex.”

Step four: Notice that most of the stuff going wrong is not that important. 

It turns out Matthew’s known the guy forever. Around here people don’t sell their land.

The guy said he’ll say hi when he sees me at the grocery store. Matthew says I should avoid the grocery store.

Does Ramit field phone calls like this? No. He hangs up. He is busy. James Altucher fields phone calls like this. He would think it’s interesting. James likes the underbelly of the misguided. Which is the appeal of James, really. But James doesn’t wake up to needy kids. He wakes up to yoga with his hot wife.

Yesterday I was doing a webinar which, supposedly, I am great at and that’s why I’m doing a company, and my kids had a fight and brought their fight so close to me that I pulled off my headphones and screamed at them to get out of the room and stop killing each other.

I forgot that the audio input was the computer, not the headphones, so the whole thing was recorded.

Check out Ramit’s videos.  You do not see him screaming at people off camera. And why am I linking to Ramit’s video anyway? I’m insane. This post is going to be better for Ramit’s business than my business.

Step five: Find people who value all of you, even the breakdown part. 

Cassie sends links to cheer me up. She sent me research that women who drink earn 14% more than women who don’t. I can already feel the money coming in.

Melissa edits photos for my blog like little presents. And she made an exception to her blurry-is-bad rule for today’s photo, because she cares about me and she knows how much thin legs improve mental health.

Then an angel investor I was pitching looked at one my videos courses on Quisitc and said, “Are you kidding me? People pay for this? You are ranting and nuts and the video quality is terrible.”

Another investor in the room said, “Don’t you get it? That’s why people like her. She is just being her real self and people identify with her.”

And you know what? Both investors put money into my company.

141 replies
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  1. 1taskaday
    1taskaday says:

    This is your best post EVER.
    You inspire me.

    How come your the only female in the world that has the courage to tell the truth?

    What are the rest of us “female mothers” saying …

  2. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Your advice is great and your vulnerability makes your advice accessible and applicable. The most difficult part of trying to advance my career, especially while staying home with kids, is understanding what it is supposed to look like. When business starts going well and my home life starts struggling your advice lets me know that this is a normal part of the process. I love James, but his advice, like taking several hours of quiet time in the morning for reading and writing, does not really work with little kids running around. There is an endless amount of career advice for people who are dedicated full-time to their career. Yours is the only career advice I have found for people who want to take a non-traditional approach to career, family, education, and life. Keep doing what you are doing. It is great!

  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    My life:
    Stay at home mom, 10 years
    Grad student, 5 years (school-age kids)
    Full-time employee, 5 years (teenagers)
    Full-time own my own business, 5 years (kids up and out)

    Doing the kid thing (or the elderly parent thing, not there yet) is by far the hardest, no comparison. Only now do I really have the time and energy to give my business the attention it needs to be more than a low-wage hobby. I should also note that I was not a super-involved helicopter mom; my parenting style could be described as benign neglect!

  4. Becky
    Becky says:

    Penelope, remember that you *chose* to spend more time with your kids — because that is your priority. You aren’t really competing with Ramit and James, because you have made a choice about what you value the most, and it’s your family. Are you bringing in *enough* money? Then you are doing fine.

    It’s fine to feel angry and freaked out sometimes, of course. But think about how the morning drinking affects your kids – i.e. your priorities. When you can, step back and check the big picture again.

    My beloved husband of 18 years died last month. He was only 45. In the days since, how much time have I spent wishing that his career had been more successful? About a half hour, tops. How much time have I spent being grateful that he was loved by his friends and family, and that he loved them back? Days and days and days.

    In that big picture, you are a success too.

  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Great post. I would also like to point our that I found your site through ALtucher, and I think it is nice that you pay him back.

  6. Kaneisha
    Kaneisha says:

    Happy belated birthday! Have you tried reaching out to Ramit to just say, “Hey, I’m jealous of your success. But I also would love to collaborate.” He’s a really nice guy and you two have complementary audiences. It could be a win-win for both of you.

    Yes, you are running the same businesses—but his people are different than your people. Ramit’s videos are more “polished” than yours but he loves (or used to love) a good rant. Your ranting and rambling is just fine. I do the same thing in my courses and people pay for them and find them helpful.

    I may not know what I’m talking about at all, but has it ever occurred to you that having investors may actually be a hindrance and not a help to growing Quistic and your other endeavors? I don’t have a lot of grounding for this question—more curiosity, but I just see people like Ramit who have grown their company without outside investing and I think you could do it too.

    Love your writing. Check your website nearly everyday looking for some PT goodness. Keep going!

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

    Hi P,

    If you want to really face your fears try doing everything you’re doing with no booze or drugs. I quit in January and am facing life with no little helpers. Now that’s fearlessness.

    I agree that intelligent people drink more and take more drugs to cope but it’s not an advancement – meditation and mindfulness as coping mechanisms are though.

    I love your blog as is but like you I wonder what it would be like if you were calm. Not always but sometimes :)

    I like Mary’s blog post ideas too and I love that quote from JKO a reader shared:

    “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

    I know you hate them but happy birthday anyway!

    And thank you for writing :)

  8. Alison Rodriguez
    Alison Rodriguez says:

    Happy Birthday. At least we know what to send you!
    Agree with Camille, this is hilarious. The irony knocks your feet out from under.

    The only thing that’s kept me out of an institution for the criminally insane and alcoholic is my rule about not drinking before 5pm, or I’d be having Burgundy for breakfast too. [Not like I haven’t considered it. Holding on to the thoughts that women who drink earn more and it has a lot to do with evolutionary biology…]

    Rachel is right, there has to be a correlation between stressed parent and happy children – the only definition of a bad parent is one who isn’t trying.
    Ranting keeps us sane, drinking helps too, you, know…. whatever works.
    I find it so helpful that we can talk about this – how difficult, tedious, exhilarating and exhausting it all is, or else we surely will go mad. So thank you!

  9. C.A. Lewis-McCarren
    C.A. Lewis-McCarren says:

    Let’s get something straight people: Being a mother/father is THE most important and legacy leaving position EVVVVVERRRRR!!!!! Who cares how much money you make or how “successful” you are in your “WORK”. “Work” doesn’t really mean squat – because someone is ALWAYS better than you. The only job on this earth ~ whether you believe it or not, is that YOU are the ONLY one who is your child’s BEST parent. It is up to you to decide to how you are going to walk this journey. It is a road through hell lots of times, but if you persevere you are always assured gifts that are priceless and a sense of accomplishment WAAAAY beyond anything that a $$$$$$$$$ job could ever give you.

    Penelope – you are a Jewish mother!!!! Your Abba gave you these boys to love and learn from. Get over ranting about everyone else and comparing yourself. YOU are your best YOU. No one can replace your smile, your fingerprint, your love for your family/children. You are complete today…….please……rest and realize SHALOM.

    (said in love and said in understanding where you are at…..I’m a nobody in the “working” world…..but I too have struggles and strengths. I have value too.) ((((hugs)))) for the girl who doesn’t like them so much.

  10. Ru
    Ru says:

    Hi P, happy birthday!
    On the upside of a breakdown: i always feel like I have the most insight on my next step after one. Sometimes I wish i can schedule regular breakdowns to gather more self-knowledge. It’s like a science experiment gone wrong with the great discoveries.

  11. Gary
    Gary says:

    My, how philosophical folks can be. Bossy, too. I read you because you’re interesting, entertaining, and FUN. I don’t feel the need to critique your every syllable and plan out your life for you. My own life, and that of my family, are not perfect, though we’re working on it. As soon as we hit it, I will become your guru; as it stands, you can probably be you better than I can. Do your best, take care of your house, and be happy!

  12. Gretchen Powers
    Gretchen Powers says:

    I clicked through to Sethi and Altrucher’s sites. Never heard of them before. What struck me pretty quickly was how gauche they are in the focus on “being rich” and “making money”…yuck.

  13. James Altucher
    James Altucher says:

    Penelope, I am not sure why you would attack me in this post. I have been very consistent in my beliefs. And I have always extended a hand to help you and we had a nice time when we met.

    Meanwhile, I am not sure why you lied in your post. It seemed like you lied just to make an unfair attack on me. I have never in my 600 posts made an unfair attack on you or anyone for that matter.

    But to be clear: I did not marry my yoga teacher. Nor did I marry someone younger than me.

    I also have two children and I spend a lot of time and effort on their educational needs as you must see from my posts.

    I normally would never respond to a negative attack. They tend to disappear.

    But I am disappointed in you.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, James.
      I appreciate that you left a comment on the post. I think people will like that.

      I didn’t actually think the post was mean. Ramit is really nice to me – for years he’s been nice. And so, too, have you been nice. But I still get totally frustrated that my work world is one where people don’t have kids to take care of every day. It’s very frustrating to me since I do take care of kids every day.

      That’s what the post is about.

      There are a million guys like you and Ramit. A million investor types who married yoga teachers. Or Pilates teaches. Or whatever. I’m just using you two as examples of a type of guy I meet all the time.


  14. Karen
    Karen says:

    Happy Birthday. Please have a drink to celebrate, but after 5. And BTW, there are plenty of 30 year olds who would kill to have their legs look like that.

  15. Steve Mielczarek
    Steve Mielczarek says:

    I’m from the “French Quarter.”
    Ten minutes walk, to the north, the Jewish ghetto.
    Nazis stole our food.
    If you had, say, five cows, Nazis took four.
    Kid Blink, Crutch Man, Racetrack Billy, we ate pigeons and rabbits.
    Pigeon soup was good.
    Fat Belgian pigeons; big and fat, like chickens.
    That’s what we ate.

  16. Kate
    Kate says:

    Amazing post. Especially appropriate this time of year as the holidays especially tend to bring out people’s fear and self-loathing. Thank youl

  17. redrock
    redrock says:

    But… did the “yoga teacher” not exactly do what she should do according to the blueprint for a women’s life: look pretty, get a relatively rich man to provide for her, marry said man and then have kids (in some future) and become a stay at home mum? And women working in a men’s world should not be supported so they can have kids and work? And – why is it problem if someone decides not to get married? Or be married and have a stay-at home wife? Or be a woman with a stay at home husband? And by the way, it is not just an advantage to be an un-married man or a man with a wife at home – it is an advantage to be a man in a lot businesses and work environments – period. It is not simply a question of divided priorities.

  18. Virginia
    Virginia says:


    I love your blog but I have been increasingly worried about you over the past couple years. This comment about drinking in the morning is a serious warning sign. I know that you strive to have an interesting life instead of a happy one, but I am worried that you are becoming depressed. It is obvious that you love your kids and put them first but I think they will be much happier if they see that YOU are happy. Please take some time to think about that.

  19. Liz
    Liz says:

    Penelope, you look gorgeous!

    I’d seriously pay to get running/pilates/yoga coaching from you.

    Happy Belated Birthday!

  20. John
    John says:

    The people praising this post are just too much.

    This post made you and your world smaller and reduced your influence in it.

    That’s why your editor was aghast that you would consider publishing it.

    Here’s hoping this is the last of the drunk posts.

  21. Jeni
    Jeni says:

    I used to follow Ramit’s blog. But then he made me crazy because his life seems perfect, he seems to have all the answers and he’s smarter than everybody. It’s much easier to take your equally exceptional advice and see you go crazy at the same time. Because then I think, if she can be both crazy and successful, there is hope for me too.

  22. WildApple
    WildApple says:


    I had your site in a folder with the inspired name of “Blogs” on my bookmarks bar. Tonight, I clicked on it to pass the time while waiting for my restless home schoolers to GO-TO-BED. They were not settling down. Must be the moon.

    Anyway, it’s almost 1PM. Here’s a snapshot: I’ve been avoiding emails from my business partner for three days as a I physically and emotionally recuperate from the sixth home-improvement weekend with a bunch of relatives at my house, dive-in to catch up on Christmas prep (sneaky online shopping when the ever-present kids aren’t looking) and finish school work with the kids before Christmas week. Incredibly professional, I know.

    On the work front, the pressing stuff is not all that pressing… Friday is soon enough. But, seriously, it shouldn’t be this way.

    But, living with tiny life people as I do—children who specialize in sharing randomness as children will—I only have so much brain energy to focus on keeping a lid on things while pushing this whole heap in a forward direction. Thus the need to carve out a slice of Life a time, deal with that on my plate… then move onto the next.

    Tonight, I’ll stay up to catch-up on work. Work I’m thankful to have going in such a great direction. But, it is work… and, I’m tired… I’d rather sleep. But, I won’t.

    I hear you. Living with kids complicates your Life. As a mother you are entangled in a way like no other. When they are awake, you have the sense of their needs requiring fulfillment—it is a distraction. I’m always hesitant to get too deep into a project/thought for fear of interruption…. and, thus, the night shift (when they’re asleep) is needed at least once per month for the deep-thinking work.

    Thanks for the great post.

  23. WildApple
    WildApple says:

    I just made the connection that I connected with your post about a breakdown, a little breakdown. Not sure if that is good.

    But, I think it is accurate. I’ve felt so guilty this week not being able to get it all done. I didn’t think I’d get an understanding response… so I hid to avoid additional stress and keep focused. I hid.

    A little breakdown to avoid a big breakdown. Not always a bad thing.

    I think it is going to be a productive Night Shift.

    Be well, Penelope.

  24. Yvette
    Yvette says:

    Kids change our lives, but they do grow up eventually, so the time commitment gets easier gradually.

    There’s also a community around caregivers (like finding like). Those of us who are parents, get it.

    (rant on) Yes, it slows me down, when kids are with me, but they are healthier and happier with me, in the world, rather then parked somewhere, needing therapy to process what should just be obvious. (rant off)

    Lastly, on the gravestones, it never says I wish I’d spent more time at the office. On our deathbeds, people regret not making connections with loved ones, and those that did feel more peace. Ultimately, love in our lives, is the prize.

    After, food/shelter/sleep. Thanks for a fun post.

    (PS I do read for career advice. Managing / juggling / prioritizing / understanding my home, heart, and work, is what it’s all about, for me. Thanks for your generational advice, helping me to stay current. Your entrepreneurial posts are always awesome.)

    • Yvette
      Yvette says:

      oh, and one more thing….

      The founding fathers, and most of the colonialists, drank alcoholic cider every day, beginning in the morning. In those days, they didn’t trust the water, so everyone drank fermented cider, even children and the elderly. So, whatever.

      Just remember, we learn our limits often by going past them.

      Happy Holidays.

  25. Kate
    Kate says:

    Penelope, this was a great post. I love reading your work. I worry about you drinking in the morning. Alcoholism runs in my family. This will sound rude but please consider googling alcoholics anonymous, definition of alcoholism or get help for alcoholism.

    It’s funny, your comments about James and Ramit had me thinking YES! This is the issue I have with these guys! I am facing having kids some time in the next few years, and I keep waiting for Ramit to get married and have some kids so I can read some advice from him on that. I’m a bit tired of the single 30 year old dude advice perspective, I think he will expand more if he can talk honestly about relationships and family life and the impact that has on his work – even if he is hugely wealthy now.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like their work (and I do feel for James, he seems a genuinely nice bloke and I think it’s fair his feelings were hurt by what you said – perhaps could have been expressed a tad more accurately). But I like what you do too! It’s just as good!

    Also, it’s interesting that your comments about trying to be your absolute best and run a great business with kids had me nodding my head, feeling understood and like you were voicing a truth for you that was relevant for me as a childless person. Meanwhile, some of the comments made me feel sad and like I was less-than, not good enough as a childless person.

    So, thank you for being able to express your truth about having children without belittling childless people in general. As a couple of other commenters pointed out above, some childless people are not childless by choice, and it’s needlessly hurtful to play the ‘you’ll never understand’ game.

    Final thought – it’s natural to want to compare yourself with others – I do this too even though everyone tells me not to. (how do you NOT compare yourself to others?! I don’t know the first thing about it!) The thing is, you’re so unique, and you have done really well at many things. So you’re looking to other outliers to compare how well you are going… but because you’re an outlier you all have different talents and interests. So you can really only compare with yourself. And if you feel out of control, then you have to either think back to or imagine a place where you do feel calmer. xo

  26. cindy
    cindy says:

    I just left a comment saying I virtually love you and James and bam you wrote about him on this post. Cosmic!

    I can totally relate to the fear you described. i’m in my 30s, trying to do a lot of things among which are working toward a freelance career and having a child. I know can dedicate 100% of my energy on my career or building a business as I would have in my 20s which I squandered most of it not knowing who I was and what I wanted.

  27. Grace
    Grace says:

    I have three kids. I often look back on my years without kids and think, “What the hell did I do with all that free time?” as if I had hours and hours to read important books, attend important parties, and do important work. But that’s revisionist history. If I am truthful with myself, I remember that I filled my time then the same way I fill my time now: overextending myself, overcommitting, giving in to the requests of others, caring for those around me, fretting about money, wondering about meaning. I am no more or less happier now than I was then. And no more or less busier. I’m actually probably more efficient now because having kids has forced me to get my crap together a bit more. For me, the moral of my story is nobody’s perfect, no matter how well they present in an interview. Everybody has their stuff to deal with, and I can stop pretending I’m special and start being gentle with myself.

  28. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    I admit I am relatively new to you blog. I honestly had not heard of Altucher or Ramit until this post, so I went to both sites, and will not be going back. Why? No connection with their message.

    As a physician in a male dominated specialty, I empathize with your experience. I read your posts, and it many ways, I envy you for being able to express yourself as openly as you do. I live within confined professional norms that prevent me from doing what you are able to do. You, have not only a gift for expression, but also the freedom to share.

  29. kay
    kay says:

    Dear Penelope,
    I rarely laugh out loud at your posts. This is not, because I don’t find you funny. Rather, you never really say anything that I find to be over the top or something I wouldn’t say myself (granted, I know you say it much better than me almost all of the time… that is why I read your blog, because I can enjoy having most of my thoughts out in the world, only I didn’t have to do the work to have them articulated so well).

    This made me laugh out loud: He said, “I found your site by typing into Google women near Darlington Wisconsin who want to have sex.”

    Thank you.

  30. Damian
    Damian says:

    “Both investors put money into my company.”

    1st, Congrats.
    2nd, great story/conclusion.

    I would write more but I have to get it perfect 1st, so I don’t offend anyone and…. – not.

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