Five traits of high earners that will make you not want to be one

I am in the car about forty hours a week. I hired a driver. She won’t drive all the times I have to drive. Of course she won’t. Her life would suck.

It doesn’t matter. I have to be in the car for so much anyway.

I can’t ditch my son’s therapy appointments. I need to be there to say, “Of course nose picking is like cutting.” I’m an expert on cutting. Digging out eyebrow hairs so they bleed or tearing cuticles so they hurt all day. I need to be there to translate for the therapist the world of comfort through pain.

And the kids can’t learn their instruments if I’m not with them for lessons. Suzuki is about the parent being a fucking partner with the teacher. So I have to be there for that too.

Also, don’t fucking give me suggestions about what you do with your kids on your ten-hour car trips. I am on a ninety-thousand-hour car trip to fucking Juilliard and it never ends.

1. High earners have more volatile emotions. 

This Olympic season, can we please read about how the athletes’ Olympic dreams destroy their family’s dreams of being normal? We will read about parents not being able to scrape together airfare to Sochi, but I wonder how they scraped together room and board at ten thousand ski resorts during training: the dirty underbelly of extreme talent.

On the day I told you to sign up for my freelance course because I have such an amazingly fun, high-earning career that people want to learn to be like me, on that day I threw all the Rice Chex on the kitchen table and then I banged my fists on them to squash them.

Does it count that I did not bang my fists on my kids? Does it count that Rice Chex are gluten-free? It takes a lot of parental discipline to keep the family gluten free. Unfortunatly it also takes a lot of family discipline to not scare the shit out of your kids with your anger, and obviously, I don’t have that discipline.

2. High earners are more apt to get energized from conflict.

Which is why I had an appointment at the psychiatrist for myself on that Thursday.

But on the way to the car, I see my son’s boots, covered in pig manure. I call Matthew. He’s in the lobby of his therapist’s office. He is getting therapy for anger management. I say, “Why the fuck did you leave the boots outside instead of cleaning them? Now we have frozen poop.”

He says it was already frozen.

“What boots do you think he’s gonna wear now?”

“He has his other boots.”

“They’re rain boots.”

“They’ll be okay.”

“You’re nuts. You’re a lazy, negligent fuck head. I fucking hate you. I have to do everything.”

3. High earners are medicated more frequently.

The kids hear that. They are standing in front of the door. One is crying. They worry incessantly that I’ll get a divorce again.

So the kids are shaken and Matthew is probably using his anger management therapy session to talk about how I need anger management therapy more, but I’ve been in therapy for 40 years. I am very aware of when my anger is out of control. And knowing is the first step, right? It’s just that I’ve been at that first step for ten years.

At the psychiatrist it turns out my older son’s anxiety meds will run out if I don’t get a new prescription and this is actually the appointment for him. We share a psychiatrist. That’s right. My psychiatrist specializes in adolescents on the autistic spectrum because I am a good time manager.

We sit down and my son is crying and the psychiatrist thinks it’s from the meds. My son says, “It’s my mom’s yelling.”

And I say that probably I’m the biggest problem he has in his life, but right now we just need to get a refill for him.

The psychiatrist writes the refill and says, “I think I need to see your mom alone.”

I’m wearing a hooded down coat zipped up because I get really cold when I get stressed. You know Kenny in South Park wearing his coat everywhere? That’s me. I’m Kenny.

The psychiatrist is worried for the kid’s safety. He tells me I need a break.

I ask to go to the mental ward.

He says okay.

It’s nice to know that I have such good insurance. I say, “Is there a mental ward where I can do my work?”

“I think they all let you do that.”

“Then why doesn’t everyone go?”

We agree that I’ll spend four days in a hotel in Chicago with my younger son, near cello lessons, so I don’t have to drive.

I tell my son it’ll be fun.

People think we don’t have a TV because I care about my kid’s mental development. But really we don’t have a TV so my kids leave me alone when we are in a hotel. To my kids, a hotel is TV heaven.

4. High earners don’t follow rules.

The next day, five minutes into our trip, I sort of look left but not really. I still have my hood on. It is blocking my view.

We crash. Loud. Glass. Airbags.

My son says, “Mom. The car is burning. We have to get out.”

He is right.

I call a friend who is actually a former nanny because I don’t actually have friends, just people I pay to do stuff. I need her to come get the kids because I don’t want them to see the car blow up, but also, I think I’m going to jail for driving on a suspended license.

Matthew says, “I don’t think anyone will insure us anymore.”

He says this later. A lot later. When we agree that the best thing for me to do is not drive anymore. I can’t pay attention.

You would never think that someone who lives on a farm and homeschools would have a full-time driver. So I didn’t want one. But really, each of us needs something different in order to do our lives. I spend a lot of time looking around at other people, trying to figure out how they do their lives and how I can copy it.

But I need to trust my instincts more. I should not be driving. I should be paying an insane amount of money to have a driver available to me at all times.

5. Most top earners would trade oddities for mental stability if they could. 

Often when I’m coaching people I feel like a clairvoyant. It’s incredibly easy for me to see what other people should be doing. I need so little time. My mind is not cluttered by common safety rules.

I’m afraid that the more extreme your incompetences are, the more extreme your earning power is. You just need to find it. If you have a normal brain then you have a normal skill set and a normal salary. You will not blow people away with your ability to see through them. Or anything else. You will look both ways at stop signs.

We each think we want high earning power and special talent. But the cost is high. I think what you want is a good night’s sleep. Without extra pills.

153 replies
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      • Dannielle
        Dannielle says:

        I have been following Penelope’s blog for 5 years, ever since her 2009 post about her childhood abuse. In that post she talked about pushing the limits of transparency. At the time I was shocked by what she wrote, and how she wrote it so well.

        Since then I have read every post, or almost every post, without fail. Like other readers here I know that Penelope is under control when she is writing. Even the post about smashing the lampshade…the one where she talked about domestic violence, showed the bruise on her thigh…very scary stuff. I was frightened for her because you have to be frightened by that stuff – but I also knew she was OK.

        It’s when she’s not writing that we have a real problem.

        I feel a little bit like Penelope is a sacrificial lamb. She writes so that we don’t have to write. She is on the edge so that we can pull back. I don’t even think it’s entirely in her control – the kind of gift she has can only come from G-d.

        So when I say G-d bless I am really saying, may G-d continue to give you the strength to do what you need to do on this Earth.

        From the outside looking in I cannot fathom why she would live on a farm when she cannot drive – just move back to the City. Why the overscheduling. Why the pressure. Why live in a bucolic environment but still be Type A?

        But then I think about the way that I am, and I realize that we create these puzzles in our lives so that we can solve them. Penelope is the only one who can take her journey. It’s obvious she loves her husband and her sons so very much. It’s impossible, some of the choices she faces.

        Somewhere in my mind, I’m always sending her good wishes.

        • Lucy Chen
          Lucy Chen says:

          Hi Dannielle, you’ve said it really well! Although I’ve just found her again last year (first time I “met” her was when she wrote for Yahoo Finance), I’ve been going through her blog archives and I’ve done a Quistic course, too. And what you’re describing here is exactly how I see her, too.

        • Pirate Jo
          Pirate Jo says:

          Why do you express it as “G-d bless” and not just say “God bless?” It doesn’t make sense to put hyphens in words in place of letters.

  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    I hope y’all are okay. How frightening it must have been.

    We just started gluten free and I think it is really helping behavior-wise, but it is trial and error finding decent foods. Our second day in I threw the applegate GF corn dog that my daughter had rejected on the stove. Fortunately, I am still at the stage where I think in my head what you say out loud. But it is rough. And I later tasted it and is was nasty, even the hot dog inside–which should have been like their regular GF hotdogs, but wasn’t.

    Wishing you a more serene future than past. I’m sorry that you look so sad in this picture.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      If you are going to eat gluten free just feed the kids real food. The boxed, processed shit is just as bad for them as the gluten poison they were eating. I’m a personal trainer in my 40’s with over 20 years experience. One son with autism, one that is ADHD and most likely aspergers. They tolerate gluten free food when made from scratch. Sometimes they barf, but every day our experimenting with recipes gets better.

  2. Duane
    Duane says:

    Love the “grittyness” and “realness” of this post! I’ve been a reader of your blog for a short while and a few days ago I found myself bragging to my wife about your blog and how impressed I am by the level of vulnerability you show in your writing. It’s vivid! I believe our life experiences are unique to each of us and as a result so are solutions we choose to use to deal with the situations and circumstances we face in life. Thank you for choosing to be yourself with your audience.

  3. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I have been reading your column for years, I trust you like a sister, and this is the first time I want to say I am worried for you. This column had absolutely nothing to do with high earners. To me it was a terrible cry for help. I am now actively praying that the people close to you will get it for you, now. Please let them help you!!

  4. renee
    renee says:

    I hear a lot of pain in this post. It sounds like a very difficult time.for you. I hope you take the time to take care of you in what ever way you need.

  5. Jory
    Jory says:

    Wow, Penelope….wow! I too have been a subscriber to your blog only for a short time and this post is very different. The topic is fascinating but one conclusion I take issue with is the concept of normal brains/skill sets/salaries. I don’t believe in normal in that sense. It’s too black and white in a world that I feel really consists of many shades of gray.

  6. E
    E says:

    Please let your kids take a break from music lessons for a month. Stay home. You are using them as an excuse to run away from yourself. Take one month to relax and figure out what you want from life. Seriously.

  7. A.M.
    A.M. says:

    This post reeks of sadness and (temporary) mental f@$king overload. For what it is worth, I wish very much that I could help you.

    Are you willing to allow your kids to stay with someone for a week or two while you soak up solitude somewhere? Perhaps some extended time set aside for meaningful, intentional TIME OUT could be a sweet remedy for your maxed-out system. You need that time. And, you deserve it!!!

    Throwing virtual hugs and calm your way. Receive ’em, would you please? :)

    PS: I agree with Wendy that this post has very little to do with high earners. We’re “hearing” you … :(

  8. Dave
    Dave says:

    I’ve been reading your blog and linking to it for the weekly round-up on my project management blog, when relevant, for over a year. I’m INTJ, a former jock and soldier, with limited social skills and a history of childhood sexual abuse, clinical depression, and PTSD. To the degree I’m capable of it, I empathize with you.

    Your post reads like a request for intervention, but people like you and I can’t be intervened with. We can only be assisted in our survival. At some point, we become functional again. Survive, until that happens. We’ll wait. Don’t make us read about you in the wrong part of the newspaper.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      “Survive … We’ll wait.” Best words I’ve read today. Move into survival mode, Penelope. You can find the part of the work that will wait.

  9. Worried Too
    Worried Too says:

    Wow–I just finished balancing my checkbook while watching an episode of “The Good Wife” on my iPad & checked email.

    You are in serious trouble & you need to consider the severe aftereffects of your decisions.

    First off–why are you paying this therapist if you think you need to educate her about self-harm, etc.? I think the therapist’s understanding of your son’s difficulties is greater than yours & she/he doesn’t need your interpretation or your “translation” of what our son is saying/doing.

    LISTEN to what the therapist is saying instead of trying to spin it to fit your conclusions. If you don’t trust the therapist or feel she/he is able to give you good advice–QUIT!

    Don’t be paying a therapist you don’t agree with or trust–what a waste of money & your energy.

    Your life is so out-of-control. The car controls you. Why home-school you kids if you choose to be in the car so much & not even being home?

    Your communication skills w/your husband are obviously very poor.

    Asking to be put in a mental ward is a mistake if you aren’t suicidal or homicidal. It is not a rest cure! You will find out it will be on your “record” so when getting a new driver’s license they can ask you about if you have been treated for a mental illness–problem!

    Being called to jury duty you may be asked that same question; your sanity is going to be questioned all over the place.

    I am applying for the tsa/pre-check & one of the questions was about having ever been in a mental hospital! If you answer “Yes” they say don’t even continue the process.

    It is like you have committed a felony!

    So I have my interview in a couple weeks. I do see a therapist & have for many years due to having a severely ill mother who was abusive & scary & did end up committing suicide due to her severe mental illness & an absent father & being dxed myself w/bipolar & GAD (on medication).

    I have found DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy–more like a class than a therapy group w/homework & a manual) very helpful. Please look into it (Google Marsha Linehan & also Recovery, Inc. is a free group that using the same techniques if DBT is not available).

    And your Editor is missing so many typos & spelling errors, I think you should replace him/her. Really–if you want to be considered as a serious writer, you cannot have so many glaring errors.

    But the most important thing is to take care of your mental health IMMEDIATELY!! Please!!

    Most of all–you need help, but be careful of how you get it. Get out of the damn car. Quit homeschooling (you are unfit right now, I believe) & get the kids out of the house so they don’t have to start “parenting” you since you are in such bad shape.

    Get help w/communicating w/your husband or you will make your kids’ nightmare come true–another divorce. DBT is really helpful in bettering communication skills.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Hi Worried Too,

      You seem to know everything. I’m so glad you could offer these bits of advice and unconstructive criticism that I’m sure Penelope has never once considered for herself.

      You offer some good, conventional advice, but if you have Asperger’s, you quickly find that conventionality isn’t even in the picture anymore–that you are scrapping just to achieve a form of functioning.

      Checking oneself into a mental institution will look weird on one’s record–but one’s record doesn’t matter if you’ve given up on living a conventional life with conventional work (which is why Penelope freelances).

      • Worried Too
        Worried Too says:

        Hi, Daniel. Thanks for notifying me that anything I write is useless as P is so special that conventional tactics won’t help. Apparently, that is the case as look at all the therapy time her family is utilizing w/no positive results.

        I’ll think harder about all this after we finish celebrating my 60th birthday at our 2nd home in AZ w/our 2 grown “kids” who are wonderful, caring, creative & fully functional members of society w/exciting careers (that also happen to pay well, but the quality of life is more important).

        I think you would consider us high earners, but we don’t live a crazed frantic lifestyle such as P has described & would not for any amount of money or “creative fulfillment.”

        I agree w/some of the other comments that not being able to sleep w/out the assistance of pills; being so “busy”, etc. seem to be like Girl Scout patches to these women. I have more patches than you do. My life is crazier than yours.

        New ones, though: Having to wear a coat all the time or train the therapist YOU are paying for – therapist must get a chuckle out of that – are new status symbols (to me) for the highly busy, highly crazy, high “earning” Girl Scouts who are paying a whole lot of money to have someone drive her around or be a nanny (or “friend”), etc. & still be screaming at her husband about a pair of dirty boots.

        It doesn’t sound like she is investing her time OR her money OR her attention well.

        Better hire some more “coaches” for those aspects of life & get some more patches to sew on your sash (basic money management, parenting skills, effective communication skills & forget the crap about lacking a “filter” in your prefrontal cortex so you have an excuse to swear at anyone you like or throw lamps & all your other antics that you model for your children). If you love your children as you claim to, stop acting like that.

        Perhaps Daniel can find the very special kind of therapist you need, but I still think DBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (though that is less “special” than DBT) can help you if you are willing to shut up, stop being a Know – It – All & apply what you learn in real life (very mundane term – probably too mundane for P & Daniel) but do the homework that the therapist tells you to do.

        Either you want to live in a chaotic, stressful & unhappy home or you change it. Either way – STOP complaining. Be productive.

        So just make a decision. Really, P? Really, Daniel? Conventional help doesn’t help? Ever really tried it? This doesn’t appear as though P has the desire to change her life. More of: Look at how busy & special I am. Even a Ph.D. or M.D. can’t help me. I’m so unique! Well, have fun being unique.

  10. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    It’s hard for me to see if your life is like this because you have aspergers or because you have the traits needed for a high earner.
    Truth is, I let go of the insecurity that drove me to push for a glamorous job or career. And I’m the happiest ever. Also making more than before.
    Not sure if I can surpass this. I’ve made peace with not being spectacular. But the trade off is so good.
    I think I’m considered normal. Still, I feel so out of step with everyone so often. But right now I’m so happy. I’ll take what I can get whenever I can.

  11. YMKAS
    YMKAS says:

    I usually only comment on the homeschool blog….but I read the career blog too and had a few thoughts.

    If this was anyone else I’d think it was a call for help, but I know it’s you and you don’t need an intervention, however, if I need to fly out to Wisconsin I will.

    You need stop cello lessons in Chicago until winter is over. Your son is so amazing he won’t lose anything with the time off. He really, really won’t. I don’t know if he’ll lose his spot or something at the school but maybe find out because it’s just not worth it right now….it’s just winter…just a few months and then start up again.

    With the actual intent of the post, I know many high income people, the 9 figure kind….I would never want to be like them…they have no soul, no moral compass, let alone the five things you mention.

    Last…I’ll just stick with organic. The fist punching the rice chex …. I could see myself going crazy on gluten free too.

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I remember reading a post of yours a year or two ago when you talked about the importance of delegating to others. It actually really helped me when I was planning my wedding. Every time I’d get worried about the things my fiance was responsible for, I’d remember I could trust him to do it and I didn’t need to think about it, let alone get upset over it.

    So have you thought to apply that to the things that make you angry, like frozen poop on boots? It’s not a big thing like driving your sons, but maybe you still need to delegate the responsibility. Perhaps your sons can deal with cleaning their own boots.

  13. Andrea B
    Andrea B says:

    Step outside yourself and look at what’s going on. What would you say to someone who’s going through it? What’s the plan – can you make a blueprint for it? Find someone you trust who can help get this done.

  14. Michael
    Michael says:

    you talk about anti anxiety meds for your son. If you have him on benzodiazepines you have ruined his life. I am not fooling.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t want parents to be scared away from medicating their kids, so I’m responding to this.

      First, I don’t think people put children on benzodiazepines – I’ve never heard of that.

      Second, I was scared to medicate my son, but this is what made me do it: I coach a lot of people in their 20s who have Aspergers. One of the biggest factors for who is able to pull their life together in their 20s and who isn’t is whether they were on medication as a kid.

      It seems like the kids with Aspergers who were medicated were able to pick up life skills and emotional skills faster because they didn’t have to worry about all the things around them that make them anxious. High anxiety is totally distracting and if a kid spends their childhood dealing with anxiety they lose out on the chance to learn from paying attention to other life skills.


      • brooklynchick
        brooklynchick says:

        Guys, please don’t tell P not to medicate her kids. We don’t know her kids, she does. She is making thoughtful decisions with a physician, with her boys’ best interest at heart.

  15. J.D.
    J.D. says:

    This is why I can’t have children. I have such a hard time working on my own issues. I love kids, I teach them, but I’m not strong enough to raise well adjusted kids when I’m not well adjusted enough.

  16. Hazel
    Hazel says:

    Whoa! What is great about this post is the velocity and how it demonstrates the dangers of traveling too fast. My advice P is to realize your kids are growing up and will have to live their lives just as you must now live yours. You all have the chance to hang out together now for a while as they grow. While it can feel like each challenge is a new nightmare, it is all just life and we all are doing our best possible job being ourselves as we can.

  17. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I always read your blog and LOVE it always, and have never commented, but i had to this morning…reading the responses to this actually made me giggle a little. First I disagreed with your thesis, then i read through all these comments and decided you are totally right. You may be nuts, but there are a few of us out here on the same side of the spectrum as you, wringing every last drop of possibility from the time we’ve got, and your post didn’t sound that bad to me bc my life is like that a lot and i know the multitude of beautiful happy points in there that you know you would never have seen if you had done differently. And there are a lot of ppl on the other side of the spectrum to whom your post sounds like a nightmare. It takes all types :) Thanks so much for being real.

    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Sarah, I totally agree. I love PT and her humor through the struggles because I can SO relate. It makes my parental struggles seem just a little easier.

  18. ApprentieMaman
    ApprentieMaman says:

    As a divorced mother, aren’t you affraid that this post makes you look as a “bad” mother? Maybe one day your ex-husband could use your blog as “proof” that you are “inbalanced” and that your behaviour is harmful to your children. Could he use your blog in Court and ask for full custody?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have sole custody. So it’s a non-issue.

      Also, I have been to enough therapy to know that the parents who are trying really really hard to be the best parent for their kids are generally decent parents. Parenting is about effort, focus, and caring. Not perfection. I have to remind myself about this a lot. And, I go to a parenting coach who also reminds me of this.

      That said, the thing that scares me more than being honest about my life is that I’m bombarded every day by people trying to hide all the things that would make them look like a bad mom. So I’m not sure I even know what a normal mom does because so many people are hiding what they do.


      • Kelly
        Kelly says:

        I was a juvenile probation officer for years. In my before life. Then a CPS investigator. In my all the time life I’m a mother of two bio and two step kids. all grown now. I have a theory that there is no such thing as a “great parent”. There is such a thing as a horrific parent. I’ve helped arrest some of those. Normal parents are good some of the time and bad some of the time. The best parents have a few better moments than the rest of us. But there are NO great parents. And if someone reads this and posts about how great their parents were. Well I would say you just happen to be a kid who was a fit somehow. your parents got lucky and so did you. Give them a different kid with a different issue… or ask your sibling how great they are…

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        She’s definitely not a bad mom. She cares…an insane amount. Evidenced by the whole homeschool thing. It’s not abnormal to swear and yell at kids from time to time. I know I am a great mom and I’ve done this. (I know the post refers to PT swearing at the husband, I think…but just sayin’) Passionate people sometimes lash out emotionally. I think showing kids you’re human is fine as long as you show them lots of love, too.

      • Shandra
        Shandra says:

        I don’t agree that good intentions are enough.

        My mom, to the extent that she could, really did care a lot about being a great mom. But it’s not enough to care. You have to do. She had two mental illnesses that were undiagnosed at the time and as a consequence, I had a _lot_ of digging out of my childhood to do (and still do at 43, although I am generally stable and happy overall).

        Could it have been worse? Oh yes, lots worse, for sure. But if she had been willing to get more help and to really look at what her normal-to-her stuff was doing to us kids, we’d’ve been much better off.

        I work in a field where being on my game earlier in my life would have helped a lot, but I was having to stabilize my concept of the world in therapy during that time. I still work hard to be a stable parent for my kids, which means keeping my life un-crazy enough that I don’t end up flipping out. Because I can pitch a fit with the best of them — because I was raised that way.

  19. ApprentieMaman
    ApprentieMaman says:

    I meant “unbalanced”.

    I love your blog and I’m mesmerized by the way you write.
    But I would never want you to take care of my child.
    If your Ex is reading this post, he might have the same worries.
    or maybe not, because he knows you and it could be that IRL you are OK. At least more OK than one might guess by your writing.

  20. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    If there is anything I can do to help Pennelope, please send me a message. You have friends, you just push them away and don’t contact them! I am always here, and will do anything I can to ease you’re burden! I would love to take the boys, but of course I work at SCHOOL! I would be happy to help out in anyway possible :) message me!

  21. Pat Rocchi
    Pat Rocchi says:

    Penelope, I think many of your readers are enabling you. There is nothing “great” about this post. It is a cry for help, as though you are asking permission to get off the carousel of your storied career in order to get your shit together. Get your ass to a professional ASAP. You are a danger to yourself and your family.

  22. Robin K
    Robin K says:

    Thank you for the post. I’m
    an I/ENFP and I can see all of these traits in myself except for the energized by conflict one. Looking back, I can see how shying from conflict has hampered my earning/career trajectory.

    Can you use technology to have your son’s cello lessons remotely? At least part/most of the time? Driving that much sounds like too high a price to pay.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      “Can you use technology to have your son’s cello lessons remotely? At least part/most of the time? Driving that much sounds like too high a price to pay.”

      See the part about being energized by conflict. It’s clear many of her choices create conflict and hardship. Some people seem to like this (?)

  23. Natalie Cerino Kovacic
    Natalie Cerino Kovacic says:

    This post – while raw and very, very relatable – has nothing to do with being a high earner. “I am this way because I make so much money! Too much pressure!” is total B.S. Better title: 5 Things About Being a Creative, Intelligent Woman That Will Make You Not Want to Become a Mom.

    I am a high-earner and the feelings you have are something many moms share. But the “high-earner” shtick lends nothing to this conversation. It makes you appear tone-deaf and, to me, very unsympathetic.

    Find something else to blame your resentments on. Best of luck.

  24. Lori
    Lori says:

    I was going to say one thing then I read the comments. Now one thing doesn’t seem enough. I too read your blog faithfully but I don’t know why. Maybe it’s your stark vulnerability (due to the lack of filtering common to Aspergers) in writing truth as you see it. Maybe it’s reassurance that every path is different and the “normal” isn’t real. The older I get (almost 50) the less the opinions of others matter. Your path is YOUR path. I don’t see this as a cry for help. It is a snapshot of what Aspergers is like on a daily basis. The cards you were dealt are significantly more difficult than the fictional norm. I see courage to publish the raw data. But then again, maybe it’s just the lack of filtering. The primary concern as you’ve demonstrated again and again in this blog is the parenting woes. We can do our best and still have crappy results. Just sayin’.
    Find what you need Penelope.

  25. Denise
    Denise says:

    Your honesty is exactly what our world needs more of! We guilt ourselves into depression and anxiety because we try to be what other people “pretend” to be. There isn’t a mom in the world (if she’s honest about it) that doesn’t want to cuss, yell, smash cereal, and run away at times! There isn’t a mom in the world (if she’s honest about it) that thinks they fail as a parent. There isn’t a mom in the world (if she’s honest about it) that doesn’t blame herself and her own diagnosis for her children’s ADD, ADHD, or whatever else they are in treatment for. Driving on suspended license? Been there.. done that. Too busy running kids, running to every appointment under the sun to remember that kind of $hit!! Come on people….don’t criticize Penelope. She’s honestly writing about your life, too. You just don’t want anyone to know.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Actually, she’s NOT writing about my life. I purposely don’t stretch myself. I’m not a super high achiever. Don’t make as much $$$ as I could. Don’t homeschool. Don’t cart my kid around to activities. So I don’t feel crazed or overextended. At all. If anything my issue is ennui. But it’s not intense enough to bother with. I think people do this to themselves. I read a bit of women bloggers (The Feminist Breeder is another one who does this) and the constant thing is how busy and overextended they are and how they don’t take care of themselves, etc. It’s like some weird badge of honor. Til they crash and burn. It’s OK to be ordinary.

      • Lisis
        Lisis says:

        I agree, Gretchen. It’s a weird trait among successful women bloggers. I never see it with top-ranking male bloggers… the stress, the burdens, the breakdowns. Is it a mom thing? A woman thing? The type of woman driven to compete in this sort of arena? I don’t know… but it’s starting to get a bit eerie.

        • Denise
          Denise says:

          Lisis – I do think it’s a mom thing and a woman thing. I think we are hardwired differently than men…..not all women, but we tend to take on more and then stress out (just my opinion). Yes, we do it to ourselves. I just wanted to make the point that we should be honest about it and stop trying to live up to the Perfect Mom/Wife/Employee. Of course we should strive for success in all areas of our lives, but hearing other women say the things (I think) that many of us feel and internalize is comforting and inspirational…..even motivational.

        • Jake
          Jake says:

          Besides James Altucher, I have not seen a male blogger (that writes on business topics) that is really honest about his life.

      • mysticaltyger
        mysticaltyger says:

        Spot on, Gretchen. Who cares if you earn a lot of money? Penelope earns a lot and then blows all the money anyway on paying other people to keep her sane. She’d probably come out the same financially if she worked a boring, low skill job. If she just led a sane life without all the frantic activity (and earned less money), she wouldn’t need to pay all those people to keep her sane (even though she’s still not, anyway). As it is, she’s just a hamster running around in a wheel. Fine if she wants to do that for herself, but to subject your kids to it is unfair and unconscionable.

  26. kate
    kate says:

    been reading your blog for many years. and it’s always for the same reasons: the rawness that you write from, how you lay the facts out in such a straightforward way, the writing spare and without drama and curlicues and pop culture cliches.

    and this post of yours absolutely is about high earners’ traits being a mixed bag. this is simply you laying out what it’s like to have your unique brand of genius, what it’s like to be built the way you are, how yeah, you can be a high earner, but this is what the architecture costs.

    it’s how you are built, and you are simply doing as you do with your blog: telling pieces of the truth that other folks hide. but other folks hide because they can hide – because they have the energetic resources to be able to more or less pull it off. but you? you are totally focused on one thing, to the exclusion of the other ten thousand things that need tending to on any given day. other folks are busy interpreting and putting into motion the responsive actions to social cues and pre-scripted opinions on different topics and keeping home/clothes/office looking a way that is currently culturally acceptable. you are focused on whatever it is that is that one thing in the moment (or the several hours or days or weeks that you are lasering into it).

    maybe you’ll never crack their code – be able to pull off their scripts and cues and have that smooth, flowing living that the people you try to copy have. maybe it’s really only about using the one or two actions that allow you to slip beneath their radar, so that you can simply live your life, use your energy to laser at whatever the latest is for you. maybe it’s not about more. maybe it’s about less. maybe how you are is perfect and beautiful, even as it is several dozen degrees away from where the popular expression of consciousness right now.

  27. Steve Mielczarek
    Steve Mielczarek says:

    Crutch man files his teeth sharp like razor blades. He scares Betty and her friend Cathy. Whenever he sees them he shouts “I’m gonna getcha, I’m gonna getcha” and the girls run away screaming.

  28. Britt Reints
    Britt Reints says:

    I only opened the comments because I was going to say that I agree that with creativity and passion and some “abnormal” talents comes a lot of shit that is hard to live with.

    I was going to say thank you for admitting that sometimes we just want to be “normal”.

    But the comments blew me away.

    Whether this post is a cry for help or an admirable act of vulnerability, the judgment and “advice” given in response is useless at best and cruel at worst.

  29. sarah
    sarah says:

    My Dad was dissapointed to find me not pushing my kids to be smart. Like he did to his kids. I told him its a lonely world and I’m not going to do that to them. I don’t have aspergurgers, but I do understand many of the issues from living with family members that have it, and highly intelligent people. I understand what its like to get so insanely bored being a stay at home mom, with 5 kids and home schooling. I get the desire to throw yourself into your work because you are bored. I know the guilt for saying it. And gluten free sucks. Im doing that too.

    Therapy wont help. You are paying them to tell you the truth in a nice way. And having to say it nice doesnt mean you always get it. Not only that but they have been in doctrined in the school system for almost 22 years. They dont know how to deviate from what it taught.

    My emotions are always on the edge. I have an autistic son. His are even more so. We get into some big fights. Both of us are on 4 different forms of b vitamins. It really helped.

    What is your goal for your son playing cello? To become the yongest player? Why? I could understand all the cello crazineas if he was highschool age and applying to collages. Why not back off a bit? Pay his teacher more to do skype lessons everyother week. Let him go on cello for a quarter and see what happens. Does he love cello because youve told him to and he doesnt know any better?

    I never yell at my husband. Being lonely sucks.

    Take some stress off your plate and figure how to channel your boredness into something leas stressful. Realize your family needs 40 hours attention per week. Sorry to be blunt. But typing is boring and no one wants to hear a stranger ramble on. Especially because i have no links to keep you enetertained.

    Good luck, and seriously life is to short for this. Who wants to live like that?

    • Emily
      Emily says:

      yay! i really love this comment because it incorporates a solution as a well as a reality check. this person seems someone who would be a really good friend! or spouse. I’d love to learn more from her.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      Oh how boring, simple phone typos . . . I had just explained to my Aspie dd 8 about some of the ways that people misspell Asperger’s and aspergurgers was the funniest yet.

      Boy have I lamented the lack of an edit button on this site.

  30. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    I’m visiting my folks, one of my biannual checkups. My father, 95 and deep into senility, said something quite moving this morning. He said, “My life is a waste of time. If I can’t remember anything I’ve done, what good is it?” My father cannot remember anything after a few minutes.

    I then said, “That would be scary for me, Dad.”

    And he said, “It IS scary. Your mother is my memory. Without her, I wouldn’t know what I’m doing.” And then he repeated that idea three more times because he didn’t remember saying it five minutes before.

    If we can’t build on our remembered experiences to improve our emotions and insight, we can’t evolve. So I ask myself when reading your blog, are your words helping me to grow? Will I remember the post? And conversely, will you remember my comment? Will it help your life too?

    I won’t and can’t make a value judgment about how deeply your words affect us readers and how much we affect your future decisions. I would hope there is something to learn going both ways. I would hope the snap shots of your days give us examples of avoiding pitfalls or learning to deal with them, and that our advice helps you as well. If that’s not happening, then your posts are reduced to entertainment, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but they are soon forgotten.

    My point is this: If you can understand how your drama is creating positive results, tell us about that too. Tell us what you are learning. And drop the pretense of work achievement. We all know that’s an artificial theme. Don’t leave us feeling sorry for you, your spouse and your kids. No one wants to remember that.

    • Andrea
      Andrea says:

      Hi Irving –

      I have seen your comments here when I used to follow this blog more closely (I still do check in, just have less time on my hands now) – your picture stands out, so it’s easy to remember. Just wanted to say I like your comment, and your message. That’s all. All the best!


    • selfanalyst
      selfanalyst says:


      If your father can say those things, he is not “deep” into senility. But since he is 95 years old, maybe both of you will be spared that reality; it’s ugly.

  31. C Lewis M
    C Lewis M says:

    When I first read the parent needs to be a fucking partner with the teacher in the Suzuki method I thought, ‘I always knew there was something pervy about the Japanese’, then I thought, ‘I guess that aspect has to be factored in when choosing an instructor- dashing one’s only’. After a few more expletives in your post I realized my error and gave up dreams of becoming a single, happy cello instructor.

    So, art and madness- an unavoidable marriage required for greatness? Perhaps the true fire underneath your feet is having more than one star in the family.

    You discuss the Olympians whose families make sacrifices for one child’s dreams, but what if a parent and child both have dreams and they’re in two separate directions? Who makes the sacrifice, and should they?

    Wanting it all with a family is a lot like Shackleton’s rescue excursion across Georgia island. It’s obviously difficult, but the team have to approach it with kindness, above all, toward one another or no one makes it. As a nation raised toward individualism, this trait isn’t as natural as it could be, but when we see that we are part of a larger ‘we’ for whatever reason then we have to consider how we can get where we’re going without falling apart. With enough external obstacles, kindness can help overcome the internal ones.

    PS- I hope everyone is OK from the wreck.

    • Liz
      Liz says:

      Great comment.

      If it’s truly about kiddo becoming exceptional at cello then mom needs to focus primarily on that first, career second. Kids are a self sacrifice in so many ways and the relationship is the reward. This arrangement is not working well for this family. Work is the big distraction from this lady’s kids’ and perhaps her own life.

      Reading through a few posts today, it looks like public writing is her defense mechanism. Too many people are on here to tell her ‘it’s ok, thanks for the research’ to keep her at it. It’s hallow and not improving her daily life.

      Best of luck.

  32. Emily
    Emily says:

    This post should be named: shit we take from rich people (who are sometimes us) that we would not otherwise tolerate. The problem isn’t your stress, it’s your response to the stress. If you can’t behave in a reasonable way when you’re working hard then you’re not a high-achiever, you’re just a jerk.

  33. Katybeth Jensen
    Katybeth Jensen says:

    I understand about not renewing the licenses. I’m not sure why it’s so impossible to renew. I’m pretty sure tho, time has nothing to do with it–perhaps. Crash, burn and start again. Exhausting. Unless you are a Phoenix, of-course.

  34. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    I think this is true only if you are a high earning WOMAN. If you were a (straight) man, you’d have wife taking care of all the things you weren’t good at.

    That said, I work for a high-earning woman with Asperger’s. Her husband is a SAHD, manages food, medical stuff, kids, vacations, etc. Plus they have an au pair.

    Matthew is great with your kids, but I kinda wish you had a SAHD to manage your life for you. Or even a personal assistant?

    Anyway, sending warm wishes in getting through a tough time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for talking about the support system that high-earning women have. I think it’s important for people to know. I have a similar support system: a driver, a personal assistant, a nanny and a husband who handles childcare every day. I don’t clean the house myself and I don’t do laundry.

      The difference between me and other high-earning women who have household help is that I am not willing to delegate as much kid stuff as most women like me.

      So I am almost never without my kids. I am not sending kids to school, not delegating music lessons, or daily practice. I also am not delegating bar mitzvah training. And I cook three meals a day when I’m home. I think I might be able to do all of this given the household help I have. But the driving to cello lessons puts it over the top, I think.

      This doesn’t mean I’m giving up. But I need a new plan. And I want anyone who thinks they want to try this that it requires an army of household help.


      • MBL
        MBL says:

        I know you are sick of cello advice, but I don’t know if I have seen a suggestion for the combo of your son being in Chicago for his lesson while you skype from home and maybe have a recording of his lesson for reference. It seems like there has to be some way to make this work. Although, of course for some Olympic-level training, the cost is for the child to move in with a host near the coach/teacher. I’m certainly not suggesting that, but it does come down to “how badly do you want it” and what are you willing to give up. Right now, the price is all of your coping resources and time at home to recharge.

        Regarding meals, are you cooking full on separate meals or ones that are GF with maybe a loaf of bread for non-GF’ers? Is there any way to simplify?

        It sounds like you may need to have some sensory break options that you can fall back on. This may sound ridiculous, but sometimes if I snap and can catch it fast enough it can be turned into a funny situation. After upending the Chex, could you possibly switch gears fast enough to look at the kids staring at you and say “Are you just going to sit there and make me do this myself?!?” and turn it into a stress relieving game.

        Oh, and like YMKAS said, I honestly would come help if you need it. She is a whole plane ride away, but I am 5 hours by car.

        Take care.

      • brooklynchick
        brooklynchick says:

        So true. The high-earning women I know (like the high-earning men), are willing to delegate most kid stuff. Have to, to keep the $$ coming in.

  35. romeo
    romeo says:

    I am a fucking, adult, 48-year-old male sitting in a cafe. My eyes are welling up and I am a bit embarrassed that people around me may notice. This post feels like I am sitting at the edge of a deep, dark, abyss. Staring but not comprehending (HARD for this INTJ!). Feeling the fragility of life. I also agree with many posts that intervention by friends and family may be needed at this point. You are loved by many, many people, including me. A positive outcome will help us, as much as it will help you.

  36. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Hey what’s wrong with nose picking?! There’s nothing wrong with nose picking. Though I suppose you’re going to tell me there is extreme nose-picking which is a different animal to my painless, mindful, order-restoring pleasure that is nose-picking. Just don’t tell me how it correlates to my earning power!

    • Kaitlyn Kramer
      Kaitlyn Kramer says:

      Look up rhinotillexomania. Or dermatillomania. It’s the difference between someone saying, “Oh, I’m so OCD about that!” and, you know, real OCD.

  37. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad to hear you and your son didn’t get hurt in the car crash. I could give you advice … but then you’d have to pay me for it. :)

    So, instead, I’ll (re)publish here in the comment section a poem you like.


    by Beverly Rollwagen

    She just wants to be employed

    for eight hours a day. She is not

    interested in a career; she wants a job

    with a paycheck and free parking. She

    does not want to carry a briefcase filled with important papers to read

    after dinner; she does not want to return phone calls. When she gets home,

    she wants to kick off her shoes and waltz around her kitchen singing, “I am

    a piece of work.”

    Take care.

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          I think I am interpreting this poem differently than you are. I see it as a woman who does want time for other things. She is a “piece of work” in that she is merely one piece in the scheme of her job/work and it is only one piece of her.

          • MBL
            MBL says:

            This got me wondering about what else Beverley Rollwagen had written and the following is from the same work as Employed. It seemed eerily apropos.


            She just wants to keep her essential
            sorrow. Everyone wants her to
            be happy all the time, but she doesn’t
            want that for them. There is value in
            the thread of sadness in each person.
            The sobbing child on an airplane, the
            unhappy woman waiting by the phone,
            a man staring out the window past his
            wife. A violin plays through all of them,
            one long note held at the beginning and
            the end.

            What a lovely writer.

  38. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    You’re a good mom. You are obviously very devoted to your family. But it’s all just too damn much. Your schedule, and lack of support, would drive the healthiest of us over the edge.

    Here in CA, parents of kids on the spectrum can receive a stipend for respite care… Enough for a babysitter 5-10 hours a month just so parents can get some time to take care of themselves. Can you do that for yourself… Take some time away? Since your kids don’t go to school and your ex-husband isn’t involved, what respite care do you get?

    The homeschooling, the demanding work schedule, the incessant, stressful driving, the GF diet, the challenges of raising a kid on the spectrum… Penelope, it’s a lot. I know you’re committed to homeschooling so at least from where I sit, the insane commute to Chicago has got to go.

  39. New Friend
    New Friend says:

    I enjoyed the post because I could relate. Nothing you suggest is going to change P’s course. She is who she is and that’s what makes her so special. If she were ordinary, she wouldn’t be so extraordinary.

    Unless you have been there, truly been there…it is unfair of you to judge. For you cannot even begin to comprehend what you have never experienced (Internally or externally). I could give many examples – but won’t. xo

  40. Becky
    Becky says:

    Oh my, Penelope, I only have one close high-earning friend and a couple of high-earning acquaintances, but your headings describe them all to a T.

    I realized instinctively in my mid-20s that I was just not cut out for a big career, despite my good mind and great education. It caused me a lot of angst, because I assumed that I owed the world and my parents something for all the advantages they’d given me.

    But yeah, a placid rule-follower who just wants everybody to get along is not going to shake the world up, or be valuable to an employer in more than a supporting role. No matter how creative or intelligent. I’d be a great SAHM, if I’d been able to have kids, but now I’m thinking that my life calling is going to be the caregiver of a variety of aging friends and relatives. Good thing I’m placid and can get along with people.

  41. Lalo' s mom
    Lalo' s mom says:

    Juilliard grad, regular reader- I have to ask what the deal is with the cello routine. Is this level of pressure ( driving to Chicago for lessons, camps, etc) something that makes his life better or is it the “make a talented kid the next Yoyo Ma” syndrome? In which case, please give him a soccer ball.
    Seriously, even Zuckerman gives skype lessons. What is the point of this exercise? There are ways of giving a talented, eager, enthusiastic kid from the boonies access without this level of tsuris. I know, I was a kid from the boonies- and we didn’t have video conferencing.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We have the cello conversation so many times on this blog. I am not a crazy person. Really. In fact, I initially told my son no to cello when he asked to play because I was already overwhelmed with having a kid play the violin. So I want to stress that I never aimed to raise an overachieving musician. His drive to play cello comes completely from him.

      Things to consider:
      1. Students do not get great tone by playing for teachers over Skype.
      2. Students do not create lasting relationships with a music community over Skype.
      3. Students do not create a tight bond with a teacher over Skype.

      We live 90 minutes from the closest cello teacher. Those cello teachers have been teaching for only a few years. To get to a cello teacher who has a successful track record of teaching young children cello past Suzuki Book 4 we would have to drive either 3 hours north or 4 hours south.

      Given these choices, 4 hours south does not seem crazy.


      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        What about in-person lessons alternating with Skype lessons? Would cut the driving down considerably, and still maintain the in-person connection.

      • Liz
        Liz says:

        You say this desire comes completely from him…

        Are you sure that you don’t have a kid on your hands that wants his moms attention so much that he is making the internal connection between cello player= moms time! and, no cello= No mom time. :(

        You mention that you work 70 hour weeks and have loads of help. So it seems that the only one on one time you have with him is doing cello lessons.

      • Annie
        Annie says:

        Hi Penelope,
        These three things are only important enough to drive 4 hours one way if he HAS to be The Best Cello Player He Can Be.

        Does he have to be this? Why?

        I have a very, very hard time compromising on an ideal, particularly for my children. I see you that you do to.

        But when that ideal threatens their happiness by threatening mine so severely, then it’s no longer ideal.

        If it’s not life or death, an ideal can be questioned.


  42. redrock
    redrock says:

    well, there could be some mixing of different approaches. After all, it is not fun for anybody if you and your kids are stressed out all the time. Does not make for good music either.

  43. L' s mom
    L' s mom says:

    You’ve been given very dubious guidance.
    Tone? Please. When he can bang through Popper etudes you can worry about tone. This is just silly.
    Look for a youth orchestra. There must be some good stuff happening in Madison.
    That’s how you build relationships – as well as technique, sight reading, teamwork, discipline, etc etc etc. I’m not entirely certain what sort of “lasting relationships with the music community ” he’s looking for at age ( ?) but sitting in an orchestra as a kid will be a good start. There might be chamber music possibilities as well, which will do all of the above and much more. And the kids he makes music with now? Lasting relationships.
    Just because someone has only taught for a few years doesn’t mean they don’t know what they are doing, by the way. This is a different business. Maybe the 90 minute away cello teacher had a respectable career and never taught because she/ he never had time. Doesn’t mean they won’t have something very instructive, encouraging and useful for your son at this stage. Forgive my insolence, but I’m assuming he doesn’t need to commute to Curtis quite yet. There may be more close at hand than you realize. Seems to me this could be at least one easy, happy, productive fix.

  44. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    I agree with Lalo’s mom. The stress all this car time adds to your family must be enormous. Is it REALLY necessary? Why are you traveling to Julliard? Aren’t your boys too young to be worrying about this school?

    And so what if a kid has manure on his boots. You live on a farm, for goodness sake. If your son is old enough to manage playing cello, he’s old enough to clean his own boots. If he doesn’t, well then, it doesn’t get done. There are more important things to stress about.

    Nose picking: Could it be the air in your house is too dry in winter? You could run a $50 humidifier in his room every night.

    You’re an awesome mother, Penelope. But you must constantly remind yourself that your actions affect your kids.

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