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.

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153 replies
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  1. Larry Hochman
    Larry Hochman says:

    I wish you well, Penelope, and I find value in many of your posts…especially the ones where you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

    But I submit you are violating your son’s right to privacy, and to work things out for himself outside of the public forum. He didn’t sign up for this.

  2. Sharon Mcguire
    Sharon Mcguire says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I read your blog with great interest. I’m offering my experience as Suzuki mom, who ended up with a daughter who became a excellent professional violinist..

    Playing music with your child, even on a high level, should be source of joy, a delightful challenge for the parent and new musician. It’s a unique opportunity to share a significant intellectual and fun experience. Unfortunately, your family’s music lessons do not sound like fun; they sound like a significant burden. I get it. I had 3 kids, one on the spectrum and all of them were playing music- and different instruments. My son had therapy daily. You can do so much before you start taking it out on the cereal. I can remember freaking out during preparation for a concerto competition when my daughter was little and realizing I was sucking the fun out of it. I drove distracted or half asleep all the time. I needed a break and I took it. I stopped driving hundreds of miles a week. Therapy for my son was the real priority and not music lessons or orchestras. She went to music lessons because she wanted to go. She played with orchestras that fit into a family schedule that included a little downtime.

    I stepped away, we eased up and she still accumulated skills, maybe a little slower, but she was making progress. At that time, it wasn’t her goal that she become a professional musician. I just wanted her to love something and to have the intellectual advantages of being a musician. She just wanted to play. She got what she wanted and needed, even if I wasn’t correcting her fingering.

    Please consider stepping away for a while-just LISTEN to him play – or not. Consider NOT participating. If he doesn’t practice well, there’s something to be learned even when you don’t make progress. Cut back lessons to twice a month. Add more time LISTENING to great cellists. In addition, some very fine string teachers are starting to Skype lessons. Maybe that would ease your family’s commuting burden.

    You are remarkable, but you are human. Take a break.

  3. TTtheSME
    TTtheSME says:

    Penelope, you are right. High earners tend to be a little off. Obsessive thought processes are also common. For example, I noticed that point 5 in your list did not have a link and therefore was in black font whereas all of the others were in orange font. Who notices things like this other than a neurotic person?

    I wish I was a high earner by my standards. Probably to most people I do make a decent amount of money. But it isn’t enough money to do all of the things I need to do so I tend to say I am not a high earner. Because it is relative and if you are neurotic, the line in the sand keeps moving. Five years ago, I would have thought what I make now is plenty of money. But I was only just a few years out of college at that time, so it was a lot of money for where I was then.

    Since I am an INTJ, I am always assessing my situation and making adjustments to be where I want to be in the future. I usually can see patterns before anyone else and tend to hit career changes at just the right moment. Like before downsizing happens, getting credentials that are now in demand, combining skillsets in a profitable but unusual way, etc. A lot of people consider it luck but I am just always a couple of years out from where everyone else is. That is good but also has a downside. Because you sound crazy when you talk if you don’t slow down and let people get to where you are in thought. And you live in your head a lot.

  4. Amy Simonson
    Amy Simonson says:

    I had to read this post twice to make sure it wasn’t fiction. Wow. Things seem really crazy for you at the moment. Feels like you need a hug, so I’m sending one. Or two. Or ten. When our kids see us fail or get angry or simply be human, they also see us overcome obstacles. They see that we get through it, no matter how ugly the journey. They learn that anger and car accidents and pig poop aren’t the end of the world. Your kids see you survive and, ultimately, succeed. Kudos for being so bluntly honest. And for taking (what feel like to me) judgmental comments. You seem very strong. Here’s to a better week!

  5. Camille
    Camille says:

    Penelope – convert an outbuilding into a small music school with an en-suite studio apartment, hire a young Suzuki teacher to come and live and teach there and have the local kids come to you….

    I really hope you manage to get a good rest and re-charge your batteries.

    I love your posts.

  6. Mylinda
    Mylinda says:

    Good post. Don’t let people get you down. You say things we are on the edge about. It’s edgy (I don’t think that’s a word) a lot when you have children with aspergers/autism.

  7. Enrique
    Enrique says:

    This is phenomenal. I am a college student pursuing my career and I got to give it to you, this makes me not want to have such a high paying job. What would you say are some pros of being a high earner?

  8. Daisy
    Daisy says:

    Wow, thanks for being so honest about your life. Other high-earners probably face the same struggle but just aren’t willing to be open about it because of all the pressure they feel to have it all together. It’s the part that frightens me most about having a family, how would I achieve that balance between my ambition and family life without going insane.

    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I feel like I’m missing something here. If high earning doesn’t improve the quality of life, what’s the point?

    If you didn’t have to pay for the driver, a personal assistant, a nanny, maid and laundry services, to free you up to earn the money you need to pay for all of that, wouldn’t that ease the pressure right there? It feels like a vicious cycle.

    You moved the stress you used to experience living in Manhattan, out to Madison. I thought that the reason you moved to Madison in the first place was so you could escape the crazy pressure and have better quality of life. I remember you doing all of that research to find the best place to live. But, nobody is enjoying what you have right there. Or, so it seems.

    Wouldn’t your entire family have a better quality of life if you backed off everything? Couldn’t you all get the hell out of the car and enjoy your life more right where you are? Actually see the tulips in bloom that you spent hundreds of hours planting? I mean, you live on a farm. You could create a magical life for you all, if that was the goal. You have everything you need right where you are.

    As I said, I feel like I’m missing something.

    • Universal Management
      Universal Management says:

      Penelope has already told us that an interesting life is more important to her than a contented one. There will be stress and drama wherever she lives.

  10. Rhonda K.L.
    Rhonda K.L. says:

    It’s posts like these that make me look back and wonder were my parents actually trying to show me love when they were doing x, y, and z? Maybe they were just trying to love us, and they didn’t know any better.

    My mom said no when it came to driving farther and farther for dance lessons. Her life was much simpler than Penelope’s. Maybe she thought saying no would make her a better mother without all that driving.

    And then I see Penelope going above and beyond and taking risks. She’s doing whatever it takes to help her kids get what they want out of life. That’s Penelope’s way of loving her kids.

    I resented my mom for giving up on me with the dance classes. So I don’t think there’s a right answer. Your kids will find a way to be disappointed no matter what.

    It’s the commitment to remain a family through the disappointments that grows resilient people. With resilience comes grit. Maybe this is just a lesson in grit, which we can all agree is needed to be a high-earner.

  11. Christine
    Christine says:

    Penelope, we already disagree on a lot of things so I will try not to go down that road (for example, my husband and I both work fulltime out of the house, my kids go to daycare, and that’s exactly what I think is best). But, do you ever worry that your kids may disappoint you? You seem to have a lot – if not all – of your eggs in that basket. Years of your life hovering over music lessons and working through the night because you spent your day… I don’t know, whatever you do with them all day. Your kids will probably turn out pretty smart, but, you know… Mine might too. Or maybe they won’t, but maybe yours won’t either. I’m just wondering if you worry about that.

    • Christine
      Christine says:

      I wanted to re-word this because it sounded like I thought kids were a disappointment if they didn’t turn out smart or successful, and that’s not exactly what I meant.

      I just meant that you seem to make a lot of sacrifices, toward some end… that they will end up a certain way, be it successful, or rich, or happy, or whatever it is that you’re hoping you accomplish.

      My question is, what if they don’t? Or, what if someone else’s kids do, and they didn’t make the same sacrifices? Do you have a calculus for this in your head, for what exactly you think you’re getting in exchange for what you’re giving up?

  12. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    You need new messaging. You need a canned response for yourself every time you think you are going to blow. You should stop, breath and give yourself the one liner – only you know what that line should be. You’re only human, you deserve to be a more relaxed, happier person, you are not your actions, there is no blue ribbon at the end of life? Come up with something that resonates with you. Mine is, I’m not going to fall off the planet. Re-messaging our path in life is as important as breathing…we have to keep working on ourselves and not make excuses for our short-comings, yet think of them as catalysts for growth. BTW- You are my favorite blogger, and I am always fascinated by your perspective. I reference you in common conversation ALL THE TIME. However, you only get to do this mom thing once – this is it – it’s not a dress rehearsal. Do more than you think you can do – be patient, kind and thoughtful about shaping 2014! What would make the family dynamic better…it might be that you have to let go of the “interesting” for a bit!

  13. Scott Asai
    Scott Asai says:

    I think this is true of most high achievers. It’s that subtle (or not so subtle) quirks that drive them to achieve so hard. Probably not the easiest people to get along with, but they get their job done. Personally I admire them from afar, but don’t envy them at the same time.

  14. Fotonuntabrasov
    Fotonuntabrasov 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.

  15. mariuspavel
    mariuspavel says:

    I wish I was a high earner by my standards. Probably to most people I do make a decent amount of money. But it isn’t enough money to do all of the things I need to do so I tend to say I am not a high earner. Because it is relative and if you are neurotic, the line in the sand keeps moving.

  16. Amy
    Amy says:

    Penelope, how do you define “high earner”?

    I myself do pretty well and I know several others doing still better than me and none of us really exhibit the traits you list. Perhaps you should re title the list “Traits of Penelope” lest you scare anyone off.

    • Steve-o
      Steve-o says:

      Good point. Being a “high earner” isn’t the full equation if one isn’t also a “PAW” (prodigious accumulator of wealth). Because high earners can also be “UAWs” (under-accumulators of wealth) they spend $$ as quickly as they earn it, if not more. They tend to live a high-consumption, high-drama, rat-race life. Rather than striving to be a high earner, how about the advice of “the Millionaire Next Door” folks … material wealth doesn’t depend so much on earning habits as lifestyle and saving habits.

  17. Camille
    Camille says:

    it all depends on why a high achiever is a high achiever – what is their motivation? Some people just wants lots of money. Others want the status. Penelope, on the other hand, is probably driven by the need to be taken seriously as a substantial human of value and worth, but most of all, I suspect, because she wants to be mother to us all. She can help, and has helped, SO MANY PEOPLE. Thousands of us. We need to give her a break too and stop the negative remarks from those of you who feel compelled to be judgemental and negative. Penelope – you simply need to a) have a break, b) get real about the fact that you do not have superhuman powers, c) work smarter not harder, and d) bring the music to you and your boys, rather than you having to go to the music – there’s huge potential there for a valuable, and viable commercial enterprise, filled with music, right on your doorstep.
    I wish you much love and sanity.

  18. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    Good for you, Penelope. If we are really trying something, taking risks, pushing ourselves and our lives to be better, isn’t this what we are always doing? Falling apart and putting things together again?

    This reminds me of a Brene Brown talk, where she talks about Roosevelt’s quote. And she says that if you’re not in the Arena, your thoughts about those who are in the Arena, are irrelevant.

    “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

  19. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    I’m pretty sure most of the other commenters have never seen/known/lived with an ENTJ up close. So much of this post is my husband (ENTJ). He doesn’t have the added burden of Asperger’s, he isn’t as far along in his career as Penlope, and our kids are still very young (4 kids under 7) so it’s a little less chaotic for us.

    This post actually made me feel relieved. Because I’ve been stressing out recently that our life is so crazy, and putting pressure on him to slow down and stop trying to DO SO MUCH, but this post reminds me that will never happen. And it’s okay. He is high-achieving, has an earning potential 10 times higher than mine (because I am an INFJ who can’t be bothered about silly things like money), and is really good at a lot of things. This post was a good reminder that a crazy life is going to go along with those traits.

    We will probably never have a peaceful life, but I know it will be interesting. And I do prefer that over “happy.”

  20. Universal Management
    Universal Management says:

    This entire site is about coming up with career-oriented rationalizations for whatever behaviors and choices PT exhibits.

    This is a person with a nanny, a personal assistant, and now a driver who still can’t cope with the stresses of life. And we should take advice from her?

    Her kids are growing up with this crazy lifestyle and multiple therapists. And her readers enable all this by commending her for being brave and vulnerable.

    Her life is a train-wreck and we are all rubberneckers. It’s interesting and entertaining for sure, but I’ m not going to call it healthy or praiseworthy.

  21. Laura
    Laura says:

    Penelope, you are such a great problem solver. Why can’t the driving/cello lessons problem be solved? Where is the error in the equation?

  22. New Friend
    New Friend says:

    Just some of the ‘surface’ reasons I can relate to this post.

    Me: Driving my son to a friend’s house I’ve never been to before. See a D&D. Want a coffee. Make a quick right. Oops – it’s a one-way. Double Oops – a cop is sitting right there. Once the cop determines that the “Skinny Water” in-between my legs isn’t alcohol, he gives me a ticket for not wearing my seat belt (even though I was wearing my seat belt). He says it’s better than giving me a ticket for driving the wrong way down a one way street. I agree. I put the ticket in the glove compartment. I completely forget about ticket – I mean, wtf, it’s only a “not wearing your seatbelt” ticket.

    Three months later I leave work at lunch hour to sneak in a quick visit with my shrink. A cop follows me. He pulls me over. I am officially “arrested” (as in mug shot and all) for contempt of court. Because I forget to pay a friggin’ “not wearing a seat belt ticket” even though I really was wearing my seat belt. It gets posted in the paper. I am forever humiliated and now a criminal.

    Two months later, my flood insurance premium is due. It is paid once a year; not monthly like homeowners. I put it aside – for now. I mean it is like $4000 (yep, I’m in NJ) and I want to talk to the insurance company to get it reduced. I stretch the limit. I know I have a 30 day grace period, but on THE 31st day, guess what was all over the news…SuperStorm Sandy. I call insurance company. Sorry, you are 24 hours too late. Sandy washes 5 feet of “muck” through my single-story house. I lose everything – everything…except all my pets with their cages that took up the entire car when we evacuated (yep, single Mom here with teen).

    Three weeks post-Sandy, I get laid off in a corporate downsizing. (From VP to unemployed…just like that). Are you kidding me? My house & my job all within 3 weeks? It was probably scheduled pre-Sandy. I pay Cobra at $1100 a month for 6 months. I decide to stop and wait for Obamacare. It’s only 2 months. Noooo. That would be way too easy. Instead, I am diagnosed with melanoma only two weeks after letting my Cobra expire. (I’m OK now – they got it all and took part of my forehead with them somewhere).

    Last night my teen punched a hole in the wall because he was not accepted to his first-choice college. WTF? He’s never like this. Yet, my life is always like this.

    I am SO looking forward to the freelance class! Yep, I’m in. Onward & upward.

    P. You are not alone.

  23. Mike
    Mike says:

    I have a brain like this. Controlled chaos mostly. Sometimes it slips and there are regrets. In and out of depression several times a day. Not even sure it’s depression. Just feel things more than others but there is a disconnect at the same time. Won’t make sense to most, but people like me are very alone. We are also very driven high achievers that get bored once the task is accomplished. Need to move on to new things consistently. I can’t hold a conversation for more than 5 minutes without getting very uncomfortable. I cant hold a job for more than a year most times. A few months if i’m very lucky. This post is not a cry for help. It’s a glimpse into our brains that has a billion thoughts at once. Sometimes they appear to be very disturbing to most, but this is the many internal storms that consumes us.

  24. Andrew Tram
    Andrew Tram says:

    Wow…I think you are amazing Penelope.
    I discovered your post about leadership and even clicked the link to see the dancing guy (loved that video too BTW, almost brought a tear to my eye). I really enjoyed reading your posts which I find kinda funny the way your describe your events; what’s funny about it is I don’t think you were trying to be funny lol.
    Anyway…I think it’s so true about what you said. I find I am a little off too, I am some what a rebel, doing things differently.
    I love your work, Penelope! god bless you.

  25. Josephine
    Josephine says:

    6 years ago I turned down good paying job to work at a bookstore for minimum wage. Fortunately in a few months they raised my salary because I was overqualified and I started turning their web presence around. I’ve stayed there for 6 years with a less than juicy salary, and while I have tremendous conflict of not making a fair share of money to pay for our mortgage, it’s precisely the craziness of a higher earner that makes me think that I prefer to wear the same shoes for five years, the same winter coat for 8, but I have so much time to do things that I like and that matter to me.
    Hopefully you’ll get things back under control.

  26. Luana
    Luana says:

    It is a strange article, everybody noticed, but in my opinion it’s honest and still useful…it reminds me how not everything is greener on the other side, as Shit happens to everyone, high or low earners. The one thing I didn’t like was the “F” word used so unnecessary that made the article so vulgar. No needed whatsoever.
    I suffer anxiety, never diagnosed and made my childhood hell…I was 32 when finally discovered, treated and medicated… It got worst after the birth of my son. I love him with every cell in my body and I’m just using common sense, tons of patience and the love I feel to guide him but with or without mental illness, being a parent is the toughest job, and everybody seems to be in the right to criticize others… it’s a well-known bullying zone… but there is no amount of earnings to measures who is doing it right. Keep trying and thanks for inspiring me, I do love your work but please check the vocabulary before you post anything, that’s all, as adult we have to be always professional. Keep the good work.

  27. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I’ve never been to therapy. With a Chinese upbringing, that’s just not the thing we’re used to. But I know I have issues, with anger management, at least. Sometimes I get so depressed I think about killing everyone in the house, then myself… But worry not, I’m not really doing it.

  28. Anonymous faithful reader
    Anonymous faithful reader says:

    Nobody else has mentioned that you warned us this was going to happen – that you would have a mental breakdown – when you told us that you decided to do another start-up. I personally have been expecting it.

    I do appreciate the affirmation, however, that I don’t have to worry about ever becoming a high earner, nor will my husband. My sanity and my family’s sanity is more important to me. It’s relationships first at this house, and work choices cater to that. My husband is the primary breadwinner here, I work part-time and homeschool our 7yo son. A couple years ago, I begged my husband to get a different job because he was over-stressed and that stress was spilling over and affecting our family to the point that our son and I were both often in tears as a result. It took him a year, but he finally agreed. It was a rough go and took a couple different maneuvers to find a new job that was a good fit, but he thinks he found it, and our family life is once again more even keel. He even has a higher salary. I couldn’t have put up with that kind of stress in our home for much longer. The anxiety my son and I were experiencing was off the charts and not going to be acceptable long-term. I won’t put my kid through that ever again. Having parents who yell and scream and fly off the handle and have short tempers is a horrible way to grow up – and that’s speaking from personal experience. I feel like I have ONE shot at this to not screw up my kid’s childhood. There’s no way I will let any job or outside situation which causes such horrible stress come before him and us as a family with the family relationships being a very key part of him having a stable childhood and not needing therapy as an adult.

    I know you desperately want the mental stimulation of a start-up. I just wish you’d let your kids have a stable childhood first and then worry about yourself after they have grown up a bit. They will grow up fast, and you will have a lot of time later to do your crazy start-ups. Otherwise, you’re kids are going to suffer the most for it, and that’s not fair to them, imho.

    • Cindy
      Cindy says:

      Bravo for this. I totally agree with you. I love this line
      “It’s relationships first at this house, and work choices cater to that.” After my divorce, my boys and I went through a hellish 5 years with me trying to get back into the workforce after being a stay at home mom. Finally, I decided to start my own business so I could control my life. HOWEVER, I chose to start a cleaning business with the change in my pocket, rather than chase after venture capital. I had control of my company and my life. I chose to keep it small, because it was a lifestyle business not an empire I wanted when my kids were 8 and 10. I was available to them – always. Still am. They are 17 and 19 now. I’ve branched into catering, entertaining help, cooking parties, classes, etc…But it’s always, always at a manageable level so I am home and present more than I am not. We have a calm, peaceful home, something we didn’t have when I was married to an abusive lunatic.

      This past Christmas my oldest gave me a letter.
      “Dear Mom, Being home for the holidays this year has really made me think about how we live…..I realized that you have really made this house a home. It’s a place where everyone can come and be friendly and be themselvees and not be excluded. You always cook amazing food and everyone loves you.

      I realized that you brought us here from the ground up. we have all these nice things because you haven’t given up (sidebar, we were homeless 4 years ago for a brief time). You keep aspiring to be something better. You always hang in there and go for the gold. we never had a small family because everyone you’ve ever reached out to with your kindness feel like family. You’ve impacted me, Logan and my friends in such a positive way. I’m extremely grateful to have what we have and the truth is, I look up to you the most out of anybody. You always inspire me to try harder and take risks in my life. You constantly showed me and Logan to never give up and you have made our life better than it’s ever been”

      THAT is my crowning achievement. I’m not rolling in money by any means. And, my bread and butter, at this moment, has a lot to do with cleaning other people’s toilets. But, I am also an artist, a writer, an awesome cook and am building my business in those areas now that I’m over the hump and my kids are “safe, secure, loved”, the mantra I repeated to myself over and over and over during the years when we lived hand to mouth, were losing everything, and I had no idea how I would pull it off.

      safe, secure, loved…..

  29. kristen
    kristen says:

    Sorry for your troubles.

    Would you mind telling me how you found a driver in rural WI. I live there, too, and might need one this coming year.

  30. Jason
    Jason says:

    Wonderful post Penelope, life isn’t as smooth as everyone say it is and I totally understand. You just have to take your life one day at a time.

  31. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Just reading this caused me to stress. I have had very stressful moments, but nothing compares to this. This is the price you pay for your high-earning greatness, and also the price you pay for the love of your sons. It is a very steep price. I won’t criticize, and I won’t offer suggestions either. I just want to say Namaste, Penelope, Namaste.

  32. Maurice
    Maurice says:

    Life is filled with a lot more serious issues than what Penelope has to deal with. Penelope, if it is working for you, continue to do what you do. At least you are not stealing, robbing or killing anyone.

  33. Matt
    Matt says:

    I think point number 4 is the scariest. I’ve noticed that some high earners make their own rules instead of following what’s already there. I don’t know about you but I don’t like the constant curve balls that can be associated with people like that.

  34. Kate
    Kate says:

    Wow, I should be a millionaire. It’s worse now because I’m pregnant and hormonal, and can’t make myselft take meds with a baby in my body. I hear my stepfather in my head saying abusive things, and then hear them come out of my mouth. I’m lucky that I’ve been with my husband for so long, that when I ask him if he is deaf or just stupid, he can quickly forget. I like to refer to myself as passionate.

  35. Awghost5
    Awghost5 says:

    Have you ever looked into a Somatic Trauma Therapy (http://www.somatictraumatherapy.com) or DBT (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy – it looks like there’s a good program in Wisconsin http://www.cbm-dbt.com/dbtprogram.html)?

    Given the horrific trauma you’ve experienced in your life, you might find these methods more effective than traditional talk therapy. If you go the DBT route, you’ll have access to your therapist 24/7. The data behind both methods are pretty impressive.

    Just a thought.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I wanted to make sure I respond to this for other people who are trying to recover from trauma. I did DBT and it’s great, and it’s not like any other type of therapy I’ve done. It’s hard work, but it works.


  36. Elena
    Elena says:

    “That’s the thing about big change. By the time we are ready to do it, the need for change has been apparent to everyone else for months. Maybe years. It’s easy for everyone else to see someone else’s need for change — they don’t have to make it.

    “It’s impossible to see your own life as clearly as others do, but it’s a good goal to aim for. As soon as you hear other people say, “Why don’t you do [insert change here]?” give the question serious thought. Put that thought on your to do list, so it’s right there in front of you.”

    • Trudy
      Trudy says:

      Shit….this post makes sense now. I’m screwed.

      Elena…in regards to your comment…

      There comes a point where it has to narrow down. People say things all the time, but you don’t know why they say it or what it means:
      Like “I get the feeling some day we’ll all be working for you,” from someone with a totally different occupation than mine.

      or “If you ever start a business, let me know. I’d love to work for you.”

      or “So you’re the owner! Been wanting to meet you.” Uh….no…no, I’m not the owner.

      And then it starts to narrow down a bit with your true, deep down, heartfelt interests, but you still can’t see whatever it is you’re supposed to see. You can’t see what it is you’re supposed to do. So you try different things, but you still can’t see.

      It takes time to remove the scales from your eyes that have built up over time. I still can’t see.

  37. Bill
    Bill says:


    Instead if beating around the bush, you should just tell everyone that you rock!!! Or better yet, wear a cape with an “S” on it!! God damn, you’re awesome!!!! Keep up the great work!!!!

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