There’s a high price to hiding from the need to transition

This is our spring family portrait. The calf wandered into the photo.

Winter is peaceful on the farm because there’s nothing to do but keep the animals alive. It’s hard work, but it’s only a few hours a day. Summer is busy because all the fields are ready at different times—farmers cut hay many times in a season, farmers rotate the animals to graze different fields, and there are baby animals that have to grow and become independent by winter. But the rhythms of summer are predictable because everything is part of a system.

I say this as if I do any of it. I don’t, actually. But I help in emergencies.

The only time when things are in flux is right before planting the corn and right after harvesting the corn. We are in the before time.

There is excitement everywhere. The farmers watch for the signs to plant corn—the date isn’t how they decide. They look at what nature is doing and plant when the first violets open. Or when the oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear.

The animals are excited that there is new grass to graze. And the kids are excited that it’s warm enough to explore alone—no risk of getting stuck in a snowdrift and freezing.

Farm families have lots of shoes. You need special shoes for snow, for slush, for mud, for running in the grass, and for planting in the grass. And then you need shoes for when you’re not on the farm. Most of the year, out-of-season shoes are in the barn. You can tell a farmhouse in spring because it’s got shoes for every season all together.

I’ve been saving this next picture for you. It’s the day I told my boys, “Kids in the city are done with winter boots. Wear shoes. Wear your city shoes so we can all look normal.”

No answer.

I scream upstairs, “Did you guys hear me about the shoes? Let’s go! Get in the car!”

They yell back, “Okay! Okay! We heard you! No farm shoes in the city! We know! We know!”

We get to Madison for music lessons and here’s what they were wearing:

In the spring, to be a farmer is to build fences. We have about fifteen types of fences and each one serves a different purpose. A single electric wire keeps cattle from grazing the wrong field. But a goat is smart enough to go over or under the wire. Some fences are permanent, like the cattle lot for winter. Some fences are temporary, like my son’s genetic experiment where he bred the smallest pig and the largest pig.

In the spring farmers check all the fences to see if they made it though the winter. And they make new fences to prepare for all the baby animals coming.

Farmers are never sure which fencing will work. If you put up the most expensive fence every time then you can be sure the fence will work, but you won’t make any money. So farmers experiment with the fastest, cheapest fence that will do the job, and a smart farmer is always a little bit out of his fencing comfort zone in the spring.

Chickens experiment as well. In the spring they start laying eggs in weird places that look better than their regular places for laying eggs. So spring is a time when the kids have to experiment with their egg collecting routine to get to all the new places.

My spring is full of phone calls, of course. To give you an idea of how many coaching calls I’ve been doing, I just heard my sons fighting. The younger one said, “You’re a buttface!” And the older one said, “Yeah, well you’re never gonna have a fulfilling job!”

One of the phone calls is from a TV producer. I usually don’t tell you guys about the TV people who contact me because tons of them do, but nothing ever happens. Even when a reality TV crew filmed at our house, still nothing happened.

But this time there is a big-name writer on the project, and there is a big-name actress who is slated to play me. I’m not going to give names because I’m sort of hoping that this post slips under the radar of the TV people, because I want to tell you a secret.

They told me the TV show idea works because I’m like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer:  I have the big career that women want.

And I thought, “What? Holy crap. That’s what they see in me?”

My reaction was to not post here for a month. I think I felt hopelessness, really. Like, there is no way I can keep being this for people. There is no way I can keep up the image that I’m a woman with a big career. And what if TV people don’t care about me when they discover I’m just a mom living on a farm?

But the truth is that I’m not just a mom living on a farm. If nothing else, I’m not rolling fences, I’m doing coaching calls. And I’m not gathering eggs, I’m gathering investors.

But I need to do transitions, just like everyone else on the farm. I have the same lack of assurance that I’m wearing the right thing for where I am, and I have the same worries that I’m taking risks that won’t work.

It would be unlike me to write about the promise of spring without mentioning that spring is suicide season. There are a lot of theories about why spring has the most suicides, but the majority of the theories take into account the relationship between spring and  loneliness.

My theory is that spring is a time of transition. Everything is in transition: nature, people, routines. It’s more pronounced in agricultural communities, but it’s in our DNA no matter where we live. If you hide from transition, then it’s lonely. And that’s what I’ve felt this past month, when I was not blogging.

Spring is a time to find out where you are and who you are and move toward where you are going. Avoiding that requires hiding which leads to depression. So I’m done hiding. I’m doing spring. Even though the only way I could admit that I’m not the powerhouse the TV people think I am is to put it in the middle of a too-long-to-read post.

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  1. Becky
    Becky says:

    I think in our current world fame often counts for more than ability or accomplishment. You seem relatively famous for a business person (as opposed to and entertainer). Maybe that is what the TV people see in you. It is not that you are the head of a company the same size as Sheryl and Marissa, but rather that you work in the same general field and have established a particular brand identity.

    • Cheryl Wahlheim
      Cheryl Wahlheim says:

      I was beginning to worry if something had happened to Penelope! Fall is my depression time. Not sure why? Going back to school? But glad P is back on track.

  2. Emily
    Emily says:

    Beautiful post. I feel like every spring is a test of whether or not I can pull myself back up again after winter. This year felt like extra work, but I somehow seem to have the energy for it.

  3. Ruth Zive
    Ruth Zive says:

    You can be a powerhouse and sell coaching on a farm. I’d be interested in watching. Especially when your children where flip flops with one sock in the middle of winter. I betcha Marissa Mayer can’t offer THAT! Welcome out of hiding :).

  4. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    This post was really nice to read. No matter the length you write: your content is always meaningful.
    And thank you for the pictures. Sharing this moments with us is priceless.
    Btw, in Spain most people goes in sweatpants in the city ;) so we don’t have that much pressure new yorkers have.

  5. Grace Miles
    Grace Miles says:

    Hey Penelope, I read every word.

    Often, our self worth is defined by others (like, your sons probably think you’re one of the greatest people ever)–and you probably know this–but underneath we’re all insecure. I look at models in magazines and I think, “Wow, I’d love to look pretty and confident like that.” Then I flip to the interview section where they reveal the stress and difficulty they deal with everyday, despite that one audacious moment captured on camera.

    It’ll be exciting– I can’t wait to see what happens!

  6. Tina
    Tina says:

    Awesome post, and I’m glad you’re back. I dance back and forth with loving and hating what people think of my life. Yes, I’m a coach and we created a mobile lifestyle and I can work from anywhere and live in Costa Rica and all those wonderful things, and I love my life. But sometimes I just wish I was a housewife and homeschooling my kids and didn’t deal with having to make an income. Hobbies intrigue me because every time I try to start a hobby I end up wanting to turn it into a business. And we do have all the fears and insecurities that everyone else does, we just put it on loudspeaker along with the lessons we’ve learned from being scared and insecure and taking the risks anyway. We are often most powerful when we are most vulnerable.

    • Katie
      Katie says:

      Wow, Tina.

      “Hobbies intrigue me because every time I try to start a hobby I end up wanting to turn it into a business.”

      I thought I was the only one! It can be so exhausting.

  7. Frank Traylor
    Frank Traylor says:

    “a too-long-to-read post” the length has to be proportional to the quality. Loved this post; I could have even read a few more sentences! So many things to think about.

    Some innovation comes from the promise of $ billions, most from need. Great example are Richard Turere’s lion lights, an inexpensive way to protect his cattle –

    Also like the footwear. Totally normal for kids… abnormal.

    Careers like Sheryl Sandberg’s and Marissa Mayer’s? Maybe yours isn’t bigger but in a career-off where would yours rank? Maybe some would prefer maximizing challenge – diversity – autonomy?

    Completely agree on the stress of spring. I knew a young lad that found the end of school every year difficult. It was the transition from the comfortable, known, scheduled day to the unknown.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  8. dave
    dave says:

    Nice post – but it’s good to remember that you are never as bad as you feel when you’re down and never as good as a TV producer says you are when he’s trying to see you (or any sales person, for that manner)

    Hope you have a great spring

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such good advice. But then I think, well, if I’m never as good at I think when I’m feeling the best about myself then I’d never be able to convince investors to put money into my company.

      On the other hand, Melissa always tells me that it’s insane that I’m doing a startup and that I should take a page from my own advice book and wait til my kids grow up…

      And now that I write that I think that maybe you and Melissa are saying the same thing. It’s just that she’s giving me advice for when I’m up and you’re giving me advice for when I’m down.


  9. Eowyn
    Eowyn says:

    I am so glad you came back to blogging. I missed your regular posts. I’m staring transition in the face right now, and it’s not blinking. Sigh.

  10. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    “Yeah, well you’re never gonna have a job that’s fulfilling to you!” – this makes me smile.

    You are the “new modern CEO”. Living your life according to your terms at a farm table instead of a conference table. You inspire us all.

    • Nur Costa
      Nur Costa says:

      Yeah, that sentence totally made me smile. Her sons must be really smart. I’d never have said that in their age. I did not even know that we could find happiness through “a job”.

  11. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    One of the things I like about your blog is that you show is several facets of your life, both well put together and not well put together. I wish more of us were willing to admit that we don’t have life entirely figured out and that some things have a damn mess. Your blogging encourages me to be bolder in my own, although I still present a tidier me in my blog than you do in yours.

    And so I’m surprised that this particular opportunity sent you into a funk. I wondered where you went. But I’m glad you’re back.

  12. Holly
    Holly says:

    I’ve missed your posts so am glad you wrote. Its nice to see vulnerability in others and I love that you are also struggling with the things we all face from time to time.

    Anyway, on transitions — they are scary because you are leaving one thing and moving to another. I always seem to picture Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle. There comes a time when you have to let go of the one behind you before you really get a handle on the one ahead of you. Somehow, I always feel I am going to end up hanging stationary between two vines because I did not let go and realize this result would be a much i worse scenario than moving forward. Its scary but you put on your Big Girl Pants and just move forward. Never Ever Let Them See Your Fear (well, show us but not the TV producers). Good luck!

    Oh, and you cant wait until the kids are grown to do this because they need more time and attention as they turn into teenagers and they never really leave you alone, until one day they do and you will chase them out the door yelling “Wait — I have more to tell you” and come back into the house and get a little verklempt

  13. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    The best post you’ve ever written, imo. Genuine and not flashy, not trying to be something just accepting who you are. And I love when you write about farming.

  14. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Almost every time I read one of your posts I think to myself “This is one of her best posts ever.” And then you go and top it with another, like the one I read today. This was almost like a fable of sorts, where you give lots of examples of what people do, and why they do it, but no one is ever really sure of the outcome. That’s life, I suppose. I too, have had the depression issues that come with Spring but mine also bring anxiety attacks with it. I think your post just taught me a little something about how to deal with them. Thank you.

  15. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    Love the photo of the shoes by the door! That’s our reality, too. And teaching the granddaughters that when they come to grandma’s house – they still need mud boots, jackets, gloves, old jeans, etc. even though the city folk are wearing their shorts and flip flops.

    I transitioned last week. After three years of painful editing and rewrites, I listed my play script on kickstarter. It’s called America is at the Mall: A Post 9/11 Happily Never After. It’s one story from the home front – how a non-military family transitioned to knowing what the word veteran really means.

  16. Robert J. Carocari
    Robert J. Carocari says:

    Your blog is not valuable to me because you are a powerhouse.I am a Buddhist yoga teaching freelance captain and I could care less about how much money you make or how powerful you are.Your openness about your own human struggles,your research into the nature of happiness,and your writing style make me love to read your blog,and your conclusions have helped me make some good choices in my life.I think you might be surprised at why people value your writing.Don’t stop!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for this comment. One of the hardest things about writing about my life as it unfolds is that it’s hard to see ourselves as we are making ourselves. Your comments helps me see myself better.

      Maybe this process will encourage other people to show more of who they are. If you show more of yourself you get a more accurate view of yourself reflected back to you. Really. This is an example.


  17. Thi
    Thi says:

    Your blog is a good indicator of how you are feeling. Sometimes there is a drought. Sometimes there is rain. Both are necessary for balance.

  18. Suzie
    Suzie says:

    Still hiding.

    There’s a mourning period that comes with transition.

    Some people never come out of that mourning period between shifts in mindset. I think this is where the fear of change lives. The fear isn’t of failure as much as it’s the fear of staying in limbo in the grips of letting go.

    Learning and future growth are on hold until those moments pass. Also known as “stuck”.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      YES! So true. If you are failing big it’s still sort of exhilarating because things are moving fast and you’re living dreams and taking risks – it’s just not working out. The biggest fear is of doing nothing. It’s what we all fear more than failure. Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this before. Thanks, Suzie.


  19. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    You know what differentiates you from so many others? You have courage. That’s what we see. That’s what the producers see. Courage doesn’t feel like courage, it feels like fear. Showing fear takes courage. Thank you.


  20. Charlotte
    Charlotte says:

    The blog was so aptly timed – did you secretly spend the weekend with me? The comments enrich the blog. The reference to grief resonates with me wholeheartedly. I am in mourning over what exactly i do not know and beating myself up over not being joyful….. arghhhh

    It supports my growing theory that we are all celebrating and revering the wrong things. Consistency, perfection, exceeding expectations that’s what we are told makes the world spin and makes us feel good about ourselves. But there is no How-To on transition (transition for dummys??)…. no sharing of what it’s like during this bleak, grey and sometimes gloomy period. Interesting for me is that the women I most admire are all in transition at the moment… a change is surely coming. Thank you for sharing.

  21. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    Oh the shoes (feet)! And the “fulfilling job”. I am laughing. Those are the kind of moments I treasure with my kids.

    I work and homeschool and I’m just coming out of a period of *hiding* too. The transition theory bears consideration. I’m grateful you shared all that. Thank you.

  22. John
    John says:

    The TV people know you live on a farm, I promise you. Their whole concept is “Green Acres, 2014”. The one-liner is “Sheryl Sandberg trapped on a farm.”

    They’re pretending they don’t know about the farm because they think if they told you the real concept you wouldn’t sign the contract.

    But they’re lying — the farm is why they want you.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You make me laugh. The TV people are inscrutable. I ask them to tell me what is happening and they always have a billion concepts or something and so they can’t tell me any. I don’t know. TV is like dating. It’s a game that I will never be able to understand and I will always play the game too literally.

      When I was dating I had my friend Ryan Paugh as a translator of the language of men. John, maybe you are my translator of language of TV people.


  23. tanya i.
    tanya i. says:

    I was having Penelope withdrawal. I was starting to worry that something was wrong because it has been way too long since your last blog post. I’m so glad you are done with hiding and doing spring!

  24. YMKAS
    YMKAS says:

    Ok… how do you get older and continue to look better? You look gorgeous! Email me your secret ;)

  25. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Don’t listen to the tv people – they’ll pull you off center. This post’s bucolic narrative already feels inauthentic to the you I’ve come to know in the blog. I don’t read you because I think you have a big career. I don’t think you are a like a Sheryl Sandberg or a Marissa Mayer. I don’t care if you live on a farm or in the city. I’m not impressed that you played professional beach volley ball. But still, I really like reading your blog. Your voice works here, just as “This American Life” works as a radio show (it apparently sucked as a t.v. series).

    I’ve had many people become smitten with the idea of being the subject of a documentary or a reality tv show. I know for the seekers, the experience can be absolutely devastating. It is like looking in the mirror while tripping (if it becomes public) and if it doesn’t get picked up, they feel “less than” and like they failed. I call it “post-production depression” for my subjects.

    You aren’t a failure because your fame hasn’t grown beyond the blog world in the way you think it will through t.v. or a movie. You write a very compelling blog, you work hard at things that are important to you, you are smart, and you are there for your kids. I find that impressive.

  26. Kim B.
    Kim B. says:

    I think when the tv people say you have the big career women want, they mean you are more like an anti-Sheryl Sandberg/Melissa Meyer. They play an old game by others’ rules.

    If, according to Forbes, entrepreneurship is the new women’s movement, then you are a pioneer of redesigning the game to suit both your aspirations for an influential, fulfilling career without being an absent parent. And making up the rules as you go along so it’s messy.

    That autonomy and flexibility is what women want and it fits nicely with the tv trend of anti-hero storytelling that has started to embrace complex, courageous and uncompromising female leads such as Lena Dunham’s Girls or Mike White’s Enlightened.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This comment makes me feel like I’m back in grad school. I took this course about analyzing 50s and 60s Hitchcock movies in the context of 70s deconstructionism and the 80s gay rights movement and it was just mind-blowing how the professor could draw connections. You are that for TV. You should teach a graduate course :)


      • John
        John says:

        I went to film school years ago, and yes, many of the classes were exactly like that comment.

        In one class, a film theory professor, who had built his career on arcane analyses of Orson Welles, spent an hour boringly propounding his wackadoo theory that the direction doors swung in Welles’ scenes stood for an elaborate sexual subtext. At the end of the hour, I asked him if he had ever asked Welles if this theory was true (as Welles was still very alive at this point.)

        He turned red with shame, and muttered that he had tried to talk with Welles once at a seminar, but that Welles didn’t make time for him.

        This guy was a TENURED PROFESSOR at what people think is the best film school in the world.

        • Kim B.
          Kim B. says:

          Yikes, guys. Arcane academia. That’s worse than tv people! Thanks for that.

          Good luck, Penelope. Hopefully it’s HBO. :)

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      This is very interesting because on the homeschooling blog Penelope talks (often) about things not being ideal. They have the amazing benefits of unschooling/parent working at home but also the high price paid.

      Whether you are working from or absent from the kids there’s a price to pay for greatness. And I don’t think that any redesign of the rules will every get rid of this pain. But it’s okay.
      That’s why some people are great; they are wiling to pay the price.

  27. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    The chosen “city shoes” really made me laugh. I love this post, I think it’s a new favorite.

  28. Sophie
    Sophie says:

    Oh Penelope- we’ve missed you! I’ve been using your pithy commentary to get me smiling through a tricky spot. . .but I guess it was still good because with you hiding, I’ve had no one to distract me from the fact that I’m hiding in a job that used to be perfect but isn’t. Still glad you’re back. . .

  29. Leah McClellan
    Leah McClellan says:

    Beautiful. Why do so many say people only skim blog posts? I read every word.

    Teared up at the photo of the cows and (I guess) your youngest. So sweet. Like they’re all acting like moms and moving in to take care of him.

    Thanks–good stuff. Yes, April is the Cruelest Month (TS Eliot).

  30. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    Oh Penelope, I’m so so happy to see you coming out of your hiding place and posting on this blog again. I’ve been worried about you. Welcome to Spring from Australia, where we’re heading to Fall and then Winter.

    You know you’re a successful woman. Successful in the traditional sense (as the TV producer says), judging by your income, the coaching you’re doing and etc. And successful in the unconventional sense, too, doing what you love, which is writing, and writing about topics you’re passionate about, like career and especially education. And you’re changing people’s lives.

    We all have our insecurities from time to time. But isn’t it a scientific or biological (or whatever the term is) fact that we are only utilizing a small portion of our ability? So there’s always room for even bigger things :)

  31. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    I kept checking for posts and then telling myself that you were just busy with your new webinars, because you post less when you’re working on those. But now I realize that I was worried about you, because you always hide when you’re processing. Busy doesn’t keep you from posting, processing does.

    Glad you worked through it and are okay.

  32. cory
    cory says:

    I don’t know that the comparisons to Sandberg and Meyer are that crazy. If you think about it, you are doing more for people at a personal and individual level (via your blogs, coaching, etc) than either Sandberg and Meyer. As an example, you haven’t posted in a month and you’ve gotten 42 comments to this post alone, all of which were positive and supporting you from people who you’ve impacted in a meaningful way.

    Regardless of any comparisons, it sounds like you know pretty well who you are, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. You’ve been focusing on what you do best and have been making an impact. To that end, what does it matter what a TV producer says? And even if it does matter, why should it keep you from what you do best and from avoiding the place where you have the most support?

    I guess that’s the struggle. Knowing what’s important and the battle against the forces (emotional and otherwise) keeping you from doing those things. I guess the take away is that when dealing with those things, it may help to remember that you’ve got an entire community of people you’ve positively impacted ready and willing to support you through whatever you’re going through. Welcome back.

  33. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    My favourite posts of yours are when I get to see the farm, your husband and your kids. And when you left that comment on mine the other day I thought “When was the last time she wrote a post, I miss them”.

    You’re always so good at the real and revealing part too! Great headline Penelope!

  34. Janet
    Janet says:

    I’ve been checking back and check back and am so happy to see a post. Thank you for always having the courage to share. Your post was exactly what I needed to read today.

  35. hoongyee
    hoongyee says:

    so true about the cost of cowering in the corner because you don’t want to look spring, or transition, in the eye with a steady gaze.

    i just finished serving on the transition team for mayor diblasio in new york and in my experience, building a new city with commissioners and all kinds of fancy titled people is no different than rolling fences or gathering eggs. did i make the right recommendation, did i sound like an idiot, how do i know this is the right person, how the heck am i supposed to know how to pick a police commissioner? it’s all a new game each season, each term.

    you can be coaching, gathering investors, or creating a city government. these are all glorious acts of growth fueled by our indomitable natural cycles of change if we embrace the challenges of the spring.

    just as that great photo of your boys’ stylish shoe selections remind us, what we are fearful of is not the transition but what that new and unexpected change could look like! and what is wrong with bold, unapologetic and colorful?

    why fear transition?

    why transition when you can transform?

  36. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    It’s amazing what yours sons are picking-up and re-appropriating just from listening in on your coaching calls. Ok, so for your next few calls, maybe it’s time for you to stop using the word ‘buttface’.

  37. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    I love the insight about farmers and fences. In the last 18 months we’ve started keeping chickens and my husband has had at least 3 rounds doing and redoing the fencing. I think he’ll like the reassurance that that is par for the course when it comes to keeping animals.

  38. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Thank you for finally updating the career blog! I know revolutionizing home schooling is all you can think about these days, but keep throwing us 20 somethings a bone please.

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