I am coaching Kate. She is 19 and she wants help with her resume.

I do not have her resume in front of me, but it’s okay. I remember it. And anyway, her resume is not her problem. Which is true with most people who ask for help with their resume.

Also, I’m late for the call. Remembering coaching calls at what seem like random times throughout the day is nearly impossible for me.

I tell Kate, “Look. This is not a resume.  It’s like a list of odd jobs your mom asked you to do around the neighborhood. You don’t have a resume.”

She says, “So then what should I do to get a better job?”

I like this about her. She is composed. Not upset that her resume sucks. She just wants to solve the problem.

I pause. I already know that Kate is working for her aunt, so I say, “What about the job you have now? How about doing that to save some money and move to a bigger city?”

“I work for her but she doesn’t pay me.”

“You get room and board? Maybe you could increase the hours and get paid some cash so you could eventually leave.”

“I already work fifteen hours a day in the house.”

“What? That’s not a job. That’s slave labor. Put your aunt on the phone. Your aunt just needs to get you a job. That’s what people do for 19 year olds who need jobs.”

I have done some work with Kate’s aunt before, so it’s fine telling her to get Kate a job. The aunt says okay. Fine. The aunt says thank you.

We are done. In record time. Good. Because I didn’t charge the aunt for the call and I have to stop telling people who are not really friends of mine that I will coach their relatives for free. Everyone is a relative of someone.

Then another call. A week later. The aunt does not have a lead. I make a note to myself to not work with her again because she told me she was very well connected. I think she is maybe delusional.

The aunt says she is going to sell Kate her car so she can buy a new car.

Kate has no money. She cannot make payments. And she cannot get a job unless the aunt will give her the car. And the aunt makes a lot of money, so this makes no sense. I eat while I am on the phone and I tell myself that if I were my career coach I’d say I need a job that doesn’t make me so anxious. I don’t want to eat on calls. I want to be relaxed with no food issues.

So what am I doing with these calls? This job is ruining my life because soon, I won’t fit into my clothes.

I say I have to go. I tell Kate she needs to be okay relying on her aunt to get her a job. “That’s what all teenagers do—they use their parents’ network to get a job. It’s fine.”

I make two grilled cheeses to transition to alone time.

Then it’s the next week. It’s Kate on the phone.

I say, “How’s the job hunt?”

She says, “Not that good.”

“It takes time,” I say. “Give it a few more weeks. Did your aunt get you any interviews? You only need one. You’ll get the job if you get the interview. I can tell. You’re good on the phone.”

“I can’t really wait a week. I need something now.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have anywhere to live.”

“What about your aunt? “

“She threw me out.”

“What do you mean?”

“She packed all my stuff into garbage bags and took a picture of them sitting at the end of her driveway.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I have her car to pick up her husband at the airport. She told me to pick him up at the airport then give him the car.”

“Then what?”

“Then I am supposed to just leave. She kicked me out.”

“What about your parents?”

“It’s just my mom. And I can’t live with her.”

I think back to the aunt trying to sell Kate her car.  I decide garbage bags are something my messed-up mom would do. And I think about all the grilled cheeses I’m going to burn trying to figure out how to help Kate.

“I’ll just buy you a plane ticket. Just come to my house.”

Silence.

“Okay?”

“Yes. Okay.”

“Have you ever been on a plane?”

“No.”

“Take a cab to the airport and there will be a ticket waiting for you.”

Silence.

“Have you ever been in a taxi?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have money?”

“Yes.”

“How much?”

“$120.”

“Okay. Go to the airport.”

At dinner I announce that Kate will be here at 11pm. “She is 19 and she’ll be at the house a few weeks,” I tell my husband. “I am getting her a job,” I tell the kids.

The kids ask me why I didn’t give them more notice.

It’s a good point. I say nothing.

My husband says, “You said that about Melissa and she stayed for a year.”

It’s another good point. Again I say nothing.

Kate arrives. She has a very small suitcase and nothing else. She looks tired.  I show her our guest room. Which until one minute ago we called Melissa’s room.

All my stuff is in the drawers and cabinets, but who cares because she is leaving soon and anyway she has basically nothing with her.

She sits down on a chair. I say, “Where are your parents? Why do you have nowhere to go? Why were you living with your aunt?”

Kate’s earliest memory is when she’s in fifth grade. She is living with her mom and sisters at her grandma’s. The grandma won’t let Kate’s sisters eat in the house, so Kate makes sandwiches and sneaks them to her siblings.

Her step-dad is an alcoholic who beats up her mom. Her two older sisters left at 15 and both went into prostitution. Kate tried to stay but her dad hurt her when she tried to protect her mom. And her mom yelled at her when she called the police.

I could only ask disorganized questions. When I could think. I said, “Was there a gun in the house?”

Kate said, “Yes. But it wasn’t a problem because when my step-dad was drunk my mom hid the gun under my bed.”

Kate lived at her sister’s house for a bit. Her sister’s boyfriend beat her sister until she passed out. Kate called 911 and the boyfriend grabbed her phone and threw it against the wall.

Kate went to her other sister’s house. Kate didn’t know her sister was dealing drugs until she called Kate from jail. The sister didn’t want to tell the police that she had two kids, so she asked Kate to take care of the kids while she was in prison.

Kate was 17.

She didn’t graduate from high school because she didn’t go enough days.

She lived at lots of friends’ homes for a week at a time. “But,” she said, “they weren’t friends. I always knew I didn’t want to hang around them. But no one I wanted to be around would be friends with me.”

An hour has passed telling me all this. She is in the same chair the whole time. She is crying.

She says, “I never cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried. I never cry. I’m sorry.”

I tuck Kate in as best I can. I give her some of my clothes to wear.

I go upstairs and wake my husband up. “She’s a mess,” I tell him. “Worse than my childhood.”

He is asleep. Then he pops up from his pillow and asks what could be worse than my own childhood. He sees we are in a different league with Kate. Then he says, “She’s lucky to have found you. You can help her.”

I take a Xanax to fall asleep.

The next morning Kate asks if I have something she can use to write down things so she won’t forget them.

I give her a notebook.

At breakfast I tell the boys. “Kate will be living at our house for a long time. She does not have a place to go.”

“She’s homeless?”

I look at Kate. She looks down at her forkful of eggs.

“Well. She has a home now. We are her home.”

We are driving. The boys ask questions. All day long.

Kate tells them she hates the word homeless because she never was homeless. “I always found a place to sleep,” she says. “But I always worry so much about being homeless so I hate hearing the word.”

We go to buy food Kate likes. And shampoo. My younger son takes her to H&M, his favorite store. He picks out a coat for her. She has never had a winter coat, but her instincts are good. The coat he wanted for her is made for a punk rocker look, someone who is probably about to be homeless. Kate picks conservative blue, button-down.

She is a magnet to my boys. They go where she goes. They don’t want to miss anything.

I cook dinner while my husband finds boots for her to wear so she can help find a lost calf. Kate has a sixth sense for where to look and she finds him in record time.

We all sit down to dinner and my son says, “Kate, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

And Kate says, “I want to be my own person.”

I look over at her and I want to hug her but I’m scared I will scare her. Has anyone ever hugged her? I don’t want her to run.

There are many things about career coaching that I don’t like. I miss calls, my kids overhear too much, and most people don’t have career problems, they just wish they did because career problems are so much easier than life problems. But I actually love career coaching. I love finding out the problem, and I love helping people solve their problems, and I am so happy to be able to help Kate.

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

    Dear Penelope,

    I’m taking your class on Quistic and really enjoyed last night. I couldn’t really read all the action going on with the questions/comments while I was listening to you. I understood and appreciated your overview of how this is going to work and how to implement it in to our own lives. My question was the the last one you answered about how to use our strengths to get out of a rut or perhaps how to maneuver through a life change. I really got it and it has helped me understand some real issues of my own and why they just seem to keep me “stuck” or emotionally leased to situations in my life. I’m excited about the rest of the course.

    I popped on your blog to see if there was any information about the next class. I’m guessing it is…..tonight? Anyway, I just read the piece about Kate. I cried. I understand Kate and where she is in life. I just want to sob with her because I have been her so many years ago. I think you know what I mean too……I’ve read some of your story about your past and to be truthful, sometimes I can’t finish reading it because it makes me too upset and anxious.

    I just wanted to say that I think you are doing something more than filling a gap for her with what you are doing for her. You are truly showing her the kindness and care that you probably craved too – but didn’t get at that age. You are also keeping her SAFE. Safe from so many things that you and I both know are out there and prey upon the most vulnerable and destroy them in more ways than physical. As the mother of 4 children, I am thanking you for your concern for her and going outside of the “norm” and actually walking your talk and taking the risk. She matters…..and thank you for reiterating that to her in a most practical and profound way.

    Cheryl :)
    INFJ and recovering from years of hurt herself

  2. YMKAS
    YMKAS says:

    Hi Kate,

    I normally comment on PT’s education blog. So I’m sure I will get to learn so much more about you there! What a special opportunity for you! I can’t wait to see all the great things that will happen in your future.

    • MBL
      MBL says:

      I hope to see more on the education blog too. What a wonderful opportunity to see how Kate blooms in an unschooling environment that allows her to develop her talents rather than having to focus all of her energy on meeting survival needs.

      Of course she may just need privacy, but I am so hopeful and excited for her!!

  3. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    Penelope, you are amazing. The bravest person I know! You have a ministry of your own. You don’t know it, but you are touching so many people – one person at a time.

  4. Jean
    Jean says:

    Your post reminds me that everyone is a social worker at heart. We all need help sometimes so we all need to learn how to give help effectively. And definitely don’t be afraid to give a hug, especially to someone who has told you their whole story and cried in front of you. Just ask them first if it’s ok.

  5. Tanya H
    Tanya H says:

    What is the saying? One person can’t help everyone, but everyone can help one person. Something to that effect.
    I have no doubt that she will bring to you & your family as much as you will bring to her. If you can help her be her “own person,” you will have served her well.
    I am sending good vibes and prayers for progress to you, your family and Kate.

  6. l aura
    l aura says:

    This reminds me of an autistic lady I know who is a big(ish) name in disability advocacy. I see her on her blog getting frustrated with drama and bs that exists in her sphere and sometimes and she has a variety of struggles but at the bottom line, she knows what is right and what is wrong and she when something is the right thing she can’t do the wrong thing. She may have trouble with her approach some times but when it comes to applying her personal code, she is 100% crystal clear. She sees the truth and she tells it like she sees it and then follows her own advice. I feel like you are like that. Some people would find an excuse to get out of this situation because inconvenience etc. But how can you look at this and see what you can do and then tell yourself some half baked nonsense about what is really important. I may be projecting her personality on you but I have recognized this parallel before. It’s awesome and valuable.

  7. sandy
    sandy says:

    There is absolutely no better person in the world to have as a mentor than someone who sees something in you that you can’t see yourself.

    It’s hard out there to find folks who genuinely want you to do better and that are willing to put some skin in the game.

    Think of that whenever you have doubtful moments. Adjusting to a new environment can be challenging. Don’t let any doubt get in the way; make the best of this opportunity and situation.

    Show yourself and Penelope what you can do and truly what you’re about.

    Can’t wait to see you conquer your fears and challenges and move straight to the top.

    Thanks to both of you for being who you are.

  8. Juana
    Juana says:

    I’ve been reading you for a long time, Penelope, and I read a LOT of blogs and there is no one like you in the blogosphere.

    This post almost made me weep. I hope things work out for Kate, and thanks to you, she will have a chance to be her own person.

  9. Sebastian Aiden Daniels
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels says:

    Wow. You are doing a kind thing for that girl. I hope she makes the most of it and I look forward to hearing more about it in the future. You are right that there are a lot of negatives about anything but it is important to focus on the good things that we love about what we do.

    Thank you for sharing this. It touched my heart.

  10. Denise
    Denise says:

    Wow, that’s quite the story you have here. Its hard to believe that this stuff happens in our own country, but nevertheless, there is hope for humanity. This story was refreshing to see that people actually do care for others.

    Kate- Be confident and strong. You’ll get through this life one way or another – there’s always a place to “sleep”. Penelope has the strength and abilities to help you succeed! Best wishes from all of us readers! Continue on your journey, day to day and never look back – Just keep looking forward for whats to come.

  11. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    Kate, what a great kid you are, really. I can’t imagine a childhood like that and come away so strong. God Bless you. Listen to everything Penelope can teach you.

    Penelope, This is why you’re a coach, ultimately, you love people and you have a BIG heart. Thank you and God Bless.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for saying such a nice thing to Kate, Brenda. And thank to all the other nice comments as well. I say this to Kate all the time – that she is amazing to have gotten through what she did. But it means a lot to her to hear it from someone besides me.

      Penelope

  12. Kris Costello
    Kris Costello says:

    Wow! Penelope that’s the most inspiring, amazing thing, made my day to read it.
    And Kate, wishing you more wonderful people like Penelope and her family in your life.
    Maybe you can put up a list of things that you need to help you get started so that people can help..i.e. Penelope’s site, or Go Fund Me? Just a thought. ox

  13. Christie Myers
    Christie Myers says:

    This is so inspiring and heartwarming. What an amazing gift you are to Kate, and I’m sure she is to you and your family!

    It would be wonderful to read an update.

  14. Liz
    Liz says:

    I’ve wanted to get career coaching from Penelope for a long time. But, even though I might look good sometimes on paper (just had an accidental interview guy go gaga just recently) I feel like a loser a lot of the time. Also, I’m an INFP–I think. But this story has given me new inspiration to just go for it, and get it done. Soon!

    • Liz
      Liz says:

      Just did the Quistic test–yes I am still an INFP after all these years. If Kate had the courage to consult you for career coaching–in her circumstances–then I should too. Thanks, Kate!

  15. t
    t says:

    I either want to be saved like you are saving Kate. Or to save someone so she can hang with me and my kids. It seems like a whole lot of ‘win’ right there.

  16. Mark Newcombe
    Mark Newcombe says:

    Sometimes focusing on one positive thing at work isn’t enough, especially if outside of work things are difficult in life. In those situations we need change.

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