Penelope’s best posts of 2014

Here they are: The five posts from 2014 that had the most readers.

What does it really mean to work full time?

Leaving your options sets you back

Men with families feel more trapped than ever. Here’s how to fix that.

3 Cheers for women who say they don’t want to work. At least they’re honest.

5 Traits of high earners that will make you not want to be one

All five of the posts in this list are about people grappling with the expectations we put on smart people.

And all five posts grew out of coaching, because the people I coach are amazing. They are generally very smart and thoughtful. And they have the self-assurance to be able to withstand my blunt conversation.

Most people send me thank you notes. A lot of those people who send thank you notes also end up saying it was not what they expected, and they cry.

I tell you this to let you know how hard the problems are that we are all dealing with. The expectation that if you are smart you will have a great career is a really messed-up expectation. Because it assumes there is only one path for smart people (big career) and also it assumes that we know what a great career looks like (full-time? part-time? linear? non-linear?).

Expectations around what smart people should be able to accomplish seem to me to be the cause of adult-life disappointment. Because the expectations are not reasonable. And when I look closely I see that’s because school teaches you that if you are smarter than most people, and you show it in achievement-oriented, measurable ways, then you will have a good life, which equals a good career.

So this year our discussions have focused on what, exactly, does it mean to have a good career? And what does it mean to live adult life as a smart person? We are all on a quest, I think, to define success for ourselves. It’s a scary prospect because often we don’t believe our own standards are valid. But if we don’t keep working on that, we risk living someone else’s idea of a good life.

In other news, the most popular course of the year was:

Understand Your Child’s Personality Type and Be a Better Parent

This is notable for three reasons:

1. The course hasn’t even happened yet (it is live starting Jan. 5), so it’s still selling a lot (hooray).

2. I convinced Paul Tieger to do the course with me. He’s by far the biggest authority on parenting and personality type, and he declines all invitations. Which means this year I mastered the art of the ass-kissing email by not looking too kissy.

3. I’m admitting what the most popular course is. For most of my career, I have tried not to talk about myself as a parent. In the past I’d have skipped telling you the most popular course.

But I’m happy. I’m happy that the posts that have been the most popular have also been ones I’ve loved writing. And I’m happy that the course that was most exciting for me to put together this year is the one you guys are excited about as well.



16 replies
  1. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I have read your blog for the past 5 years and always enjoyed your perspective. 4 months ago I became a mother for the first time and your posts from this year have really hit home. I have a big career and also want to be mom who’s all in (I sit here typing this on my lunch break with my baby sleeping in my lap…) some days I want to be a stay at home mom and others I want to send him to daycare so I’m not working all day AND spending each and every break with him and giving the nanny a break. The strangest part is I really don’t know yet which path I actually want to take vs. what I feel I’m supposed to do according to societal expectations as a smart person and mother… Looking forward to more posts in 2015!

  2. Annie Kip
    Annie Kip says:

    You scare me and I adore you, Penelope! The things you have to say are hard to hear, but so true. You have been able to articulate the most slippery of conundrums I face – struggling with what it means to me to have a good life. Even choosing which website (my blog or my professional site) to put in the Comment box was difficult – which tells me I am really unfocused. I don’t know how to integrate all the parts of myself into a focused life/work/family picture that works, but reading your postsmakes me want to keep trying to figure it out. You make it seem possible.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Of course I had to click to see what site you left in the comment box. And I LOV YOUR SITE. Everyone should click. And it’s beautiful.

      It’s commentary on the world, really. Becuase it has the format of a Pintrest page, where it’s all kinds of stuff you want to buy, but instead, this is all kinds of stuff Annie is thankful for. The site is lovely, and it’s on my top ten deconstructivist social commentaries of web design for 2014.


  3. Ann
    Ann says:

    Happy New Year, Penelope! Yours is my favorite blog. I don’t follow many, and most I skip if I’m having a busy life. However, I always read yours. I’m a baby-boomer, so at the other end of my career life, but find it helpful to hear your perspective. I’ve also gotten some great career advice from you.

    Top tip from you: Don’t quit, let them fire you. By following your advice, rather than quit and feel self-satisfied, I waited them out (while continuing to do a good job), and received 2 months severance. I now have a successful consulting job (my own company), working part time from home AND the last I heard my replacement at the last job had to hire another person to assist her to the job I was doing! So, big ‘Thank You”!

    I’m looking forward to your 2015 posts.

  4. Paula Prober
    Paula Prober says:

    Penelope. I love your humor and your writing style. When I first discovered your blog I went back and read the whole story of you and the farmer. I want to hear more from you about “smart people” and “expectations.” It’s an important topic that isn’t written about a lot because of the discomfort people have talking about smartness. There are lots of expectations placed on smart people, not just around careers. (by others and themselves) Thanks for writing on this!

  5. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    To downplay the (positive) impact that your blog has had on my life within the last year….would be dishonest and disrespectful.

    So thank you….(and let’s just blanket it and say)…for everything.

    Happy New Year Penelope :)

  6. through my autistic eyes
    through my autistic eyes says:

    A person can be a genuis, extremely talented in someone like art, and find it so difficult to find a job in this particular area. being talented isn’t enough. your talent has to be in demand.

    A good career is making a lot of money in society’s eyes, but what about enjoying your career, loving it, feeling you’ve made a difference? like a social worker who find abused children good and loving homes, and help them mend their lives. However, this kind of job wouldn’t pay much more than minimum wage.

    It’s usually the developed left sided part of the brain that gets you a good job, like computers. Those of us who are excellent in animals psychology usually struggle, unless you’re Temple Grandin.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I actually think the homeschool movement is going to lead the way in changing this. The only way society can start respecting people for right-sided brain jobs is if we give kids an education that respects right-sided brain skills. Schools cannot do this – the teacher:student ratios are tipped too far in favor of group learning in desks.


  7. lindsey
    lindsey says:

    I will never tire of hearing you say that there is more than one path and it is okay for your career to be what you want it to be, and not what everyone else says you are “capable of.”

  8. kats
    kats says:

    Penelope, I have been reading your site for three years and have only fairly recently begun to comment. Perhaps that is because I was homeschooling. It took me by surprise, so I was always on the search for resources or replying to something or someone regarding homeschooling my son, so I never took the time to comment.
    Now I am having a “mini empty-nest” experience and again developing my work. Not only is my son in school, he is also in adolescence and individuating. I always, in my mind, thought this would be easy, but it isn’t. Knowing how to be does not always make it easy.
    I appreciate this forum. When I am having a less than a “feeling happy, joyous and free” kind of day, coming to your site is like a support group. When my mind is not the best place to hang out, it helps to read your posts and the comments. Thank you!
    One of my favorite quotes of all time, is from the Dalai Lama, and I want to share it for anyone for whom this has meaning:
    ” Never Give Up: no matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart. Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart. Develop the heart. Be compassionate, not just to your friends, but to everyone. Be compassionate. Work for peace in your heart and in the world. Work for peace, and I say again, Never give up. No matter what is happening, no matter what is going on around you, never give up.”
    So this quote is my “Happy New Years” present to all of you, including me. Whenever I read this quote, on my wall in the bedroom, it reminds me of what is really important.

  9. malaika
    malaika says:

    oh! I can really identify with those expectations of smart people. I come from a family with ten generations of “smart people” and feeling uncomfortable to now break out of the mould of white collar, “big career” jobs to go work on a farm and spend my days painting. and even when I am doing that, I am wondering to myself, shouldn’t I be in a meeting in town making a presentation about something?
    thank you for talking about this!

  10. Yasmin
    Yasmin says:

    Happy New Year Penelope! I am an admirer of your blog for your honesty, provacative ideas and willingness to get the reader thinking. Our journeys are all similar and the same struggles provide a common thread for all of us. I am from NYC, but all the points hit home and I remain a loyal reader :-)

  11. Herb
    Herb says:

    Happy New Year Penelope! Absolutely one of the best blogs on internet. Thank You for the productive ideas and joy of life. Will keep reading your blog in year 2015.

  12. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    I have enjoyed reading your blog for years. Your writing is always fresh and relevant to so many aspects of life. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to us!

  13. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I figured out last year that this is my exact problem, and I am so profoundly disappointed in what to me is a failed career in accounting, that I don’t know how to move forward. This and the fact that nothing will ever be as fulfilling and challenging as piano, which I studied for fun in college.

    You summed it up perfectly with this sentence:

    Expectations around what smart people should be able to accomplish seem to me to be the cause of adult-life disappointment. Because the expectations are not reasonable. And when I look closely I see that’s because school teaches you that if you are smarter than most people, and you show it in achievement-oriented, measurable ways, then you will have a good life, which equals a good career.

  14. Max
    Max says:

    Dear Penelope,
    reading your blog for a couple months now, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for your articles and the precise, innovative and truly inspiring content. I am an editor for a German company that is covering its focus on economy, financial markets and entrepreneurship and your blog has become one of my favourite sites for my daily morning review session. Truly inspiring!
    Keep up the good work! Best regards from Germany,


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