“Your post just destroyed Melissa’s life.” This is the email I got from my friend Melissa‘s fiance, Steven, who is now her ex-fiance.

He did not like the post I wrote.

Before you tell me that I’m a terrible person for writing the post I want you to know that Melissa’s therapist read the post that same day and told her, “Penelope saved your life. That post is the only thing that made Steven angry enough for you guys to call off the engagement.”

So, the truth is that Melissa and Steven were good together as long as there was nothing hard to decide. You don’t really know if someone is good for you until there is something really hard—like telling Steven’s mom that Melissa was not going to have a Catholic wedding.

You don’t really know someone until you know their level of resilience. People can fake emotional stability, but when life brings challenges, resilience is what allows you to maintain a sense of well-being when you deal with the challenge. There are five key characteristics of maintaining your resilience. Read more

See that picture of my son?  I tell him all the time he is not being nice. “Be nice.” I tell him. “If you are not nice then people won’t like you.” So he surprised me by writing it on his hand.

An example of him not being nice is that he doesn’t see that when people play a game together, they care if the other person has fun even though both people try to win. My son does not understand this nuance. So he seems mean. But mean is actually a really complicated intention that people with Aspergers Syndrome don’t have. I have Aspergers as well, so I understand that to my son it looks like a time waste to be intentionally mean. Being direct is so much easier.

This is true for me, as well. For instance, as I have become completely obsessed with my research about homeschooling, I have discovered that the top-tier universities are set up to favor homeschoolers over everyone else. And the most expensive private schools are aware of this and they are switching over to a homeschool model. Read more

We are in a drought. Not a metaphorical drought. That’s for city people. We are in a drought that is crop failure.

I’ve read a lot about the Dust Bowl during the Depression. My favorite book is a children’s book. And, let me just say that I mostly read children’s books. It makes sense, because I’ve been reading below grade level for my whole life.

I remember in fifth grade when I tested at the eighth grade reading level and I wanted to die every time I got pulled out for the gifted reading program because the reading was too difficult for me.

Now I know why. So much of literary fiction depends on the reader understanding the language of nonverbal communication. Like, in The Reader, I didn’t discover the protagonist was illiterate until the end. Too many of the clues were nonverbal.

So I have been comfortable reading below grade level forever. I’m a big fan of learning about history through children’s books. Here’s a totally great one about slavery. I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you have a 6-10 year old you should just buy the book. Read more

When I moved to the farmhouse, I first replaced myself with a new CEO for my company, and then started reading enough about interior design to get a degree in the subject, if I believed in graduate degrees. I became enthralled with Steampunk as a way to blend the rustic nature of my surroundings with my fascination with putting objects with an old purpose into homes for a new purpose.

Steampunk is the updated yet still-dated look of the Industrial Age. A recent Harvard Business Reivew has a timeline of business. I was surprised to remember that the Industrial Age was actually during the aftermath of the Civil War. The timeline also shows the Space Age, which, by the way, Restoration Hardware has interpreted in a genius way so as to be able to sell to interior design mavens with a fetish for mid-century modern.

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Fortune magazine has started reporting about family in corporate life.

We all know corporate jobs are messed up. Fortune magazine is a monument to how messed up corporate life really is. In November, Fortune wrote that the company that Sheryl Sandberg, a working mom, runs, has employees “on lockdown” and their kids come to the office to say goodnight before bed.

In December Fortune reported that to get his almost-top spot at GE, John Krenicki relocated his family 11 times while the kids were growing up. Working at GE requires the same type of sacrifice from a family that the US expects from military officers. Read more

I love watching people lie. I know that I probably have the same feelings the liars do, the feeling of being stuck. I like to think about what I do when I have that feeling, how people cope with it, and how much pain we can handle before we become our worst selves.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about these lies and the feelings that provoke them:

1. The lie about expectations. 
Have you heard of Ashley Madison? It’s the site that caters to married people who want to cheat on their spouse. We could debate about the ethics of that business model (or this one), but I think Ashley Madison might have made up for their questionable ethics by using their data to provide one of the biggest insights to marriage problems that I’ve read in a while:

Guess which is the second most popular day of the year for women to sign up for Ashley Madison? Read more

Photo by Roz Joseph c. 1970

It used to be that the reason people hated me was because I offended them. Poor social skills. I’m sure you can imagine, but if you can’t, here’s the post about how I spoke at a women in business blogging event and I offended everyone by telling them that their blogs sucked and how to fix them.

Maybe I should set up a coaching business where I tell people how to fix their blogs, but really, most people don’t want to know. It’s like going to couples therapy. It’s a lot of work. And there’s always the hope that great sex can make up for everything else. People strive to write the blog equivalent of great sex.

1. Understand your personal style for bad behavior.
Anyway, the way I offend people today is different. Because I’m much more conscious of my lousy social skills, and I’m always trying hard to compensate for them. So my new way to offend people is to have terrible followthrough.

In case you are wondering how bad it is to have terrible followthrough, it’s one of the five most damaging deficits you can have in the workplace. Read more

In the airport a fight attendant said to my six-year-old son, “Where are you going today?”

He said, “California.”

She said, “You’re a lucky boy!”

He said, “Actually, I’m really tired of going to airports with my mom.”

This is because I’ve been taking him on all my business trips. And he is learning something important about business travel: It’s really, really hard to do a lot of it, and you need a strategy. To be sure, there are people who travel almost every day of the year. I think they’re nuts. They don’t have a life. I’m talking about people who travel two or three times a month, which I’ve done, on and off, for a long time. Those trips take a toll, and you need a plan to keep yourself sane.

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Executive function means being able to see the big picture and sort through details to arrive at a good decision. You probably have met more than a few people with very poor executive function. This person is probably very smart but seemingly incompetent in one area—often at work, or in daily life skills, or both. Executive function disorder is common among people with Asperger Syndrome.

I have terrible executive function. Sometimes I make decisions that are so bad that I look like I’m being ridiculous on purpose. It’s simply unbelievable to many people that I could make such incompetent decisions. But in the moment, I can’t see it.

To be sure, I can see it in other people. When I’m coaching others I can tell within five minutes if I’m dealing with someone with poor executive function. Many times I have said, “The crux of your career problems is that you have an executive function problem.” And after the person does a bit of searching on Google, they thank me over and over again for helping them understand why their life felt like it was falling apart and they couldn’t stop it.

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Phone call. It’s Melissa.

“Hi,” she says. “Can I come see you today? I can get a flight out of Austin at 5pm.”

Of course I say yes. I assume she is breaking up with her boyfriend because she’s pretty much agoraphobic except for going to the stable to ride her horse or going to the office for her job. Both of which require only sporadic household departures.

“No. Everything is great,” she says. She explains that she has decided to try Adderall. She popped one pill at 9am. At 9:30 she felt a tightening in her stomach and a rush in the front of her head. At 9:50 she called me.

I am upset that she discovers all the good things before I do. When I was 27, why was I not finding fun pharmaceuticals to improve my wellbeing?

1. Judge your pharmaceutical choices by deciding if you attract good people when you are on the medication.

The update from Melissa – besides that she is finding the perfect drug regimen for herself – is that she has a boyfriend.

Actually she moved in with him. Here she is painting his bedroom.

But I don’t want you to think I’ve been holding out on reporting this. I wrote the Melissa-has-a-boyfriend post but by the time I was ready to finish it, they were practically married and the post seemed outdated.

Not that I actually wrote that post. But I thought about it. I thought about it every time some guy would send me an email asking if Melissa is single. I should turn my blog into a dating site because Melissa has had a lot of offers. And I keep thinking I need to write a post about how she has a boyfriend, but then I think, what if the boyfriend doesn’t work out? I don’t want to kill her chances for finding someone through my blog. Read more