Penelope is very open about her disdain for traditional career advice that might have mattered in another era but is outdated today. Instead she advocates that workers adopt an approach with the needs of today's workforce.
1. What has happened in the past 20 years to require a new approach to job/career hunting and what are some of the old rules that we need to toss out the window?
Trunk: There is no longer a ladder to climb that will occupy us in our work for forty years. So we have to find stability from within ourselves instead of from a company, and we also have to create our own challenges since a company is not responsible for our long-term development.
2. A generation ago "midlife crisis" was at the center of popular culture; now "quarter-life crisis" is working its way into mass awareness. Are they different aspects of the same existential dissatisfaction, or do you think each generation's problems are uniquely their own?
Young people have a much better chance of averting the quarterlife crisis than baby boomers had avoiding the midlife crisis. The crisis comes from not giving enough time and thought to figuring out who you are and what you need. We know now that if you take the time to earnestly do that, and you give yourself the chance to explore and make mistakes, then you probably won’t have a crisis.
3. What is "success" in the first decade of the 21st century?
Finding a place where you feel like you fit, at least for a bit. It’s not small task. It requires knowing about yourself and the world and figuring out the contexts that feel most right to you. And accepting that all that changes. For me, success is finding stability inside myself to have a sort of peace of mind while everything is shifting all the time.
4. You describe Gen X/Y as different from their boomer parents in that they will hop from job-to-job until they find work that will satisfy them. Is this a response to how they were raised (coddled and over-scheduled by “helicopter parents”), a reflection of their parents’ values (the 60’s generation), or a rebellion against the “organization man” existence they saw their workaholic parents maintain?
It’s a response to their parents telling them that their time is valuable and meaningful and that learning is a great thing to do with ones time. So young people expect to not waste their time doing stupid , meaningless work. The propensity is to job hop when there is no personal growth. This should come as a surprise to no one. If a baby boomer saw their kid watching TV after school, the baby boomer would say, “Get off the sofa and do something productive with yourself.” Their kids have internalized this value.
5. Your advice in many situations would be, I think, "don't look to your job for (happiness / fulfillment / status ...)." People didn't used to expect much more out of work than a check and security. What happened?
People realized that meaningless, unfulfilling work is a sad way to spend life. So there was a big movement, especially among Gen-Xers to do what you love to do – focus on fulfillment not money. Now we know, from positive psychology research, that fulfillment comes from personal relationships more than it comes from work. So we can all be more fulfilled now that we know were to look. This doesn’t mean that deadening jobs are good. It means that a job can’t make a life.
6. Are young workers putting too much pressure on themselves to find careers that are “fun, fulfilling, and accommodating for outside interests” at a time that it’s hard to just find a starter job that isn’t being outsourced to India? Is there something to be said for “paying your dues” and not expecting so much from an employer from the start?
There is nothing to be said for paying one’s dues. I don’t see the point. Paying for what? There is not a reliable ladder to climb to get to the reward. There is something to be said for laying off the deep soul search and just taking a job. Your job does not have to be your soul mate. And anyway, it’s very hard to guess what we’re going to like before we try it. So start trying stuff. Even jobs that you really don’t like will teach you something about yourself and about the workplace and will help you zero in on what would be right for you.
7. Are today’s workers setting themselves up to be disappointed when in 10-20 years hit midlife and look back and wonder why they are as fulfilled as they “should” be given all of the effort they put into finding a fulfilling life path?
We are all disappointed after 20 years. Anyone who isn’t disappointed is dishonest with themselves. Life is hard. It’s full of tradeoffs. We all struggle to align our tradeoffs with our values and still it is disappointing to have to say no to things.
8. How does your approach apply to women in middle age returning to the work force after taking time off to raise a family?
If men cut back their careers at the same time that women did, and they shared childcare responsibilities, then women would not have this problem because women would work part time and men would work part time.
9. Looking in your crystal ball, any predictions about what will be different when the children of Generation X and Y enter the work-force?
It will be totally unacceptable for people with children to work 80 hour weeks. Society will not tolerate it and people will not delude themselves that somehow that is okay for their kids.(from interview at LifeTwo)