Rebuttal to Penelope Trunk: Redefining Life’s Blueprint

trent-bday.jpg

By Heidi Isern (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0) I live in an amazing ecosystem of women who defy convention, reinvent the rules, and passionately take risks to better the world around them.

This isn’t everyone’s habitat and the team at Women 2.0 brought it to my attention. We were sent "A Blueprint for a Woman’s Life” by Penelope Trunk. It wasn’t any blueprint I wanted, nor a doctrine I wanted the women I care about to pay attention to. Perhaps she wrote it to incite controversy and its natural follower, dear ol’ fame. Perhaps she really believes in her words. Perhaps she had a bad day.

I found her ‘blueprint’ not only useless but also misleading advice for women who want to achieve success. As women, the worst thing we can do is strive to get ahead by being like men or bending to societal pressures. Our value comes in our femininity and doing things differently.

There isn’t one blueprint for life. There are millions. That’s the best part of being a woman in modern society. We can each create our own master plan. Penelope lists 12 points in her blog post. Point by point I will provide a counter to show that there are other alternatives:

  1. Do less homework. Penelope states that we should never be the hardest worker in class because men get ahead by playing sports and video games, not scholastics. Men also have fewer college degrees and are starting to earn less money than women. Why would we follow that? Education has always been the best way to end discrimination and level the playing field. Of course we should kick ass on the soccer field, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for academic excellence at the same time.
  2. Get plastic surgery. The article claims it’s our only way to get ahead in careers and dating. If we bend to this than we are just supporting the notion that we should be valued for our outside, not our inside. Now, I cannot say that I’m going to turn down beauty enhancements as I get older, but I feel the same way about cosmetic enhancements as I feel about lacey lingerie. First and foremost do it for yourself, not for anyone else. True beauty and confidence comes within…the rest is just icing on our beautiful cake.
  3. Go to business school right out of the gate. Penelope claims women should start a MBA right after they’ve finished college without any relevant work experience. Having a MBA myself, I know that I would have added little value to my classmates, let alone gotten as much out of the program had I not been in the workforce prior. If you really want to use the MBA program as a way to obtain your Mrs. Title (as Penelope suggests) then skip the $100K in student loans and just go to MBA parties and get wildly drunk with those studying investment banking. Much cheaper.
  4. Start early to look for a husband seriously. Penelope says that our 20s is the best husband hunting time. However, our 20s is also the time for self development. Personally, I think our focus should be on ourselves and our dreams while we are young and full of energy. If true love happens, it will because we are at our best. As I wrote in "Happily Ever After", that timeframe is different for everyone. From my own observation the men that love us, love us because we have our own life outside of them. I never believed in the Jerry Maguire, “You complete me” romance. We should complete ourselves so we can fully give to a partnership, not depend on it to define us.
  5. Milk maternity leave for all it’s worth. Penelope pretty much tells us to pick a career that gives a year off and is required to take us back. Shouldn’t we instead pick a career where we excel so we will be coveted for our skill set in a variety of places when we’re ready to start working again? (a timeframe, which again, is different for everyone. Some women need years with their children, others go crazy after spending a mere month home). My good girlfriend quit her job to have two babies. As she re-enters the workplace, her phone won’t stop ringing as multiple companies want her brainpower and powerful resume.
  6. Guard your marriage obsessively. I was ready to agree with her until she wrote, “This means that the wife needs to just bite the bullet and maintain the marriage.” Isn’t marriage is a joint union where both parties make sacrifices? As opposed to “guard obsessively” shouldn’t we say “work together with dedication.” We don’t live in the sixties anymore. It’s not all on the woman to make things work.
  7. Practice austerity. Penelope tells us to be frugal. But….how do you be frugal while undergoing all of those cosmetic surgery enhancements she recommends? Life is a worthwhile experience and some of my craziest expenditures (that whirlwind trip to Bali, that dinner at French Laundry, those pairs of 5 inch Manolos) were worth every penny. Much more than injections in my forehead. Austerity is a tricky beast to pin down and a very boring attribute for life maximizers. Life is short. Spend money.
  8. Do a startup with a guy. Maybe. But as a member of Women 2.0, I can point to many successful teams of women leaders. She claims that a woman co-founder won’t work as hard as a man because she’ll be on the baby track. She forgets that not all women are on the baby track. Women have proven time and time again to be excellent multi-taskers, with and without babies. My friend Maria Sipka, founder of Linqia is a prime example. She runs a company while passionately caring for her baby daughter.
  9. If you can’t get men to do a startup with you, do a lifestyle business. Lifestyle businesses are great. I have one now. But I didn’t start it because I couldn’t find a man to work with. In fact, my next few ventures (non lifestyle) will be with all women teams. No one is on a pure ‘baby track’ and all are able to achieve amazing things while maintaining a balanced life.
  10. Homeschool. Your kids will be screwed if you don’t. There are numerous types of education and children benefit from all forms. Each family needs to make the best decision for itself. Personally I would want my children to encounter as many other types of children from various backgrounds at school so that their lives are as rich as possible. I have never believed in isolation.
  11. Spend money on household help and Botox to keep more doors open longer. Again, Penelope claims that plastic surgery is a must do unless we want to fade into irrelevance. I would say continue to do amazing things and the doors will stay open on their own. Frozen facial features don’t get you promotions. Hard work does.
  12. Break the mold in your 40s. She claims that women become unhappy as they get older and there is no good news about women in their 40s. However, I know plenty of happy and unhappy people at every age. The great thing about getting older (30, 40, and beyond) is that it comes with accomplishment and confidence if you keep doing what you believe in and loving the people you are with. So dear Penelope I say break the mold every day, every year until you are 99.

This post was originally posted at Heidi Isern's blog.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Heidi Isern is a writer, strategist and entrepreneur who is based in San Francisco, California. She is the founder of Chameleon Endeavors, a boutique consulting firm that helps both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies grow their brands. In addition to working with Women 2.0, she also sits on the advisory board of the Fearless Women’s Entrepreneur Network and is a regular contributor to blogs and online publications that serve women’s audiences. Follow her on Twitter at @hisern.