Penelope Trunk on Work-Life Balance: Pay With Your Life to Be Able to Work


Penelope Trunk, the formerly respected career blogger whose brand of unflinching pragmatism began veering into a quite dark place around a half-decade ago—when she 1) live-tweeted a miscarriage during a board meeting 2) posted nude photos of her bruised body after an alleged, shocking incident of domestic violence 3) advised all women to get plastic surgery, etc—has written a blog post responding to the recent blanket of dread that has settled upon all privileged and over-achieving strivers after the brutally depressing New York Times piece on Amazon’s labor practices came out last week.

That piece, as a reminder, was an extended case study of Amazon’s Bezos-induced managerial psychosis—the kind only available to people who worship the exploitative potential of late capitalism and find the actual idea of empathy to be a joke. It was all, “Grown men cry at their desks every day,” as well as:

A woman who had breast cancer was told that she was put on a “performance improvement plan” — Amazon code for “you’re in danger of being fired” — because “difficulties” in her “personal life” had interfered with fulfilling her work goal.


“One time I didn’t sleep for four days straight,” said Dina Vaccari, who joined in 2008 to sell Amazon gift cards to other companies and once used her own money, without asking for approval, to pay a freelancer in India to enter data so she could get more done. “These businesses were my babies, and I did whatever I could to make them successful.”

Etc. In response, Trunk says:

There are lots of people talking about how bad this environment is. But I have to say, I like it. I like the honesty.

She sounds like she’s quoting from “The Penal Colony,” but anyway. Trunk continues: “Amazon lays bare some truths about the workplace that other companies try to cover up. But if we could all be honest about work, we could all make better decisions about what we want for our lives.”

We could also, you know, try to resist systematic labor bleeding that’s pervaded our culture to the point where some of the most empowered white-collar workers in America are weeping beneath their desks in order to figure out ways to get Minion dildos out to your mom’s front door in 30 minutes or less—but, no, when something’s very obviously bad, the thing to do is not to fight it; just accept it. Trunk writes:

1. People should pay a premium for a regular paycheck.
If you have ever tried working for yourself, you know that having a reliable paycheck, no matter what happens each week, is a great feeling. The stability of that paycheck ripples into the rest of your life, enabling stability in many other places. Additionally, you get paid without taking on any risk. There are very few situations where we can make money without taking risk. Working for someone else’s company is one of them.
In this way, it makes sense to me that you get paid well, and you get paid reliably, so you need to put the company before your personal life. If you want to give up getting paid well, or you want to give up getting paid reliably, then you can have some of your personal life back. That seems fair.

Let’s hear one of those sentences again: “In this way, it makes sense to me that you get paid well, and you get paid reliably, so you need to put the company before your personal life.

This is… a plantation owner’s logic!

Trunk—of course, and dismally—is not wrong about this being how work-life “balance” currently works and lives. 34 percent of the labor force is freelance and real wages are stagnant-slash-falling, making reliable and decent paychecks rare indeed; the average workweek is climbing up to 50 hours, and 18 percent of full-time workers clock 60 or more hours per week. But when life gives you lemons, is your only option really to take those lemons up the ass and blog about it?

Trunk’s post, appears, naturally, on LinkedIn, which is not where she wrote “I Think Marissa Mayer Has Asperger’s,” but it is where she wrote “Why 9/11 Gives Meaning To Your Work.”

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Penelope Trunk

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