Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


 

Welcome, my little wish-wellingtons! Come, have a seat.

No, really – have a seat, take it with you. Ryan Gosling has been dabbling in carpentry again; he recently gifted me a set of hand-made dining furniture in teak, which I was obliged (with no small measure of politeness) to accept. Unfortunately, everything else in my east wing is Celtic oak – nurtured by druids – and so the décor is now hideously mismatched. The man should stick to eating his cereal, to be honest, and leave my kitchen setting and interior grove to bloom in peace.

Could it be that we’ve entered the second half of the year? It seems almost impossible to conceive. But then, Time is an outrageous visitor, moving as she pleases; if we do not seize the moment, how easily it slips away, unnoticed in the chaos of our lives. Make the most of your time as a student, my darlings. Cherish it, for all its marvels and frustrations. Soon it will be gone – and you’ll be living in the real world, like me, sitting in a room half-decorated in teak. Ugh.

In any case, let us proceed! You have questions, and I have answers. There, at least, is a match made in heaven.

 

Dear Penny,

I missed you so much! In May I often wondered if I would be able to graduate without your wise guidance.

Now that I approach the end of my PhD – despite still having to complete a few small bureaucratic chores such as writing and submitting a thesis – what do you suggest is the highest income/lowest effort career I should pursue? Indeed academia has treated me fairly, though, as many others lament, the student lifestyle isn’t quite as lavish and glamourous as we deserve.

I am willing to look beyond the confines of my tiny cubicle and step in the wide world, ready to make it my own! I know that your advice will be illuminating, as always.

With unending admiration,

Ramen Noodle Diet Isn’t For Me

 

Dear Ramen,

First, let me say how delighted I am to see you use the words, ‘as we deserve’. The reason students work more, struggle more, concede more and accept less is that they habitually undervalue themselves. Life should be lavish and glamourous, so yours is an excellent question. As we grow to appreciate our true self-worth, how do we bring it into alignment with the rest of our lifestyle?

Back in March, I wrote about the benefits and relative ease of internet celebrity, and I’d certainly recommend it here as well. One of the greatest (and most perverse) delights of the digital age is immediacy: it’s now more profitable to film yourself applying makeup in your own bathroom than it is to cure cancer, abolish air pollution or broker peace with a foreign nation. Scientific research is an honourable endeavour – but, alas, honour is no longer a currency we deal in. It’s immediacy we prefer.

The other high-profit / low-effort career I can heartily endorse is life coaching. I myself have been a life coach to the stars for more than a decade now, having discovered it some years ago when I was still Lifestyle Editor for Australian Vogue. Time and again, I saw the same astonishing pattern: an online article would emerge, proclaiming (for instance) that rubbing hummus into your skin while listening to hot jazz would guarantee financial success, and in the blink of an eye, half of Sydney would be feverishly balming themselves with ground-up chickpea and playing Sound Grammar in every room.

You may ask yourself, as I did at the time, where such sorcery originates. Well, the key to this power lies in the self-proclaimed ‘expert’ – some guru whom the author has discovered in their travels to somewhere-or-other and, incapable of keeping such a juicy secret to themselves, decided to share it with the rest of the world. In this case, the ‘expert’ might be an expert in finance, or perhaps in hummus or hot jazz, or some dubious combination of the three. Their exact credentials are irrelevant; most people won’t check, since they are too busy following instructions and telling themselves that, yes, financial success really is this easy, as they’ve been trying to tell their friends for years.

By the time I’d risen to the position of Editor, I’d learned a critical lesson about human beings. As much as we cling to the values of freedom, free will and self-determination, we also desperately want to be told what to do. People seek out a life coach for the same reasons they seek out a religion: because making your own choices, while rewarding, is hard. It’s a far greater relief to submit to the authority of someone else – a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ – and let them make those decisions for you. What to wear, what to work at, what to want.

Now, do not misunderstand me: life coaching, at its heart, is a noble pursuit. I became a life coach because I wanted to help people – people like yourself, seeking clarity in their lives. There are all manner of awful life coaches out there, cynically manipulating their clients for personal profit and prestige, and I certainly do not count myself among them. Indeed, it’s because of these duplicitous fakers that I work so hard at what I do, guiding those under my care with all my years of careful wisdom and experience.

But I also wish to answer your question honestly, and any list of high-profit / low-effort careers would be forever incomplete without this one. You can work hard at it, as I do, and be enormously successful, or you can work at it only a little and still be moderately (and unreasonably) successful, maintaining a more than comfortable lifestyle.

Starting your own religion can be enormously profitable as well – though you will have to mask your own authority behind that of a giant dog-headed fire spirit, or a palm tree that grants wishes, or some other illusion you devise.

 

 

Dear Penny,

Your cosmopolitan lifestyle has no doubt seen you living in exotic locales and among some curious characters. With this in mind, I was hoping you could impart some wisdom for those of us struggling to cope with the trials and tribulations of house-sharing: the noise, the pinching of personal items, the enforcement of draconian house rules banning soirées, the questionable cleanliness standards…

Kind regards,

At Wits’ End In Waratah

PS: I hope you’re recovering well from your cosmetic enhancement: I look forward to admiring your new cheekbones!

 

Dear Wits’ End,

It’s true! I’ve kept all manner of domiciles, and all manner of company. Only last year, I spent a month living in a yurt with Robert Redford while we protested seal hunting in Nova Scotia; I was fiercely protective of the seals, but more than ready to strangle Robert with his own biodegradable shoelaces by the time the Canadian Rangers came to remove us.

Sharing your home with another person can be extremely difficult. Our dwellings are sanctuary: at the end of a long day, when our minds are weary and our bodies worn, they are the one place to which we can retreat and nourish ourselves – that one little pocket of the world that belongs to us alone. I find it strange, in fact, that so many of my clients are terrified of living alone, especially as they age. Solitude is not to be feared, but embraced! It is a time for deepest introspection and self-discovery. (I often seclude myself in a forest to seek inspiration, as I have mentioned before.)

I understand, however, that circumstances (and the limits of student financing) often demand that we co-habitate. When you are living in a share-house with other students, the limits of your sanctuary will no doubt contract – to the walls of your bedroom, to one half of a driveway, to a single shelf in the fridge. These boundaries will be tested: your housemates will play loud music at all hours and disturb your sleep. They will strew their belongings about the house, or help themselves to yours. They will bring home strangers for anonymous sex, without inviting you to join them. Such rudeness.

Friends and family (and advice columnists of lesser note) will tell you that the best remedy to this is clear communication: sitting down with your housemates, respectfully articulating your needs, respectfully acknowledging theirs, and negotiating a set of rules – respectfully – that are equitable to all parties. I could not agree less.

Share-houses (as I’m sure you’ve learned) are microcosms of the world outside them, and governed by the same devious mechanisms of power. Respect is crucial, but it cannot serve you if it is built only upon soft words and compromise. Nature, as always, is the greatest teacher; She knows that we respect Her not only for Her gentle plains and flowers, but Her hailstorms, Her hurricanes, Her devastating earthquakes. True, lasting respect is a duality of love and fear. Never forget this.

Within your share-house, then, undertake a subtle campaign of intimidation and unease. Do as I did with Robert, and propagate the unspoken suggestion that you are a witch: dress in rags, smear dirt between your teeth and under your fingernails, and burst into fits of insane babbling that your housemates might construe as eldritch incantation. Be sure to point at them aggressively as you do so.

Once you have sufficiently disarmed them with the ever-present threat of demonic corruption, mark your territory. The best way to avoid falling victim to draconian house rules is to set them yourself: establish a set of domestic edicts that are as restrictive as they are nonsensical, to keep your housemates off-balance. Enforce an indoor dress code of high heels, harnesses and surgical gloves (and only these things). Establish a twisted curfew that forces all occupants of the house (excluding yourself, as magister) to stand on the front lawn between the hours of 2am and 3am in the morning. Prohibit the consumption of all foods that are green or yellow. (Don’t worry – white wine can be considered white under these regulations.)

Each time you invoke these rules, reassure your housemates that they are just suggestions and not enforceable in any way – but be sure, each time, to accompany them with another wailing litany of curses, to suggest that your consort, Lucifer, believes otherwise. (Learn to roll your eyes back into your head if you can; I have found this skill tremendously useful over the years.)

I guarantee that, within a matter of days, you’ll have firmly established a space within your share-house (all of it, ideally) that is yours alone. You will again have a sanctuary – and a handful of terrified students to do your bidding! How fun.

And if, somehow, all of this fails to inspire terror? Fill the dining room with teak.

 

 

Got a question for Penny? Write to us at nupsa@newcastle.edu.au and see it answered!

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