Are you comfortable? If not, why not? Have a seat. Have a glass of wine. Discomfort is your world in imbalance; it’s your body saying to you, ‘I will not accept anything less than I deserve.’

I’m Penny. Not ‘Penelope Grundle – life coach, best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue’ (though yes, obviously, I’m all of those things as well), but here, I’m just Penny. Think of me as a friend. A confidante. I’m here to answer your thorniest questions, solve your insoluble riddles, untangle your romantic entanglements (unless you prefer them that way ;-D ) and set you on the path to true happiness.

There’s no need to thank me. I do it because I care. Because I want you to be the very best version of yourself, and fill your world with positive resonance. (And also because I have 114 hours of community service outstanding. Not my fault, mind you.)

So bring me your conundrums, mes enfants, your heartaches, your woes. I’ll make them all better.




Dear Penny,

Some people say that 2-minute noodles are unhealthy. This can’t be true because the smartest people I know survive on them. Surely noodles are pure brain food? Please advise.




Dear Di,

I think ‘unhealthy’ is a matter of perspective. As you say, some people think 2-minute noodles are unhealthy, while hordes of penniless intellectuals can’t gobble them down quickly enough. Lean chicken can be ‘protein-rich’ or ‘genocidal’, depending on whether you ask an athlete in training or a vegan in despair.

Now, I am not a dietician (nor do I have any patience for them), so I cannot tell you whether cheap noodles in a monosodium glutamate broth have any real impact on the functionality of your brain. But I can tell you – with great certainty, in fact – that ‘unhealthy’ thoughts correlate directly with guilt. And guilt is absolutely, unambiguously bad for us. It rots our minds, poisons our happiness, and leads us to question our every decision when we should be forging ahead with confidence.

Whether these foods can actually harm you or not is irrelevant; constant thoughts on the subject will quickly do their job for them, and you don’t even get to enjoy a moment’s pleasure in the eating.

My advice, then, is to eat the things you enjoy (or at the very least, can afford) and pay no attention to the naysayers. Let them foam and complain, weigh their lentils by the ounce and live in fretful self-denial. True success starts with true happiness, not the other way around.

To offer my own example, I like to start the day with a meal of tuscan salmon in garlic butter, assorted pains au chocolat and a good bottle of chardonnay. If I were eating at a university campus, surrounded by snapping dieticians, this would be ‘unhealthy’. If, however, I were at the Worthington in upstate Connecticut, it would be ‘brunch’.

Which do you think I prefer?




Dear Penny,

I live with two cats. I love them both, but my busy schedule as a PhD student means I do not get to spend as much time with them as I used to. I think they both resent me for this, and recently, I have begun to suspect they are conspiring against me. What should I do?




Dear Fiona,

First, you must understand that a ‘conspiracy’ requires three parties by definition. So, unless you have a third cat with some animosity towards you (or unless your two cats have rallied the support of others in the neighbourhood), they are, at best, ‘plotting’ or ‘scheming’ against you. I don’t imagine this in itself is any consolation, but it’s important not to overstate the danger you’re in.

Cats are intelligent animals with exacting standards. That’s why they are the companion of choice for highly successful people. It’s easy to surround yourself with dogs and idiots and feel relatively accomplished, but those who demand the greatest prowess from themselves should similarly demand it of any living creature they associate with.

Your cats, then, do not expect you to retreat from your studies in order to spend more time with them. This, in fact, would only disappoint them, and diminish you further in their eyes. Instead, they want you do both – to ‘work smarter and not harder’, as they say, and find a way to include them in your daily research schedule. What you perceive as resentment is in fact a challenge, daring you to improve.

If you work on campus, take your cats with you. Involve them in your studies; when you meet with your supervisor(s), introduce them and consult them frequently during the discussion. List them as co-authors on any papers or journal articles you write. Wear them on your person wherever possible, especially if it is cold. If they attack one of your colleagues, or a panellist at your confirmation, do not intervene. Do not apologise for your own success.

If you treat your cats as true intellectual partners, my prediction is that they will abandon their sinister intentions towards you. And one day, when you have everything you want – without compromise – they will archly remind you who it was that challenged you to do so.



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

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