The Core Files: Expectations, Reality & Moving Beyond the Breach

Amanda Kloska @unsplash

“Yeah, it might be all that you get. Yeah, I guess this might well be it.” – Theme from Ted Lasso, by Marcus Mumford & Tom Howe

During a coaching session, a client & I stumbled upon a vein of the past involving a less than perfect manager. The relationship ended years ago; yet, the leftover angst created by the relationship was definitely present. The manager wasn’t a horrible boss by any stretch of the imagination. However, it had left an indelible mark on how my client viewed his own capabilities.

I should go on to say that in my opinion, the perfect manager or role does not exist. In fact, reflecting upon my own path, I cannot think of a single job held, project completed or key individual that hadn’t “let me down” in some way or another. But — hold on. Not let down, in the manner your mind may rush toward. Not in a manner synonymous with either neglect or incompetence.

I was let down by the nature of my own expectations.

And these expectations, were only bounded by my personal stores of optimism and hope.

The underlying issue of course, is getting beyond the gap that exists between expectations and reality. You may be the type of individual that is ever-hopeful, usually leading with the belief that the best will unfold. Yet, none of us have control of the work life universe. Moreover, I would venture to say that gaps between expectations and reality are likely a key contributor to so many career outcomes. Outcomes such as lowered engagement, broken psychological contracts & turnover.

How might core stability help? I’m not certain. Yet, I have the sense that a strong “home base”, has much to do with the recovery phase of a let down.

Here is what my client & I spoke about:

  • Learning through the wave of emotion. Where there is emotion, there is meaning. Where there is meaning, there are elements that are vital to our workplace identity. In many cases, leaning in and processing our own shock is the task at hand; where that level of shock is correlated to the degree of how we actually got things wrong. There is value in our reaction to the outcome, in that we can prepare for it when it next occurs (and it will). This can only happen if we begin to understand what we truly value and protect it with a calm, supportive internal dialogue.
  • Re-framing. Whatever happened has happened. We cannot manage the world or dictate what occurs; as our expectations cannot always guide outcomes. Our assessment of the character and capabilities of others can be off. Our hopes may be unrealistic. However, we can learn to handle that disappointment in the best way we now how. In many cases, this might involve backing up to examine the larger dynamic of the event — and gaining a deeper understanding of the operating eco-system. Ultimately, increased clarity is one key that may help us handle the expectation-reality continuum.
  • Sharing what you need/want/expect. Expectations aren’t always foolish, if we are willing to know ourselves and communicate what we need from either an individual or situation. What is foolish — is thinking that others will always take the time to accurately read our hearts & minds — or have the motivation to do so.
  • Manage narratives. A lingering story can often emerge about ourselves when these gaps erupt, and these do us no favors. How we might have appeared or been assessed by someone, shouldn’t define us forever. We need to depend on the internal currency of our known strengths to rescue us from the breach.

How do you process the gap between expectations & reality? Tell us in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & blogger who explores core stability and the dynamic nature of work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her practice helps people, teams & organizations build stronger work life foundations through the practice of core stability. Her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

2 thoughts on “The Core Files: Expectations, Reality & Moving Beyond the Breach

  1. I suppose trust is an important factor in assessing and closing the gap between expectations and reality. If there is trust, the gap can be closed by practicing empathy with the other individual. If there is lack of trust, the gap closes by reinforcement of the lack of trust or even in a greater mistrust.


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