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

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“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.

The Evolution : 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Now About Work Life

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Living through history has again challenged us in ways that we could never have anticipated. It has forced decisions we never thought we would have to make, brought moments of both fear & relief and decidedly rearranged us as people. It has revealed our unheralded strengths — and chinks in the amour. Undoubtedly, we’ll come through to the other side as changed human beings. These changes may be revealed as subtle or drastic, nuanced or obvious, for both our betterment and detriment. (The permutations are endless & rich, mirroring the collective of being human.)

I cannot help but wonder: Should we stop & regroup before diving back in at full speed? They answer is a resounding yes.

Ultimately, a slow-to-boil argument with the way we work has occurred over the last 20 months— affecting individuals, teams & organizations. More shifting is likely ahead, not unlike the deep changes in thought & action that occurred after the 2008 economic crisis.

Things are changing (and have already changed) which affect how many of us work. But in the wake of the incoming shifts, we need to attempt to keep our heads clear & level.

A Few Observations:

  1. Individual differences will still matter. Invariably shifts in work & workplaces, often manifest as a wildly shifting pendulum, rife with over-corrections. For example, discussions of hybrid work (a conversation indeed long-overdue) will likely swing toward less time spent in the office, possibly bypassing the individuals needs of contributors. This can ultimately lead to similar issues (poor fit, etc.) that may have existed before the pandemic. Remember to never forget what you need to feel engaged and excel. Respect this among your co-workers and within teams.
  2. Look at meaning carefully. I’ve always felt that work life meaning has been portrayed as something that is quite obvious, that somehow “bubbles up” spontaneously from within. In a way, this leaves the concept as something esoteric and in many cases, unreachable. How can there be meaning if we do not operationalize the concept for ourselves? Take the time to ask yourself what your work brings to the world — and why that has value to you. Encourage this within your team, to stem the tide of resignations and turnover that has already begun.
  3. Acknowledge that work may not feel the same. I can personally attest to more than one inflection point over the last 20 months or so. The parts of my work life that I never thought would become attractive, have become more so. Similarly, some of the bits that always fueled me, have lost their luster. We cannot underestimate how our experiences have changes us. I’m also certain, that we must consider them thoughtfully.

Taking Stock: 5 Questions
Try this exercise from the Core Stability Sessions.
Ask yourself the following.

  1. When was the last time you remember truly enjoying yourself at work?
  2. What were you doing?
  3. Does that represent a shift for you?
  4. Does that work also have meaning to you?
  5. Does that element play (or could it play) a strong role in your current work life?

Knowing yourself, is often the key to an engaged work life. Remember to invest in yourself by leaving room for thought and contemplation.
Have you already done so? What did you conclude?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker regarding 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.

5 Work Life Rules That Stand the Test of Time

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As a coach, it is vital to reflect upon my own work life and learn from its experiences. Ultimately, offering advice without introspection — could read as empty & hollow. As with most career journeys, there have surely been highs & lows. I’ve held roles that were for the most part glorious, where work felt like an expansion. I’ve also found myself in roles that were challenged from the start, leading to doubt and exhaustion.

All in all, no matter what the cards hold for us — there are constants that should be present to sustain us. These elements provide the foundation to both endure & expand.

Here are a few I’ve noticed.

  • Practice radical self-knowledge. I’ll be blunt. I only refer to this dynamic as radical — because we usually fail to truly understand ourselves, which deeply affects our journey going forward. Of course, no one can fulfill this for you. (Self-knowledge is essentially a labor of love.) This begins with monitoring your levels or energy, then understanding what feeds your workplace soul & what ultimately drains it. It is building in moments of pause to reflect on how we respond and change. There is no substitute. (When I work with teams, we never broach collective team dynamics until we complete the individual discovery process.)
  • Work where your skills & strengths are valued. Organizations are needy creatures, lopsidedly offering rewards (both intrinsic & extrinsic) when specific skills are required. For most of us, we’ll find ourselves in situations where the alignment of our skills & an organization’s current needs, is not present. Know that your strengths remain worthy — they are simply not simpatico with the business landscape of the organization in which you currently work. Recognizing this fact can protect you from harsh self-judgement and could free you to move along to thrive somewhere else.
  • Find career advocates (other than yourself). Self-reliance is obviously an important aspect of career evolution. For example, you must be able to reflect upon & communicate your core needs & goals. However, other perspectives of what is unfolding for you career-wise will benefit your journey (a 30,000 foot view for example, is vital). This article published at HBR, aptly discussed the notion of a career “Board of Directors”. These would be people who do not work with you directly, but are able to weigh in on career matters when needed. Start with 2 or 3 people who might offer opinions that you trust & respect. Try to avoid making career decisions in a vacuum. This will invariably backfire.
  • Make a habit of envisioning your future. One of the most useful articles I’ve read in the last 10 years is this one: You Need to Practice Being Your Future Self This piece tells the story of how we become mired within our current career context and fail to envision ourselves differently. While it is well and good to address current issues at work, this leaves little room for what could come next. Until we devote time to ignite our powers of imagination regarding work life — it can be difficult to grow.
  • Finding moments of excitement. Personally, I’m fine doing the difficult, and sometimes tedious tasks of my role. However, I find moments of exhilaration are necessary to sustain me. A pounding heart before a client presentation. The thrill of a new data set. Whatever excites you at work needs to be present, if at all possible. These moments may be indeed be rare indeed — but they fuel the work life soul.

Have I missed something? Please share it in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist & speaker regarding the dynamic nature of work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her consulting 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.

10 Timeless Quotes to Combat Writer’s Block & Other Work Life Maladies

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I’ve been suffering from writer’s block.

I’ve never experienced this state of mind personally, and my tool kit to combat it isn’t fully built. The experience could be the cumulative result of so many factors; the pandemic, family challenges/changes and my own evolution. On some level, I view this “forced hiatus” as necessary. A required break. A brick wall secretly erected to deflect my path. Somewhere, in the recesses of my unconscious, change is afoot.

I believe there is a reason for all of this — and resolution will come.

You may be experiencing your own form of “writer’s block”. It may manifest as a lack of passion for your work, a nagging sensation of restlessness or the feeling that everyone and everything at work annoys you. I view this as valuable information to be processed and utilized. It can be the fuel for needed change. I don’t think any of us has been immune to the passage of history we have just experienced. You may be feeling the impact in this moment.

In the scheme of things, writer’s block may not rank highly in the field of life’s problems — but it is indeed real. So, rather than being absent on this channel, I’d like to share a few strategies for moving beyond this frozen inflection point.

These are a few of the quotes that seem to melt the icy path toward my keyboard. They explore topics such as creativity, the notion of a muse & why our work is vital to us. (Hopefully, topics for future posts.)

As always, respecting our core is vital. So, each of the following bits of advice addresses some part of our work life foundation. The first reinforces my philosophy that self-knowledge & respecting our individual differences is key at work. The last, that there is always something to be discovered and shared with others.

Please share your favorite quote in comments & what it means to you, whether or not it is one that I’ve shared. Looking forward to the conversation.

  1. No one is you, and that is your power. – Dave Grohl.
  2. Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place. – Rumi
  3. I am my own muse, the subject I know best. – Frida Kahlo
  4. A line is a dot, that went for a walk. – Paul Klee
  5. There is nothing so stable as change. – Bob Dylan
  6. The good life is a process, not a state of being. – Carl Rogers
  7. It is never too late, to be what you might have been. – George Eliot
  8. Love and work are the cornerstones of humanness. – Sigmund Freud
  9. If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. – Lao Tzu
  10. Somewhere something incredible, is waiting to be known. – Sharon Begley

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations build stronger work life foundations through the practice of core stability. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Kick-Start Your Work Day


I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limit and working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you, as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your day? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Vital Importance of Being Honest in the Workplace

oath-980x505We’ve all suffered momentary lapses of memory at work. Fuzzy recollections of what occurred on a specific project or initiative — time has a funny way of chipping away at facts and figures. We might lose ourselves in conversation and misspeak or dance around the truth to put another person at ease. However, knowingly misrepresenting who we are or what we have accomplished during our work lives, usually proves detrimental to both work and career. Ultimately, misrepresenting our own history has the potential to derail both promising careers and healthy organizations, alike.

As a role increases in both scope and exposure — being mindful of how we present ourselves and remaining true to our word — becomes an even greater responsibility.

Honesty about credentials and work experiences can affect nearly every aspect of our work lives going forward — and has proven to do so in many realms including government, sports and news/entertainment. Moreover, this dynamic can impact how we fill our most vital roles in organizations today — limiting our ability to match skills with organizational needs.

Of late, this issue has very publicly affected those that we most need to trust. (Network anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for an inaccuracy describing his work experiences. This week it was revealed that VA Secretary Robert McDonald miscommunicated that he served in Special Forces, when he served in the 82nd Airborne Division. He has issued a formal apology. Personally, I thank him for his service to our country. )

From inaccurate resumes to name dropping, the selection process is wrought with misrepresentations and dishonesty. During our actual tenure within an organization, other looming issues with transparency can develop. These situations can lead to problems — both undetected and catastrophic.

For organizations to remain effective, it is imperative that we not only identify needed competencies and utilize state of the art selection strategies. We must also attempt to remain transparent as contributors — so that roles are matched effectively with the appropriate candidate. This includes respecting the exchange agreement that exists between employers and employees. However, whether workplace cultures encourage honesty during selection and tenure, is another topic to carefully consider.

Breaches during these processes can create a myriad of cascading problems, for all of us.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted to stretch the truth, where your work history is concerned? Have you hired an employee and their resume was later deemed inaccurate? Is lying a necessary evil to move forward today?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto/NewYork. Her blog The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as a “Top 100 Website for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Lower Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images
This post previously appeared at LinkedIn.

Is 2015 a Career Transition Year for You?


People change — that’s a given. Organizations change. That is also a given. What we desire (or require) from our work lives, evolves right alongside these elements. Although pay and benefits certainly play a role — remaining in our current role has much to do with the enjoyment derived from the work we complete. So why is it that so many of us hesitate to make a change, when the fit just isn’t there?

I often enter people’s lives when they are moving from one career chapter to another. In many cases, this transition can become quite a stressful experience. (But, not for the reasons that you might initially think of.) I’ve found that the “nuts and bolts” of this transition, are often not as challenging as the emotional struggle that occurs beforehand. We clearly fight change, for a multitude of reasons.

Transitions are not easy, but we can tackle a change. When you are at the fringe of a new beginning — things can appear very, very fuzzy. This creates much trepidation and worry, so a strategy will help.

Here is my best advice to help you move through this:

  • Accept the need to move on. We spend a lot of time forcing situations to work, that are ultimately doomed to fail long-term. This will not stop the inevitable. Change is difficult — but often worth the trouble. Entertain the notion that you can discover a better option.
  • Set your vision. Determine exactly what you are striving for — and offer that vision the respect it deserves, by defining the “edges”. (“I’m unhappy” is not a call to action.) Do the required research that will offer direction. What is working? What is missing from your work life? What role are you aiming for? What must you do, to move in the right direction?
  • Do something — anything. We often dismiss change, because change looks insurmountable. Tackle the process in much smaller steps — but start somewhere. For example, begin by completing one action a day to drive you forward. (One call, one conversation, one e-mail, one new network connection.) Not unlike earned interest, your actions will compound daily.
  • Give things time. It is often a shock to realize that your current work life, will become a part of your past. You must offer yourself time to grieve for what has transpired, and develop a positive outlook for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ll tackle the individual elements (where, when, how) as they come. Have hope that the right solution will emerge.

Have you successfully changed your career for the better? Share your story (and strategies) here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

You’re Wrong if You Think Your Career Won’t Change


We underestimate our own potential to evolve.

I know that I’ve made that mistake.

As a graduate student in psychology, I was certain I knew my path. At that early juncture, my interests centered solely on the development of selection tests. (Focusing on topics such as motivation or aligning work with strengths, never occurred to me.) As most of us do, I surmised that with the passage of time, I would remain relatively constant as an individual — and that satisfaction with that career direction would remain.

However, time has a way of changing us.

In fact, that original career trajectory, is far from how I would define myself today. Truth be told — we all evolve — and in many cases, it is difficult to detect the changes as they are occurring. They overtake us somehow.

Does this impact work and career? Of course.

A series of studies conducted by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert (See the TED Talk below), have explored the process of how we view personal change over time and its impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5”: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present.

We make decisions concerning what will bring us fulfillment in the future, based upon our current state. However, we underestimate how we might change over time. Essentially, we are forced to draw inferences from the past — something Gilbert aptly names, “The End of History Illusion”. We make decisions in life, as if that history has ended. So, as that carefully designed future takes shape — there is a real possibility that it may no longer align with who we have actually become.

We imagine that our history ends today. When, ultimately, our own “history” continues to evolve and shift.

The challenge to apply this dynamic work and career are clear. If we don’t consider or anticipate change — even expect it — we may not be prepared deal with what comes next.

Can we predict exactly how we will change with the twists and turns of life? No, that’s not likely.

However, we can look for the subtle changes that might affect us:

  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Respond. Ignoring a seismic shift in career aspirations, will not stop the dynamic from progressing. You do possess free will. Take a moment to determine what may need to change to accommodate your evolution. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?

As the researchers observed: “History, it seems is always ending today”.

So instead, strive to embrace your ever-changing work life. A long and healthy career may center on our respect for how we might change over time.

How has your history evolved? How did you respond?


Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

When we lose ourselves in a stressful moment — a workplace situation can quickly go from challenging to a potential disaster.

Job interviews are a common trigger of a host of powerful emotion-filled responses; anticipation, excitement, fear. If you’ve ever sat in the interview chair, you are acutely aware of the critical struggle to remain calm and focused. As much as we attempt to stay calm — our minds can race out of control — not unlike a runaway train.

“Managing yourself” through this stressful dynamic is key.

Could the practice of mindfulness help us through an interview?

Recent research tells us that yes, it can.

Tough workplace scenarios can cause our “fight of flight” response to kick in — and job interviews certainly qualify. Labeled an “Amygdala Hijacks”, by psychologist Daniel Goleman, these moments are characterized by neurological processes where our “rational brain” (Neo-cortex) becomes overpowered by our emotional brain. This renders places us in a weakened position to deal with these situations effectively.

Mindfulness — defined as “The psychological state where you focus on the events of the present moment” — allows us to observe the events of our lives from a safer distance, without necessarily reacting in that moment. One element, is the notion of equanimity, or “non-reactivity” to the events happening around us. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention and acknowledge both one’s inner experience and the outer world, without reacting.

Discussed at length concerning its impact on both our psychological and physical well-being (See here and here), mindfulness can help us remain balanced in many situations that might normally derail us. Interestingly, one recent study links mindfulness to effective workplace behavior. The research reveals that mindfulness may help with roles that require a series of decisions in quick succession, not unlike the multiple decisions/responses we face during a job interview. Managing our automatic responses, (such as becoming nervous or flustered) and re-focusing that energy toward staying composed is key.

How might mindfulness help us in a job interview? Above all, you want to accurately represent your skills and experience. Regrets concerning what you may have forgotten to mention, (or did mention and shouldn’t have) can prove critical. During an interview we can become overwhelmed and “lose our heads” so to speak — losing focus on the actual goals of the current conversation. (You might find yourself either rushing ahead or reviewing your last answer.) If you are unable to remain fully present, you may miss important conversational cues that will help you present yourself well.

We needn’t wait for your next interview to develop techniques to become more mindful. Weaving techniques into our every day lives can prove worthy.

Try these techniques:

  • Practice the art of “micro-meditation. These are 1-3 minute periods of time to stop (perhaps when you feel most distracted) and breathe. While you are waiting for an interview to begin (seems these are always delayed), utilize the following acronym taught at Google: S.B.N.R.R. — Stop. Breathe. Notice. Reflect. Respond.
  • Tame the “inner voice”. Don’t let an inner monologue take over. (For many of us it is a panicked conversation.) Be aware of a “less than supportive” inner dialogue, that might rear it ugly head. Consciously interrupt it and replace it with a more positive message.
  • Refocus on your ultimate goal. Remind yourself of the purpose of the interview: to accurately portray yourself as a contributor. We all have triggers that cause us to lose focus and react with fear or anger. Monitor these (certain topics, etc.) and remind yourself to stay ahead of an emotional response pattern.
  • Breathe. While, we can’t halt the interview — we can silently “tap ourselves on the shoulder” to stay focused. When you feel your mind racing, mentally pause and “tap”. Collect yourself and return to the moment.
  • Bring along a mental list. Enter the interview with 3 or 4 critical points about yourself, that you want to leave with the interviewer. Use a reminder to circle back and inject these points into the conversation (try wearing your watch upside down or a green rubber band on your wrist).

How do you stay calm and focused during an interview? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a Senior Consultant at Allied Talent. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.

Monday Motivation: The TED Talks — Susan Colantuono — The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Leadership skills should be developed at every level. Unfortunately, the advice we are given to move ahead, is often incomplete. (Women should pay particular attention to the message posed in this fantastic presentation.)