I Didn’t Take That Vacation: Here’s What Happened

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I didn’t have the opportunity to take a vacation this year. For some reason, the stars never aligned to make it happen. A few things contributed to the situation. I have a new role (along with my other commitments), and we are also renovating an older home. As you might expect, our resources have been diverted to goals such as staircases and a functional HVAC system. Then we just couldn’t agree on when and where to go. “Re-charging” just was not in the cards.

The outcome of my neglect feels very real. A little like pulling an all-nighter — with no desire to sit for the exam.

This is not a “good thing” — as Martha would say.

The research has shown that many of us fail to take time off, even when we have earned vacation days to do so. For some odd reason, we don’t like to admit that time off is necessary — or we fear we’ll look weak — or uncommitted to our work. This lack of attention to rest is costly in so many ways. I can only say, that if I’m representative of what it is like to not have a break, no one should skimp.

Sustaining “us” — is in part our own responsibility. We shouldn’t need to be reminded that we are important.

Here’s what has happened:

  • I’m observing signs of burn-out. Yes, I lack my usual level of enthusiasm for the tasks I normally love. I’ve coached myself to care, as the “Joy Factor” has taken a dip. That’s a sad commentary.
  • I’m losing my sense of humor, especially where work is concerned. I don’t laugh nearly enough — and laughing is vastly under-rated. We need these moments to off-set stress.
  • I’m a bit of a pain in the a##. I’m sure it has to do with the above. No further explanation needed. Sorry for the language.
  • Inspiration is waning. I require new sources of stimulation to stay at the top of my game. A change of scenery always does great things for me. We really shouldn’t expect to be at our best, after completing a year-long mental marathon.
  • I’m starting to fantasize about a new line of work. Now, this is simply ridiculous. However, I can easily see why many of us take these feelings as a sign that our roles are the problem. It’s not.

Here is what I’m doing:

  • I’m exploring my local environment. I’m unchaining myself from my desk and getting out there (cell phone muted). I’m stopping by the Farmer’s Market, and checking out the museums and gardens. Inspiration is really all around us.
  • I’m aiming to meet more people face-to-face.  I’m completely inspired by the career journeys of others. I’m making a point to visit college campuses this fall, to talk to students about their future work lives. (let me know if you’d like me to visit yours.)
  • I’m taking a series of shorter weekend trips. Nothing works like the real deal. Michigan is beautiful in the fall and I’m determined to see it.
  • I’m telling founders, managers and leaders to take their vacations (and to let everyone know). Nothing cements a needed change more completely, than a strong message that time off is a respected practice.

What are your strategies to take a break when vacations are impossible to schedule? Share your thoughts.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent, bringing the principles of The Alliance to organizations worldwide.

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It’s the End of American Idol: I Won’t Downplay Its Impact

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They’ve recently marked the end of the long-running show American Idol.

It was time.

However, it was more than the run-of-the-mill reality show. Its format augmented talent discovery by engaging us in the discovery process. A modern version of an old story we love to enjoy — the show allowed us to play a role in offering contestants the chance to change their lives and the face of music.

Some did.

How remarkable.

Whether you are still watching Idol today really isn’t important. (To be honest, I’ve opted to watch The Voice the last couple of years). It is the mechanism of talent identification that American Idol employed that mattered.

We have been exposed to artists (and genres of music) that we would have likely never experienced. At certain points during the show’s run,  I even became emotionally engaged with the process. (I stopped watching Season 3 after Jennifer Hudson was eliminated. Glad to see that she went on to meet her destiny.)

Yes, the process was far from perfect. However, we can learn from it. Moreover, I can’t help but think of how many talented contributors that function just under our radar, within our own organizations. How do we find them? How do we nurture their talent and align their gifts with organizational goals? How do we play an active role in that process?

The onus is upon us to do so.

I fear that much of what our contributors can bring, remains undiscovered. This because we haven’t developed the proper mechanisms to unlock their potential. That must change.

They deserve their moment.

How many moments are we missing?

Here is exactly to what I am referring. We might have missed this. Enough said.

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What are you doing within your organization to identify and nurture talent? Share your strategies here.

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She holds the role of Senior Consultant at Allied Talent and also serves as the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors.

Kick-Start Your Work Day

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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

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We’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?

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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.

Reflections on Honesty, Success and Ebay

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Our family is getting set to move from our home of 14 years. To be quite honest, I briefly tear up just thinking about the amount of packing ahead of me — and the work needed in our new home (built in 1948). I’ve become brutal about throwing things out, or finding items a worthy new home. I’ve hauled various things around (the paper surveys from my dissertation, for example) from house to house. No more. Time to let go.

With that in mind, I’ve been listing extra pieces of furniture and treasures found in the dark recesses of cabinets, on Ebay and Craig’s List. One such find, was a set of 10 colorful Pez dispensers. I hastily threw together an Ebay listing, which included a great Miss Piggy and a jolly looking Santa.

As it turned out, I really didn’t know what I had. Miss Piggy wasn’t the star of the show after all — and what unfolded was far more notable.

My first clue should have been the 3 “watchers” in the first 30 seconds after publishing the listing. What I finally learned, was that one of the Pez Dispensers was of quite a rare variety — and I hadn’t even bothered to call it out separately. Named “No Feet Indian Maiden” (so sorry, not my choice), it was manufactured in Austria back in the 50’s.

I had no idea. I can’t even recall how it landed in my possession. To a collector, this was a rare opportunity to enhance a collection.

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Within 10 minutes a very kind woman wrote to inquire about a “buy it now” price. She also quickly let me know what “No Feet Indian Maiden” was worth, on its own and suggested I pull down the listing and reconsider. (Its value is around $100.00, not a huge amount, but much more than I imagined. My opening price: $5.95)

I’ll have to say, I did learn that a real collector is a different type of person. (I’ve never stayed focused long enough to become one.) They respect their chosen genre, and the others who collect alongside of them.  She would have loved to own my “Maiden” — but not enough to cheat me out of a fair price in the process. I’ll venture to say that would have lessened her experience nearly as much as mine, if I had eventually discovered my error.

I believe this same principle of honesty applies to the workplace. We all have those moments when we struggle to be completely open and honest for various reasons. However, success just isn’t the same, if you don’t treat others honestly — in the manner you would like to be treated. A level playing field offers a feeling of confidence, that you have “made it” on your own merit. Holding back is just plain wrong. Period.

Here are a couple of examples, of what I’m getting at:

  • Be honest about what you really want. Be forthcoming about what you need from another individual. Don’t act as if you are offering something of value to them — if it is really only about benefiting you. People will see through the thin veil — and they will likely think poorly of you. Remember, it’s alright to call a favor, a favor.
  • Be honest even if you might lose something in the process. If possible, offer the honest feedback that can help another individual succeed. Don’t hold back simply because you may temporarily weaken your own position in the equation. Life and work  is not a “zero sum” game. Play the “long game” and lend that helping hand.
  • Be honest even when it creates a bit of stress. If you are asked an opinion concerning the quality of someone’s work, don’t completely sugar coat your feedback. If there are weaknesses that can be improved, be forthcoming. If things go wrong later on, they’ll wonder why you didn’t raise the red flag. That could be viewed as a betrayal.

So, thank you Maggie from Idaho — I appreciate your honesty. It is the small gestures like this that make the holidays rock for me.

In terms of work life success, just keep in mind that catching that prize, the big promotion or that raise — just isn’t the same if you sacrifice even just a bit of your integrity.

Somehow that kind of success, just isn’t as sweet.

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

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

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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?

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

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

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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 a host of powerful emotional responses; anticipation, excitement, even fear. If you’ve 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 well 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 — quickly losing focus on the 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.