Pay attention to the substance. Reality trumps fantasy every time.

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Noticing takes time

I recently moved into a new house. Everything looked great when we initially visited however living in it has been a completely different experience. I now see what works and what doesn’t – which things are solid and which band-aids and quick fixes were done to make the place look good. When we focus only on appearances, we can miss what else may be going on inside. It’s been interesting to discover certain things I assumed would be fine that weren’t… like bathroom fixtures not securely attached, dings in the ceiling I never noticed or small cracks in the window closures where the bugs get in.

Yes, we have gotten intimately acquainted with all types of little creatures and uninvited guests. My house symbolizes how we can see what we want to see and overlook important details in the process, for better or for worse. This has happened before not just with my house, but also certain relationships and jobs when I expected one thing, only to realize I was getting myself into a completely different situation. Like the time I was hired to lead a product marketing team only to discover the team left just before I joined followed shortly thereafter by my hiring manager. And that was just the tip of the iceberg…

Perhaps something like this has happened to you?

Having the bait and switch was challenging! And yet, the job had looked so fabulous on paper. I felt duped – lured into one thing, only to be handed another – insert unprintable curse word here!?! While I generally go with the flow and adapt, it quickly became obvious this role and organization were not a good long (or short-term) fit for me and I needed to move on. I learned several invaluable lessons from that experience – to do my due diligence, not take things at face value and take action quickly. I now ask lots of questions and make every effort to go into situations eyes wide open.

Yet our best efforts can fall to the wayside as we get charmed by an exciting opportunity or believe we need to commit to something and follow through. Sometimes we have to be patient when making a move or working through any transition – to learn more and see what unfolds. Other times, we discover we stepped into something completely different from what we anticipated and then need to pivot.

What can I change? What can I live with?

In these situations, ask yourself what matters to you. Your non-negotiables will be closely related to your values and preferences. This may mean you need flexibility now and can’t go back to a 9 to 5 job in an office anymore. Or you realize that while you don’t love where you are at, you can tolerate it and learn new things in service of a more important longer term goal.

Fortunately many things are within our control to choose. We may not think we have a choice, but we do have the ability to change our minds or attitude, we can leave or try to change where we are. The choices we make are ultimately our decision. Below are suggestions for the next time you face something unexpected that catches you off guard.


  • Notice and acknowledge the situation and your feelings. Naming, rather than ignoring, dismissing or denying, what you are experiencing is an important first step.
  • Review your options. Look at your current situation and list the pros and cons. Can you stay or do you have to leave? What’s your timeframe? Objectively reviewing the alternatives can help you gain more clarity.
  • Develop a plan. Decide what steps you need to take to move forward.
  • Commit to your decision. Try to minimize analysis paralysis. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and get stuck. Avoiding or ignoring something is just making a decision by default, while the situation is unlikely to change or go away in the mean time.
  • Get an outside perspective if you feel stuck. You don’t need to go through a difficult situation alone. Call in a friend or get some input from an expert to help you consider your options and have a sounding board.

Just like I have come to depend upon reliable repair people to fix things in my house, we all benefit from having a team of advisors to support us. This can include friends, family, mentors or a coach.

I give clients space to assess where they are and where they want to be, so they can address what’s not working and find a path to achieve what they want. In some cases, this may involve developing new skills or changing their attitude so they can manage through the challenge. Other times they may need to pursue an exit strategy pronto. It can take time to figure out what’s needed and how to get more of what you want. It’s a trial and error process.

We value experts who can both reassure us and address challenging situations. I am truly grateful to the knowledgeable contractor we hired to correct the smoking boiler left by another less reputable repair guy who actually broke our system while trying to “fix” it so we would pay him to replace it. We make some mistakes, get valuable experience, and learn through the process.