professional development

Episode 65: Our Internal Disconnect and the Damage of a Perception Gap

When I have an opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic as a keynote speaker or workshop facilitator, the first step I take is to describe what I lovingly call the Perception Gap.

That’s the gap between how you THINK you’re being perceived, and how people are ACTUALLY experiencing you.

Episode 59: Old Stories Create New Pathways

What Stories From Your Past Still Color Your Present?

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His mother went to answer the door while his family sat at the supper table. Chris heard a man's voice, and watched as his father went into the living room. A demonstration and 40 minutes of answers to every objection later, that Electrolux vacuum salesman in the brown polyester suit with bad breath left with an order for a $3,000 machine.

Chris was 10 years old, and his image of a salesman was set for decades. Not only did his family have a vacuum cleaner they didn't need and couldn't afford, his parents bickered over it for months afterward.

Fast forward to Chris as a young adult with entrepreneurial aspirations and the realization that he'd have to get more comfortable with sales if he was going to be successful. He hired a coach who was able to peel back the layers of Chris's experience to find that vacuum salesman and his impact on how Chris saw the word "salesman."


80s Style: Friendship Pins

80s Style: Friendship Pins

In the beginning of our conversation, Chris mentioned his love for heavy metal music, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s. He spoke about wearing his Metallica jean jacket to church, and about having the opportunity to play guitar with a band on Sunday evenings in the same church, and blowing away the senior women with the sound. We made a few references during that part of our conversation, one to a scene in Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox, and another about my friend Ranjith Abraham, and his musical projects, Miles Apart.


Connect with Chris on LinkedIn, and check out his book, It’s Time to Sell. Learn more about Chris and his gifted approach to sales and leadership by visiting his website.

Can You Bring Your Whole Self to Work?

Stories About Finding Your Fit

An introvert. That's how Jeff sees himself, despite being a successful salesman, and that's part of the reason his first career path led him to  a biology degree and a research position.

He realized at some point that spending all day every day in a lab, mostly by himself, didn't bring him as much satisfaction and stimulation as he thought it would. His colleague found her outlet as a bartender on weekends, and he realized he wanted to do something similar to bring some social activity into his life. Thanks to a few introductions from friends, he found himself training and then working as a DJ on weekends.

Not only did he enjoy the opportunity to get out on weekends, he liked the extra cash he earned. On top of that, he realized that despite his introverted tendencies, he was really good at engaging an audience and getting people to step out of their comfort zones.

After a few years of his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde life of research scientist by day, wild DJ at night, he started to feel that sense of dissatisfaction again. He realized he felt split, like he was living two completely different, separate lives, and he wanted to be able to bring his whole self to his whole life. That's when he started to explore other options in his field, and found a great fit as a salesman.

How many of us have started down a career path with interest and passion, only to realize the choices we made might not really satisfy all aspects of our character?

The question, then, is how to transition into something that's a good fit?

Jeff Bissen shares his story here, in the hopes that others will see themselves in his story, and make the necessary changes so they, too, can find satisfaction by finding a fit that allows them to bring their whole selves to work.


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Taking Yourself Too Seriously? Remember Your Mistakes Fondly.

Choose a Cue to Keep it Real

It was my first day of my first real job out of college. My paid internship in Washington DC had ended and I spent the summer playing with my sister and roommate, waiting tables and hosting at a couple of restaurants.

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When my sister moved back home to Colorado, my roommate convinced me to join a temp agency. Shortly after my first placement, the company offered me a job. My appointment with Lori in the HR department was scheduled at 8am on a Monday morning.

It was December, and it was still dark when I woke up, eager to go to my meeting, fill out paperwork, and start my job with the Meetings Department at the American Chemical Society. I dressed in the dark and popped my head into my roommate's bathroom to say goodbye, she said "good luck, Sarah!"

It was still dim outside as I made my way from the apartment to Union Station to catch the train. I sat for the few stops to the Farragut North station and held my little briefcase, a graduation gift from my dad, on the tops of my feet. In my eagerness and anxiety, the long escalator ride to the surface seemed even longer than usual. As I stepped off the escalator, out from under the awning and onto the sidewalk, I glanced down at my feet.

Oh dear.

I looked back up and took a few more steps. I thought, "Oh no, I wouldn't have done that."

Looking back down at my feet confirmed my initial observation: I was wearing two different colored shoes. One was black, the other was navy. They were identical pumps -- except for the color, which, now in full sunlight, was obvious.

Walking into the first office building on my left, I marched with confidence toward the tall counter as the man at the desk behind the counter looked up.

May I please use your phone?

No ma'am. This is not a public phone.

Please? It's kind of an emergency. I'm going to be late for my first day of a new job and I need to call and let them know! Please? (Insert brightest, sweetest, Colorado-hick-in-the-big-city smile I can muster.)

Oh, ok, I guess.

Good morning, Lori. I'm on my way over now, only a few blocks away, but I have to run home so I'm going to be late. Why? Well... I just noticed... I'm wearing two different colored shoes. ... No, I know I can't come to work like that. ... Yes, just about 30 minutes. ... Yes, I'll be there. Thank you.

I hung up the phone and the man at the counter stood to pull the phone back down to the desk so he could peer down at my feet and grin.

Smiling back and thanking him, I ran back to the Metro station. I found myself grinning, feeling very silly, and trying to cover my shoes with my briefcase when I sat down on the train. I managed to get home, change a shoe, drive back to the office, pay an outrageous price to park the car near the building, and get to the HR office in 30 minutes.

When I told my roommate the story over dinner, we couldn't stop laughing. Our stomachs were sore from the deep belly laughs that night. She reminded me of a few other little details I managed to mess up over the previous few months and came up with a term for those, "Sarah-isms."

Those small details add up in similar ways to what I described in an earlier post about finding multiple Band-Aids on my hands. The difference here is that these little details are silly, not dangerous. Stories like these are great reminders that we are human, we are fallible, and that while it's important to take our jobs and responsibilities seriously, we should never -- ever -- take ourselves too seriously. After all, we are all human, no matter how high the pedestal on which we may stand or be placed.

Just a few years after the two-different-shoes incident, I was in Vancouver, Canada, for work. My colleagues and I took an afternoon to rent a car and drive up to Whistler to explore. It's a beautiful ski resort not far from the city; it reminded me a lot of Vail, Colorado. We were there in the spring and the hills were covered in beautiful green grass and wild flowers. A small boutique store back then, Joe Boxer happened to be open that day. Joe Boxer was the brand that got big and famous, thanks to Forrest Gump and his yellow smiley face. At the time, it was a higher-end brand (now you can find it at KMart) and all the rage. I picked out a watch with a brown leather band and smiley faces in place of the numbers on the face. For my husband, I picked a fancy silver one with the smiley face imprinted in the face of the watch. You could only tell when you looked closely at it.

Wearing that watch as a DC professional, as a consultant implementing a major software program in agencies like the Federal Reserve, World Bank, and NSA, kept me grounded. When I found I was taking myself too seriously, all I had to do was look down at my watch. A smile would begin from my wrist and work its way up to my face, guaranteed. DC has far too many people who take themselves far too seriously. They didn't need one more.

Will You Disrupt Yourself? Or Will You Be Disrupted?

Disruption: Our Subconscious Mind Knows When We Need One

Photo credit: Pete Longworth

Photo credit: Pete Longworth

Whitney Johnson knew she found something really useful in the book she was reading, The Innovator’s Dilemma, but she had no idea that it would change her perspective about her career and life trajectory.

She was in the middle of a major project, doing research on disruption in the telecom industry when she realized that the description of disruption as a business concept could easily be applied to personal growth and career.

That seed turned into a full sized tree over the next few years as she started to consider all the other traditionally labeled business concepts that could be applied to career and personal growth. The beauty of those concepts is that they could help not only explain where we are in terms of learning and development in a job, they could help people create a visual representation to help people apply those concepts to ultimately improve their productivity and engagement at work.

In our conversation, I discovered two things about Whitney that surprised me: She didn’t cook until recently, choosing to avoid the connection between “women’s work” and her professional image, and she is a musician. She is a classically trained pianist, but had given up piano after completing her music degree. Even more interesting to me than learning those things was learning that she had taken both up in the recent past, learning to cook (and enjoy it), and coming back to the piano through the discovery of a love and connection to Gospel music.

I had to mention my love for Gospel and Spiritual music, of course. I’m not a Christian, but I get chills up my spine when I hear people perform this music with passion and a depth of spirituality.

Our conversation took some wonderful twists and turns, from our relationships with our mothers and children, to career challenges related to boredom and a lack of dopamine boosts from learning something new.

One of my favorite parts of this conversation was an “ah ha” moment related to the challenges of parenting adult children, and trying to avoid letting our “advice monster” out in conversations with them.

To me, the most important concept in our conversation was that our brains crave learning new things. When we aren’t exploring something new, whatever that may mean, we are likely to find unproductive activities to satisfy that craving. Have you found yourself in a job that isn’t satisfying, and suddenly either you’ve been let go, or you notice more drama going on in your personal life? Whitney and I shared a theory that when we aren’t actively learning and satisfying our brain’s craving, we often sabotage ourselves in different areas of our lives.

In her book, Disrupt Yourself, Whitney spends time exploring the S-curve (typically used to describe a business’s growth) as a visual representation of skill-building or the learning curve of a new job or career. When we reach the top of the S, we hit a plateau and either stay there for a while, or we jump onto a different S, usually having to start at the bottom again.

Because of our human need to learn new things, when we sit on top of that S-curve too long, we tend to get bored. In my case, that’s when I sabotage relationships and jobs. In Whitney’s case, that’s when she takes on new or renewed interest in creative outlets.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Whitney after more than five years of conversing through email and on LinkedIn. She was a major source of inspiration for me when I started blogging, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities she offered when she published one of my first posts on her website, and a follow up post a few years later.


Recognized as one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world (Thinkers50), Whitney Johnson is an expert on disruptive innovation and personal disruption; specifically, a framework which she codifies in the critically acclaimed book Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and in her latest book Build an “A” Team: Play To Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve(Harvard Business Press, 2018). She is also the author of Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream

She developed her proprietary framework and diagnostics after having cofounded the Disruptive Innovation Fund with Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen. This framework is complemented by a deep understanding of how executives create and destroy value, having spent nearly a decade as an Institutional Investor ranked equity analyst on Wall Street.

In addition to her work as a speaker and advisor, Whitney is one of Marshall Goldsmith's original cohort of 25 for the #100 Coaches Project, is a coach for Harvard Business School's Executive Education program, frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, is a Linkedin influencer, and hosts the weekly Disrupt Yourself Podcast. You can follow her on Twitter at @johnsonwhitney.