My most traumatic interview, twice.

“It sounds like you’re pushing your nervous system to the point of dissociation; these interviews are arousing an intense fight or flight response which you’re managing to just barely suppress”.

Nailed it.  I’d just mock interviewed myself and I was unsually physically and emotionally depleted. I was absolutely terrified of something, but I didn’t know what. It felt like someone unplugged the cable box and my mind turned to TV static. I was in a stupor. 

Thirty minutes later my partner asked if I’d packed for our trip, a trip we’d been planning for months.

“What trip?” 

“Our trip tomorrow!” 

For some reason, I couldn’t think. It was, in fact, dissociation. 

“Dissociation is a break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings,” according to WedMD. 

Here’s some non-clinical context: sometimes you go through something so traumatic, that your brain sort of “checks out”. Once the traumatic event is over, your brain comes back online but it takes a while for your body to get back in touch hours, days, or longer. (Mine took hours.) Over time, dissociation can become your go-to response to stressful events – even those that rate lower on your personalized trauma scale. 

As I thought about it, I realized I had this experience many times before, but I didn’t have a name for it. 

About 15 years ago, I was interviewing for a job for which I was not qualified. I knew I wasn’t good at behavioral-based interviews because I could never remember experiences on the fly – and I didn’t know there was a strategy I could have practiced. The interview was over the phone and my boss suggested that I take the call from home so that I could be relaxed. The more relaxed I was, it seemed, the better I’d perform. 

The basic principle of behavioral-based interviewing is that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. Don’t tell me what you might do, tell me what you did (i.e., how you behaved). Most questions start with, “tell me about a time…” or “describe a time when…”. And the preferred way to answer is using the “Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR)” method. First, describe the situation or state the task. Then you provide the actions you (and you alone) took to address the problem and you close by explaining the result. 

The interviewer would identify the competencies needed for the role and ask a series of related behavioral-based questions. The top of the page contained 3-4 questions around a competency  from which the interviewer would  select. The bottom half of the page had space for the interviewer to take notes and score them. To this day, the mental image of that workbook makes me nervous.  

To prepare for my interview, I printed out competencies that I thought the interviewer was likely to pick. And I wrote out answers to all of the questions. Then, when it was time for the interview, I laid them all out on the floor. The strategy was to look at the appropriate sheet depending on the questions that was asked. And there were about a dozen pieces of paper strewn about on my living room floor when my interview started. 

This was obviously a catastrophe. The only thing I remember is frantically scanning the floor for answers. I was nervous. I was disappointed that this was the way I had to interview. I felt like a fraud. I felt dumb. I remember ending the phone call and being totally sure I was not going to get the job. The interviewer was pleasant, but I knew I didn’t do well. The anxiety continued to build through the interview and any hope for a release after the call was over was dashed immediately. After the interview was over, the anxiety was worse!

Fast forward 15 years, it’s a different interview situation but I had the same harrowing response. Part of my fear was that if I didn’t choose the perfect words for each sentence in each response, I’d have failed. In a 30-minute interview, you say about 2,000 words. To have each word be perfect is just unrealistic. But it’s what I thought was the only way to be impressive.

This was a big interview – the final of 4 – and the thought of getting all the way to the end and screwing things up was making me nervous. In the previous rounds, I did not feel like I performed well. In fact, after the second interview, I almost told the recruiter I was no longer interested. I just couldn’t bear to put myself through the ringer again like that. 

I told myself that I didn’t want to end the interview this way again. I wanted to end the interview and feel like I was engaged the entire time. I wanted to feel like the real me came out and that I got a good idea of who they were as well. 

To prepare, each day, I coached myself. I told myself that I don’t have to be perfect. And instead of putting papers on the living room floor, I came up with honest answers to questions about why I wanted the job, why I was a good fit, and what my career goals were – all in one compelling narrative. 

I made other lists that I reviewed, too. One list included times I was terrified, but I did something anyway and was successful. Another list gave me reminders of why I was likely to do a good job. And yet another list was made up of people who believed in me, even though I didn’t believe in myself. I literally emailed my friends and asked them questions like, “do you think I’m smart”? I looked at these lists every day. And when I would start to get nervous, I would read the lists. It was quite the process. 

The final interview has come and gone, but I met my goal. I was nervous, but I reminded myself to breathe. I paused before answering most questions to think about what message I wanted to get across. I also answered honestly and with integrity. Sometimes I thought, “oh, this is a bad answer”, but it was my answer, and it wasn’t canned. 

As I learn how to better manage my emotions, I notice different levels of something that feels like dissociation in more than just interviews. When I remember, my goal is to be curious about what triggered it and maybe try to determine the first time I felt it. It’s a challenging experience, but I think it’s worth it. I expect that I’ll be in more situations that I need to manage my anxiety and not feel the need to fight or flee. 

I hope it’s not too late for a comeback.

It’s been about seven months since I posted, but I want to get back on the horse. During the time I was away, I got a new job. Looking for a new job and getting acclimated to a new job takes up a lot of time. There is still a chance to meet my writing goals for 2022, but it will require that I post almost daily. The last seven months have given me a lot of content. I feel like a different person. I have experienced a lot of personal and professional success; to do it, I had to overcome significant obstacles.

I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned with the community.

About those 2022 writing goals…

I have three blogging goals for 2022:

1. To finish the year with 100 posts and 50 followers 

2. To write for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week, and

3. To feel confident about the quality of my posts.

The first quarter of 2022 has passed, so it’s time to check in on my progress.

Goal 1

I am up to 65 posts which means I’ve shared 15 new ones. At this rate, I will exceed my goal of 100 posts. And now I have 30 followers, which means I’ve added 14. I will exceed my goal of 50 followers at this rate.

Goal 2

I have written for at least 30 minutes a day, but it has not been for the blog. When I created this goal, I didn’t consider how much I had to write for work, and most of what I write for work I wouldn’t share on the blog. I’ve also done a lot of writing to get clarity on other personal and professional goals. Still, I wouldn’t share all of that on the blog either. 

Sometimes setting a leading indicator for goals (e.g., number of calories eaten, number of visits to the farmers market) is better than lagging indicators (e.g., weight, waist size). I first learned about this distinction in “4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals”. I tried to apply that principle to blogging, but it didn’t work as I expected. I need a more concrete goal, which could be something like “post once a week.” Posting once a week would help me reach my goal of 100 posts this year.

Goal 3

This goal is both ambiguous and subjective. How do I determine my quality? I’m a pretty harsh critic, and I might never be as good as I want to be. In writing, quantity can help to improve quality, so posting more frequently can help. Maybe something more concrete would be to finish a writing course. There’s a LinkedIn Learning course I started but never finished, “Writing with Flair: How to Become an Exceptional Writer,” that I can commit to completing by the end of the year. What’s great about this course is that it also provides Professional Development Units (PDUs) to maintain my PMP certification.

2022 Goals – Revised

If I were to re-write the goals at this point, they’d look like this:

  1. To post at least once every seven days, ending the year with 100 posts.
  2. To gain roughly two followers each week, ending the year with 50 followers.
  3. To finish a course on writing.

Other Challenges

Another challenge is knowing what to write about. I have a lot of thoughts throughout the week, and perhaps I could try to find a thread between all of those thoughts and write about the connection. 

I also considered using a weekly blog post as a “sprint review.” In agile project management, the work for the project is divided into sprints, usually 2 – 3 weeks. You start a sprint with a planning meeting where you decide what you will design or produce. Then you end the sprint with a sprint review meeting where you share your progress and explain what worked and what didn’t. If I thought about it some, I could find a way to apply this concept to blogging. 

Yet, another option is to share what I’ve learned in the previous seven days. Initially, that feels a bit corny, but one of my weaknesses is that I don’t take time to celebrate small (or big) wins. Once I solve a problem, I’m on to the next thing. It puts me in a state of mild-to-moderate, continual dissatisfaction with my life. I never feel like I reach the top of the mountain; it’s a constant climb. I need more moments where I can stop and appreciate the view.

After more thought, setting one topic to stick to for the next 36 weeks feels restrictive. I want to have some flexibility. And if I don’t like the topic, I don’t want to have to stick with it for the rest of the year.

Another project management principle that’s applicable here is the idea of iterations. Rather than work towards one final goal, you break up the final goal into smaller goals that are immediately useful. For example, rather than design a fantastic app in nine months, create a basic app in one month and use the following eight months for improvements and enhancements. This way, you don’t have to wait until the nine months are up to take advantage of the app’s benefits.

Closing Thoughts

The most important thing is that I sit down to write, which still terrifies me sometimes. I am still afraid of being judged and critiqued, honestly. Sometimes that fear stops me from writing altogether. But today, I committed to writing, and I started writing without a clear idea of what would come out, and then all of this came out! If I wrote a little bit each day, the final blog post would be more manageable than trying to get it all out in one session (like I’m doing today).

It doesn’t feel honest to say that I’m writing for myself when I post it on a public blog. It also feels disingenuous to say that I don’t care about what other people make of my writing. I’m not writing wholly for myself or entirely for anyone else. My meta-goal is to do something and allow myself to be bad at it or not expect it to be perfect. That’s the goal that I need to keep top of mind whenever I sit down to write. The ultimate writing goal for 2022 is to allow myself to be bad at something. Any improvement gets me closer to adequate but still far from perfection. 

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

I came across an article and podcast that I’d like to share. For many years, I thought that if I didn’t do something right the first time, I was bad at it. That’s having a fixed mindset. Over time, I’ve learned that I can get better at things with practice. That’s having a growth mindset.

This episode of Deloitte’s Capital H podcast and this article from Harvard Business Review complement each other. If you’re interested in learning more about what a growth mindset is, I recommend checking these out. Listen to the podcast first, then read the article.

“The Value of Co-Creation”, Podcast Episode Recommendation

Sometimes HR podcasts can be a real snooze fest. But this guest was really engaging. I was struck by her skill in storytelling. She paints vivid pictures with her words, and it helps with relatability.

She gives tips on starting a new C-Level HR role (some counterintuitive) and stresses the need to reinvigorate the HUMAN part of Human Resources, a theme I’m hearing from other thought leaders in the space.

10/10 would recommend.

Prosci’s Tim Creasey on Measuring Change

Just under two years ago, I became a Certified Change Practitioner through Prosci, the “world’s most popular change management certification.” Used by 80% of Fortune 100 companies, their framework – ADKAR – can design and implement individual and organizational change programs.

Tim, their Chief Innovation Officer, is one of the most passionate people about OCM I’ve ever met. He loves getting the weeds and getting wonky about change. This podcast interview is no different and is probably best aimed at OCM professionals already doing the work.

That said, there were two concepts he raised that I think are widely applicable. First, he acknowledged that the shift to data-driven decisions is a step in the right direction, but that data without context – and data that doesn’t line up with what we see – is useless.

For example, your data could show that employee engagement is way up, but based on what you and your colleagues are observing, that doesn’t seem to be true. That can be a confusing place to be in. You’re not sure if you’re tripping or the data is wrong. The lack of alignment between what you feel and what’s reported impacts your buy-in to the change program.

The second point that stuck with me was making sure everyone’s working toward the same goal. He said something like, “empowerment without alignment is anarchy.” It had a slightly softer tone, but you get the idea. It’s so frustrating for a team to work hard, only to find out they’re working in different directions.

This was a solid podcast episode. If you’re into change and you’ve got 30 minutes, I think it’s work a listen.

Using Case Study Prep for Everyday Issues

I’ve shared before that I enjoy solving problems, but I felt like I could improve my skills in that area. Sometimes I’ll encounter a new problem that will totally baffle me. I’ve started approaching this situation like as if I was preparing for a case study interview. I use a framework to do a couple of things: make sure I understand the problem, develop a hypothesis, and design a test.

I can’t do this for every issue, and really every situation doesn’t need this approach, but it helps me be more efficient with my thinking time. These guys have a YouTube channel, too. I’m currently working through the “Toothbrush Test,” a method to determine how well you’ve tailored your structure to the specific problem.

This podcast episode and video may not be the best episode to start with if you’re brand new to case studies, but if you’re deep into case study prep, you might enjoy it.

There’s got to be a better way than back-to-back meetings.

I think we’ve all experienced days of back-to-back meetings, proceeded or followed by time when we actually “work.” This feels like the norm, but it doesn’t work.

In a typical workday, I need time to collaborate with groups and individuals; time to plan, monitor, and implement projects; time to reflect; and some time to respond to urgent requests. But I’m talking to dozens of people a day who have their own needs, and it’s hard to get aligned so that we can make the BEST decisions and do our BEST work. I’m not sure if we’re trying to do too much, if we have too few people, or if we don’t know how to use the tools we have (or maybe some mix of all three).

It’s a wicked problem, but I think the teams that figure it out can have more fun at work and will be able to get more done. It’s a win-win for organizations and individuals. I like how Cal Newport thinks about these things. The solutions still need to be designed, and he admits that they’re challenging to implement, but I think his ideas are worth a listen.

Failure is all about framing.

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to write for 30 minutes, five times a week, and post 50 posts by the end of the year, averaging one post every 7-8 days. I started sharing my posts on LinkedIn, but I got nervous because people in my network would see my writing. It’s one thing to have a complete stranger on the internet read your work. But it’s something different entirely to have someone you know well review your work. It made me feel vulnerable, and I was afraid of judgment.

When I did my 30-day blogging challenge, I allowed myself to have average posts. The original intent was that quantity was more important than quality. The more posts I have, the more I practice, and the more I can improve. I’ve gotten away from that, and I’ve since been scared to post.

To correct course, I can give myself permission for this to be something I don’t have to excel at. Perhaps, my most considerable success in blogging is to allow myself to be a “failure.” It takes away a lot of the angst and helps me enjoy writing.

How To Improve Your Odds for Change Success

Organizational change management is hard – so hard that you’re likely to fail 70% of the time.

However, by focusing on performance, i.e., “what an enterprise does to deliver improved results for its stakeholders” and health, i.e., “how effectively an organization works together in pursuit of a common goal,” the clients they’ve worked with have more than doubled their odds for successful change (Keller & Schaninger, 2019).

The authors assert that their approach is unequivocally superior to others because of the extensive research and scientific rigor behind their recommendations, the comprehensiveness and pragmatism of the tools, and the approach’s ability to be customized for each client. They close their introductory chapter with a passionate plea for better change management.

I agree that change is hard – but what’s the deal with the high failure rate? It’s hard to contest the need for better change management practices, but a 30% success rate doesn’t offer much hope.

Point 1: Change management has never been more critical.

There are multiple types of change – e.g., organizational, political, social – all of which we desperately need. For example, consider that Americans generally do not have an optimistic view of the future. In a recent study by the Pew Research Center (2019), respondents overwhelmingly believed that America would lose its standing globally, implode under the cost of health care, and have a weakened economy by 2050. In addition, about half surveyed have lost confidence in our representative democracy and don’t believe our political leaders are qualified for their jobs. And 40% are worried about the country’s moral values, the climate crisis, and the quality of public schools for our children.  

But it’s not because we haven’t tried. Change has been on the agenda for political leaders, globally, for decades. The authors remind us of the political zeal of leaders like France’s Hollande and Macron, America’s attempt to “make itself great again,” and our Canadian neighbors’ belief of “real change” under the dreamy Trudeau. But the odds are stacked against them (Keller & Schaninger, 2019). There’s only a 30% chance of impacting economic inequality, climate change, and an overcrowding planet. If we don’t have better tools for designing and implementing change, we’re going to be in a pickle.

In addition to social changes, there are also changes to how we work – and not just because of COVID. One of these changes is an increasing shift towards projects and away from operations. In fact, we may need to shift our thinking to look at projects as operations.

As Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, former chairman of the Project Management Institute, writes for the Harvard Business Review, “…projects (which involve the changing of organizations) are increasingly driving both short-term performance and long-term value creation—through more-frequent organizational transformations, faster development of new products, quicker adoption of new technologies…” (Nieto-Rodriguez, 2021). Said differently, soon, we’ll all be project managers. And managing that much change can have severe consequences if we don’t know how to do it right.

Point 2: Our odds of success may be higher than we realize.

The authors tout the infamous 70% failure statistic, but I take issue with that. It’s not that change isn’t hard, but the negativity bias implied with this kind of percentage makes it feel like you are bound to fail. Here’s a personal example.

When I was preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam, my teacher said that only 30% of test-takers passed it on the first try. Even worse, while I was preparing, the test changed, which allegedly cut that success rate in half. How the heck do you stay motivated when there’s an 85% chance you’ll use most of your free time to study and still fail? Naturally, I was nervous, but I stuck with my study approach, and ultimately, I scored above the target in every area.

Perhaps, there’s some cache around passing what some would consider a difficult test – and maybe to elevate the profession, this sort of reputation is good. But in everyday life, if I told you that you had a 70% chance of failing – even with your most excellent intentions and hard work, how often would you try something new? Probably not all that often.

In a seminal work, “Reengineering the Corporation,” two renowned business authorities shared an eye-popping statistic that caught readers’ attention. “Our unscientific estimate is that as many as 50 percent to 70 percent of the organizations that undertake a reengineering effort do not achieve the dramatic results they intended (Champy & Hamper, 1993).” Note the term “unscientific estimate.” Well, after people latched on to that quote, it’s been reverberating in the change atmosphere ever since. A few years after their book was published, the authors even corrected the public, but it was too late. The looming thought of change failure would haunt business professionals for decades.

If we think we’ll fail, we’ll look for signs that we’re failing and use those as proof that we’re doomed. Unfortunately, research done at the University of Chicago shows “we assume that failure is a more likely outcome than success, and, as a result, we wrongly treat successful outcomes as flukes and bad results as irrefutable proof that change is difficult.” Thankfully, research shows that the opposite is true; if we actively look for signs of success, we’ll build momentum that helps us achieve our goals.

So, what’s the upshot here?

Change is hard – for many reasons I’ll unpack in future posts – but we aren’t doomed to fail. Doesn’t it feel bleak to think that there’s a 70% chance in 2050 you’ll be poorer, our kids will be less bright, your health with be worse, and our country will implode? Thankfully, we have change management principles that can help us significantly improve our odds for success. Moreover, we can use these principles to affect professional and social change. Kelly and Schaninger give us the McKinsey approach; you don’t have to use theirs, but I suggest that you use something.

You should not expect any change to be easy. However, “Every time we feel the impulse to say, “change is hard,” we could make a different claim that is every bit as accurate: Adaptation is the rule of human existence, not the exception. (Tasler, 2017).” 

Furthermore, we don’t approach each new change effort like a newbie. Instead, we’ve learned how to manage over time, throughout the multitude of changes thrust upon us. It is, quite literally, how we’ve learned to survive. So, start to see your challenges (and yourself) as a change success story. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and your perspective determines which future comes to pass.


Champy, J.A. & Hamper, M. (1993). Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. Harper Business.

Keller, S. & Schaninger, B. (2019). Beyond Performance 2.0: A Proven Approach to Leading Large-Scale Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Nieto-Rodriguez, A. (2021, November/December). The Project Economy Has Arrived: Use these skills and tools to make the most of it. Harvard Business Review, 38-45. 

Pew Research Center. (2019). Looking to the Future, Public Sees an America in Decline on Many Fronts.

Tasler, N. (2017). Stop Using the Excuse “Organizational Change Is Hard”. Harvard Business Review.