Tips to See Reality through the Flash

by Alli Polin on March 25, 2014

Learn to see reality through the bright and shiny illusion of perfection

It was hard to miss the traveling carnival setting up on the side of the road; I live in a small town and this was big news.  That weekend, driving home from dinner, we saw the bright lights and they were calling our names (at least the children’s names).  From a distance it literally sparkled and the music was loud, but filled with energy and it worked its magic; we did a U-turn and pulled into the lot.

A whopping thirty seconds after getting out of the car, my husband and I were ready to run the other way.  Resisting the urge to leave, we set parameters around time and money.  Every crappy ride was $10 and it looked like they had not been serviced since around 1972.  Moreover, every game cost the same price and just like in the movies, no kid was ever going to win; there was only one winner and it was the carnival.

Fifteen minutes later and $60 poorer we finally got back in the car, slathered on loads of anti-bacterial rub, and tried to explain to our children why it was not what it seemed.  Shiny lights distracted us, masking reality, and masterfully let our imaginations fill in the story of what we most wanted it to be; truth obscured by our desire. 

Do you let your desires, your wishes, color in your reality? I’ll bet it happens almost every day.

Recruiting – Pain vs Reality

I’ve hired people who sparkled in the interview even brighter than the shiny carnival lights.  I desperately wanted them on the team and fell under their spell.  However, just like my carnival transformed in appearance under the harsh light of day, my new team members had major blemishes, gaps, a well-pieced together illusion too.

I could hop in my car and leave the carnival.  It was not quite as easy coaching, mentoring and managing a new team member who ultimately was a poor fit and needed to leave.


  • Behavioral interviewing works because it let’s you focus on knowledge, skills and abilities and avoid the trap of “I just like them.”
  • Have other people on your team interview candidates to confirm that your rose-colored glasses are not changing reality.
  • Listen to feedback from other interviewers.  If everyone has doubts, consider them, instead of pushing forward with an offer.

Organizational Culture and Fit – Illusion vs Reality

Dream jobs felt made up until I was offered mine.  It sounded so perfect and I even got to make up my title!  Fun!  **Remember, I thought the rides at my crappy carnival would be fun too looking in from the roadside.

In this case, the reality of the organization culture  and employee value proposition did not match the illusion of the sales process.  In only a few days the smoke had lifted and I knew I was in for a rough ride.  The question was, would I whine about it or do something about it?


  • Use resources like LinkedIn and Glassdoor to put together a picture of reality from the inside out.
  • Be aware if you’re working with a contingent recruiter that only gets paid when the position is filled.
  • Trust your gut.  If something feels off in the interview process, don’t let $$$ blind you to the importance of strong cultural fit.

Personal Relationships – WannaBe vs Reality

Who doesn’t want to hang out with the cool kids or date yesterday’s football captain that’s now the CEO?  Somehow, you feel special standing next to people who think that they’re special.  Hint: You’re special too.

My carnival looked perfect until I looked more closely.  How often have you gone on dates, to a party or networking event with “the chosen” only to discover they’re boring, mean or, even more likely, just like you?


  • If the first thing someone tells you is their title, get curious.  Who are they really?  Put aside their big title to do some digging.
  • If you’re caught up in the show of how you want to be seen, ask yourself, do you remember who you truly are?  If not, it’s time to break the frame and rediscover you.
  • Relationships are between two human beings not carefully crafted personas.  Let your hair down and you’ll invite others to do the same.

How have you made the leap to embrace reality over flash?  What are your tips?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

(Photo credit)

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz March 25, 2014 at 7:31 am


Yes, when those “little red flags” go up in what we observe, we need to take the time to explore why the flag began to flutter. Although it could be a false alarm, most cases, it is not. Being aware is such a critical skill in leading, choosing, interacting, and much, much more. Grateful for your insights here!



Alli Polin March 25, 2014 at 8:56 am


It’s easy to ignore a red flag or even two but so many of us have gotten increasingly adept at explaining away dozens of them. Seeing things for what they are doesn’t always mean running the other way either, just going in with an awareness of the situation and making an empowered decision from there.

Right back at you! Always grateful for your insights!


Samantha March 25, 2014 at 8:45 am

Yes, I agree with Jon. Pay attention to those red flags. We’ve been trained to ignore our ‘gut’….

LOVE this post Alli because it’s so true. There’s image and then there’s reality. More often then not, the two are definitely not the same.


Alli Polin March 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

We have been trained to ignore our guts! Our intuition is usually telling us something and even if it’s just a reminder to get curious, should not be ignored.

There is image and there is reality – so true. Whether on Social Media or at the office… that is very much the case. Each of us needs to learn to discern between the two.

Many thanks, Samantha!


Joy Guthrie March 25, 2014 at 9:08 am

Really great reminder Alli. Last week, I was interviewing current & proposed members of a team for one of our customers. I was the “objective” 3rd party for all the candidates. It was interesting to see the hiring manager wanting to overlook a variety of red flags in one particular individual. He was sure that the person just didn’t interview well. The manager wasn’t paying attention to the fact that the person did not have the technical or business skills that were the baseline requirements for the position. More importantly, the person expressed that he was most comfortable with an environment that was an antithesis to the culture in the hiring group. Your posts in this area have been most timely for me. Thank you.


Alli Polin March 25, 2014 at 10:48 pm

I’m so glad this was timely, Joy! I feel like I know that hiring manager 🙂

I’ve trained groups on behavioral interviewing in the past and the hardest part was putting aside what you want someone to be, or someone you just liked, because you wanted a seat filled. There are baseline requirements for a reason.

That organization was smart when they hired you to get involved with their process.


Terri Klass March 25, 2014 at 11:08 am

It is sometimes so difficult to figure out an organization’s culture before being actually being part of it. We also make judgements during our interviewing process.

This reminds me of when my daughters were trying to decide where to go to college. One of my daughter’s made her decisions about the school based on the tour guide- were they cute and personable?. They both looked around and asked themselves: “Do I look like the kids here? Will I fit in?”

I love your idea of checking out Glassdoor. I would add that while researching a company, it may be helpful to look on linkedin or facebook and see if you or one of your friend’s knows someone there. The millennials are great at tapping into their networks.

Thanks for a great and insightful post, Alli!


Alli Polin March 25, 2014 at 10:52 pm

The best way to get insights on an orgs culture is to find people you trust that are willing to share the truth about their experience. LinkedIn, Facebook are great resources. When I was in the middle of interviewing a few years ago I had many friends that shared reputations not only about the overall culture but about individual leaders I would work for directly. I took their insights seriously but also put them aside as I was moving through the process to balance the rumor mill with my heart and gut. More often than not, it was clear that their insights were spot on.

Love the story about your daughters! There is something to be said about looking around and asking yourself that very question.

Thanks, Terri!


LaRae Quy March 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Great reminder that we all special, too!

No need to think of others as more accomplished, better looking, more successful, etc….that, too, is perception. Because when you get underneath the glam exterior, there is a person just as like you and I.

We are all special…especially YOU, Alli!


Alli Polin March 25, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Smoke and mirrors go a long way. When we only see what people want us to see it’s easy to fall into a feeling that we’re “less than.” Truly, we are all special and “equal to” each other.

Appreciate you, LaRae!


Kaarina Dillabough March 25, 2014 at 1:52 pm

There’s a great line from a Northern Pikes song that goes “she ain’t pretty she just looks that way”. In other words, we need to see beyond what someone presents to us, and get them to interact with us in a meaningful way. Asking situational questions, what-would-you-do-if, watching their body language. But even then, we can sometimes be fooled by what they serve up. And as always…it’s always the “meeting after the meeting” that speaks volumes. I always like to interact with someone unofficially after the meeting: close my books and chat for a while, walk them to the elevator. That’s when the real person comes out to play.

Great post:) Cheers! Kaarina


Alli Polin March 26, 2014 at 6:38 am

Thanks, Kaarina!

Yes! The meeting after the meeting. Formalities be gone and it’s really just people talking. Get more insights in those few minutes than many long meetings around the conference table.

Great to get some of your wisdom over here! Thanks, Kaarina! xo


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