Always staying “sane” in a deeply personal, helping profession such as coaching can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Today’s world hardly qualifies as that. Dealing with the pandemic is stressful enough without also considering the changes that the pandemic is bringing to coaching both now and for the future.
As a coach, your main goal is to help others achieve their goals. Even more than in other professions, it’s important to be at your best as much as possible because some of what clients learn from coaches is implicit and converyed by example. With awareness and action and these five strategies below, coaches can stay ahead of keeping burnout and other issues and stay “sane”.
Strategy #1 - Set an Example
As a coach who helps others, it's important to remember that you, too, have needs and have a responsibility for ensuring that they are addressed. As Taylor Morgan, founder & CEO of The Captain’s Lifestyle, explains, “I practice what I preach. As a holistic lifestyle specialist and high-performance coach, I teach that YOU are your first priority. You can't produce high-quality work or help others to the best of your ability if you are not functioning at 100%.”
More broadly, top coaches recommend making self-care part of your daily routine. Rebecca O'Brien of Wellness by Rebecca offers this expert advice:
Prioritize self-care that your mind and body need. Make time for what you enjoy. Strive for progress, not perfection: Are you performing to expectations or overproducing? Check-in with yourself: How are you feeling? How much sleep are you getting, what are you eating/drinking? How often do you exercise? You can prevent burnout with self-awareness, inner work, and rest/relaxation.
Being a successful coach means not only helping others directly but also setting a good example and being at your best.
Strategy #2 - Recognize Early Signs of Burnout
Many coaches can quickly identify signs of burnout in their clients; it’s more challenging to do so with oneself. Success here starts with knowing what to look for. To this end, Bradley Stevens of LLC Formations provides a handy approach: “In its early stages, burnout symptoms for coaches include physical and emotional fatigue, low energy, cynicism, lack of patience or creativity, and an overall overwhelm with responsibility, even towards the simplest tasks. It’s not too late to put an end to it before it intensifies.”
Sometimes these burnout signs aren’t always easily noticeable, as Life Coach Diane Martinez of Conscious Creating Life Coaching notes:
Signs of burnout can be subtle, but awareness is our game, so we can tune in to notice these changes in our practice: having less enthusiasm for meeting with clients or leading classes, shifting from predominantly listening to predominantly talking during sessions, leaning into telling a client what to do, instead of asking insightful questions that lead them to their own answers, and lack of engagement during a session.”
It’s important to try to recognize these signs before they snowball. Journaling and reflection can be another handy tool in this regard. “Burnout is very real,” explains Julieanne O'Connor, career coach at Animal Impulse. “I never ignore the early warning signs of fear, stress, and other forms of anxiety that cause anger, depression, or exhaustion. I regularly acknowledge on paper where I’m at, where I want to go, and most importantly, my why behind it all.”
Strategy #3 - Use Other Coaches
Another way to stay sane (as previously discussed in this business blog) is to use the very thing you offer to others: coaching. Certified coach Mike Bundrant of iNLP Center advises fellow coaches that “we should walk our own talk and hire a coach! Every life coach should be in coaching as a client. It's our professional duty to work on ourselves.” Indeed, some clients could take the position that if coaching is so valuable, that there would be something odd about their own coach not taking advantage of this opportunity.
In particular, coaches can provide part of an early warning system for signs of impending burnout, as discussed in the previous section. According to Nance L. Schick, New York City-based conflict resolution coach of Third Ear Conflict Resolution, “nearly every coach I know has a coach. We also have mastermind groups or other accountability partners because we know that our work can be emotionally, energetically, and intellectually draining. We need to have mutually nurturing and supportive relationships, which help to identify burnout in its early stages.”
Coaches understand the intricacies of the business and can be a great support system because of this. As life coach Carrie Wren of Carrie Wren Coaching + Yoga explains, “I find it imperative as a coach to maintain a relationship with my own coach to both challenge and support me personally and professionally, as well as receiving ongoing mentoring, peer support, and training.”
Of course, these are only some of the benefits that coaches get from working with other coaches. As discussed previously:
Coaching is a rare industry in which providers can experience the process from the consumer’s point of view. Not only can coaches benefit from the coaching process itself, but they can also gain insight into the process from a client’s perspective as well as ideas and techniques that they can apply to their own coaching business.
Strategy #4 - Set and Maintain Boundaries
As a coach, it is crucial to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. This is even more important in these times when the distinction for both clients and providers between work and personal time is becoming increasingly blurred.
It doesn’t ultimately help your clients to be available 24/7, only to be stretched too thinly to be effective (or to inhibit clients from being able to try to solve their own problems using coaching as a resource). Being in control of your personal and professional calendar is crucial as well in boundary-setting. It sets you up for success. Jennifer Bellinger of Level Up Coaching describes her approach: “I make sure to enter my personal life events first. This includes time with my kids, appointments, meal planning, and vacations. Then I enter the time slots where I work ON my business. Focusing on my personal life first keeps my WHY as my priority.”
Startup Psychologist & Coach Noa Matz of F2 Venture Capital approaches the issue in terms of activities that in vs. out of scope of her engagement:
An essential and practical tool for staying on top of coaching work is creating clear boundaries. It’s not only about setting clear times but also boundaries with regards to the issues a coach deals with and those not under their responsibility. For example, if I’m coaching and I see the client urgently needs to recruit a specific position, it’s tough to hold myself back from handling the recruiting myself. However, this is a boundary I have to draw and remind myself that this is not what I was hired for, and it is not in my domain.
Best-selling author Michael Levitt of Breakfast Leadership suggests that coaches “establish boundaries around working hours. Since the pandemic, many coaches became full-time school teachers due to lockdowns and in-class schools being shifted to remote learning. Encouraging coaches to shut down work by early evening can be crucial to maintaining wellbeing.”
That said, what might be draining for one coach might be energizing for another; it’s essential to find what works for you. For example, empowerment Mindset Coach Antoinette Beauchamp doesn’t think in terms of on or off hours or lists of areas that are in or out of scope but rather, in terms of “setting energetic boundaries. They give you space to take in what you need and step away from what you don't, helping you preserve your energy, harness your motivation, and allow you to be more mindful about how and where you spend your time.”
One key theme from the various approaches above is to set boundaries that reflect your lifestyle, mission, and values. Prioritize your schedule and schedule your priorities. With those considerations in mind, you can plan to make time for everything your body, soul, and mind need for both work and play while minimizing stress and disruption.
Strategy #5 - Continue Learning & Growing
Being a coach is likely something you’re doing because you love it, and it’s important to remember why you chose the profession in the first place. This can help avoid stagnation, boredom, and burnout. University career coach Nadia Ibrahim-Taney explains, “I love learning. It’s a great way for me to ‘refill my bucket.’ It excites and engages me, and I bring that energy back into my career coaching and to my clients.”
Learning doesn’t necessarily mean being part of a formal program. Ibrahim-Taney notes that she “often squeezes in a 15 minute LinkedIn Learning module during lunch or listens to a podcast or watches a YouTube video” to start current.
Figure out what style of growth works for you and run with it. As life coach Taylor Morgan explains, “growth is any type of education - books, podcasts, courses, practicing skills, etc. Just because you're a coach doesn't mean you should stop learning. Education should be a never-ending process, ESPECIALLY for coaches, so you can better help your clients.”
Being a coach doesn’t mean you don’t need help. It’s a great idea to check in with yourself in order to remain sane, especially during these unsettling times. Part of this process is hiring a coach for yourself and looking for signs of burnout before they grow too deep.
The sooner you catch any burnout behavior, the easier it will be to combat it. Establishing boundaries is also a great method as well as continuing your education, which helps to remind yourself why you got in the coaching business in the first place and keep your energy fresh.