How to Recognise and Pull Back from Burn-Out

burning outIf you recognise yourself in this coach’s question, I hope you will find some practical suggestions in my reply.

I am not sure what is happening at the moment. I became a full-time self-employed coach 5 years ago. Since then I have built up a thriving coaching practice. However, recently I have been finding it hard to stay motivated. Admittedly I have had various personal issues as well as lots of work and I probably have been working more than I should do. I am embarrassed to admit I have not had a holiday for two years, just a few days away. I used to love my coaching work and have been extremely lucky to move from the corporate arena I had come to dislike to one, coaching, that not only am I good at but totally absorbs me. What worries me is that recently I am almost grateful when someone cancels. I can’t work out what’s wrong with me? 

I find myself wondering if you have become a victim of your own success and whether due to the professional as well as personal pressures you are under you are entering a stage of burnout or at least experiencing a stress reaction. Coaches are not immune from stress however much we may like to think we are.

If you have been building your business to be in the position where after five years you have a good coaching practice this tells me you must have put a lot of hours in. Not just in seeing your clients but also in undertaking all the additional work that goes with building a practice. You now say that you have also had personal difficulties although you don’t say what they are. My guess is that you have overdone it and are paying a price.

It is very easy when you love what you do to forget that overwork is still overwork whether you love what you do or not. You do sound like the classic case of someone overtaken with excitement and love of learning who has not realized the need to pull back and manage yourself better. When your personal difficulties came along this tipped the balance.

If you have built your practice as quickly as you have then it sounds like you are a good coach and people like what you offer. However, we are only as good as our last assignment and if you feel the way you do you won’t be able to mask those feelings for long and sooner or later the reputation you have worked so hard to achieve may slip away from you.

Well done for realizing something is wrong as that has to be the first step. Now you need to take corrective action. Firstly, look at the number of hours you are putting in, not just seeing clients, but also for all the other work (administration, marketing, networking, attending coaching supervision etc.) that you are doing. Be honest and count up the hours. If you have been working more than 50 hours a week for two years you may well be tired. There may be some hard decisions to take and one of these will be the number of hours it is reasonable to work a week. Yes, there are people who thrive on pressure and you may be one of them. However, everyone has a breaking point. Make sure you get a break at the weekends and also at least three nights a week – if you find yourself panicking at what I have said then it is likely that you are working too hard as that would be the irrational reaction of someone who is. When people are stressed their judgement goes and they can find it difficult to slow down – take that as a warning sign.

Of course your personal problems need to be dealt with as they will take energy from you. Perhaps this is the time to either talk to your coaching supervisor or get a coach for yourself. Look at where you are putting your energy. For example, you may have many clients but because you are self employed you have not properly priced yourself meaning you have to see too many clients to make an income rather than pitching yourself at a rate that is higher and would mean you could see fewer clients.

Undertake an audit of where your time is going – after all there is preparation and follow up for all clients and this adds to the workload.

If you need to get professional help for your personal issues then do so. You also need to take regular breaks so I would suggest going through your diary locking out time for breaks.

It does not sound as if you have gone too far along the path but if you ignore the warning signs you probably will. Working with people requires energy and if you don’t replenish this your motivation and abilities will suffer as will your client care in the longer term.