I should have seen the signs a mile away: Anger, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights, and fatigue. I have a daily planner on my bookshelf that serves as a journal, and each day gets a brief overview of what happens within it and how I feel. Roughly a year ago, these feelings underpinned my daily entries, but I brushed them off because I thought I couldn't control them. Six months later, I quit my job as a Strength and Conditioning Coach. A week after that, I woke up one morning with the full intention of taking my own life, which thankfully was prevented by being in the presence of people who cared about me. I went from being someone who seemed to have everything going for him to having people ask why I didn't smile anymore.
It felt like it happened in an instant. But I had to make a change, so I left my job as a coach and went off the grid. I didn't just get offline, but I physically went off into the woods to work as a cook at wilderness boys camp and tried to wrap my mind around where it all went awry.
It took me two months to wrap my head around what happened. Coaching was my passion. But in the end, I still burned out.
Burnout is one of those topics in coaching that people don't like to talk about. Like getting hurt in a car accident because you didn't wear a seat belt, we say, "It won't happen to me." I find that so many live with this mentality, and ultimately many come to that point only to be left in bewilderment as to how it happened. But burnout happens to the best in any field. We pursue excellence from all angles, burning the candle from both ends until there's no wick left. But it doesn't have to be this way.
After taking those months to reflect and going through the process of finding another job, I found myself still drawn to coaching. In fact, I got hired with a promotion at the facility I left a few months earlier. But with experience on my side, I knew I had to be honest with myself as to what I did that was in my control that leads to burnout and how I could combat it the second time around. Which lead me to the following strategies:
1. Don't Answer Work Emails From Home
I once heard the advice, "Don't work where you sleep or work where you play, and vice versa." Before burning out, I was accessible, nearly 24/7. I felt as if I didn't respond to emails within an hour or so, I'd lose clients or potential business. It was exhausting because I'd answer emails and phone calls most of the day, come home and end up doing more work instead of unwinding. But in order to find some sort of balance, leaving work at work has become a major win, and can be for you as well. If your home also primarily serves as your office, I'd suggest at least setting boundaries in terms of hours or even rooms of your home that you can do work in. But outside of those set things, leave work at work.
2. Take At Least One Day Off Per Week
When I looked at those journal entries, the tipping point of the burnout roller coaster happened during a four-week span, where I had no days off. I worked in some capacity on-site at the facility I coached at for 26 straight days. I never recovered from that. I find that this is a product of a grind culture that promotes these ridiculous hours and expectations, but it isn't sustainable in the long term. Like not sending emails from home, taking a day off where you do no coaching work can be a successful tactic for creating balance.
3. Be Picky Around Who You Work With
Everyone at some point will encounter a client, athlete, or parent of an athlete who pushes the buttons too much or demands a lot of you. This is something I will say is better left up to judgment, as sometimes that extra amount for that person is worth it. But something I've found is that if you're in the coaching business, then you can be choosy about who you do business with. You choose how you will be treated from the get-go and don't compromise on it. If you coach within a school setting and don't have as much control over it, my advice would be to develop a system of communication that clearly defines boundaries and affords fewer opportunities for those types of demanding individuals from taking too much of you.
4. Find An Outside Hobby
The most startling realization I had when I left coaching came the week after I left my coaching job. Someone at the camp I had gone to work at asked me what I was going to do on my day off. When I told them I didn't know, they asked what I liked to do, which made me realize that I didn't know that either. All I knew was coaching. I had no outside hobbies or interests that I could use to take my mind off of what I did for work. Just like answering emails from home, not having a hobby took up a lot of emotional real estate without paying nearly the rent, it should have. If you find yourself in this situation, I will encourage you to sample things to find what it is that you can channel some energy into.
5. Wear Real Clothes When You're Not Coaching
I originally limited this list to four tips, but I felt this was worthy enough to include. Now, I am well aware gym clothes are comfortable. Let's face it, big-name athleisure brands like Lululemon thrive on how comfortable workout clothes can be; I jokingly remind people that coaching is so great because I can wear joggers and sneakers to work every day. But just like not doing work from home, if you wear different clothes when you're not coaching, you begin to find a similar state of work-life balance. Throw on a pair of jeans and a flannel, wear nice shoes, rock a nice button-down shirt, or whatever it is that you find fashionable. But don't solely wear gym clothes. I'd even extend this into when you're staying in for the day, to wear clothes that are more casual instead of sweats and hoodies. Just like you don't "work where you play", don't dress for work when you're not at work.
Now, I realize there are lots of different factors that may alter the exact implementation of these five tips, but what I think is the most important is the principle behind them. Separating work and life can be extremely difficult these days, especially with modern-day media outlets providing an endless stream of people who are "crushing it" and "happy" (I use quotations here due to the nature of social media serving more as more "highlight reel than the game film"). But these tips are something that has had a profound impact on me in coming back to coaching after burnout, and hopefully, they provide you with some value as well.