As a freelancer who works from home, I sometimes wish I had a career coach. I know career coaches mainly work with people who are looking for a new job, changing careers, starting your own business, or simply trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. I don’t need that kind of help, but I love the idea of having regular check-ins with a business expert who can help me prioritize my projects, analyze the progress I’m making toward my goals, and encourage me to push myself out of my comfort zone. I probably won’t have a real career coach anytime soon, because they typically cost around $100-$500 per session, and there’s no way I can swing that on a regular basis.
For now, I’m taking everything I know about career coaches and trying to coach myself.
When a friend of mine lost her job last year, her severance package included a bunch of sessions with a career coach. With the help of the coach, she has turned her side project—photography—into a new career. I talked to her about the kinds of help she got from the coach, and created a DIY version.
Here’s my self-coaching plan:
Pick a time every week when you can take an hour for yourself.
Put it in your calendar, and if coworkers have access to your calendar, mark that time as “busy,” so that nothing else preempts it. You deserve to make your goals and plans a priority. This is the hardest part of self-coaching, because you have to commit to setting that time aside every week, and you have to show up ready to focus. I think being accountable to someone else is the most valuable part of having a real career coach, because if you know your coach is expecting to meet with you or have a phone call with you at a particular time, you have to show up. If you know your coach is going to ask how much progress you’ve made since the last meeting, you’re going to feel more inspired to get some stuff done.
In the past, I’ve sometimes made accountability deals with friends where we promised that we’d check in and make sure each other was working toward their goal. It works for a while, but eventually we both get busy with other things, and stop following up. Self-coaching will only work if you can really hold yourself accountable. If you are 100% serious about improving your career or starting your own business, you’re more likely to take self-coaching seriously, too. Set yourself reminders about each self-coaching session, and start right on time.
Assess where you are in your career, and where you want to be.
Be honest with yourself and really think about this stuff. Does your current job make use of your talents? Do you feel good about where your career is headed? What would it take for you to feel really successful? Years in the future, what do you want to be remembered for? Make a list of your goals (even the huge ones that feel totally unrealistic!) and determine which ones are the highest priority.
Start scheduling specific steps.
Once you have a prioritized list of goals, break them down into smaller, manageable action steps (the first steps should be ones you can take today, or sometime this week). Schedule a few of those actions into your week, so that you can make real progress before next week’s self-coaching session.
Give yourself homework.
Real career coaches give their clients things to work on at home between sessions, and I think this is an important part of every self-coaching session. I’m almost finished with my YA novel, so in the near future, I might give myself homework like “Research a list of agents that work with contemporary YA novelists.” Depending on your focus, you might give yourself homework to read a book on how to perform well in job interviews, or to update your resume so that you can start sending it out. Whether you’re starting your own business or up-leveling your career, give yourself homework that’s due the next time your inner career coach meets with you.
Think about what’s holding you back.
Do you avoid networking, because you’re shy or awkward? Me, too! But I’m doing my best to be more social. My photographer friend didn’t like telling people about her work, because she thought she sounded too self-promotional. Her career coach helped her realize that telling new people that she’s a photographer isn’t pushy—it’s a great way to find potential clients. If you feel yourself resisting or procrastinating one of the actions you scheduled for yourself, ask yourself why. What are you so worried about? Won’t you be impressed with yourself if you push through that nervousness and fear and make it happen? The worst that could happen is you experience failure, and even if it’s stressful, failure is an essential part of success. You might as well get it over with.
Keep careful records.
I’m not naturally a very organized person, but as a freelancer, I’ve learned the value of tracking things in Excel spreadsheets. I have a spreadsheet for the pitches I send out to different editors so that I remember to follow up on them if I don’t hear back. In another spreadsheet, I list every invoice I send out, so that I can make sure I get paid for the work I do. (That spreadsheet also makes it easy to see how much money I’ve made in a particular month, or what I’ve made so far this year.) I also track my work-related expenses, because that makes life a whole lot easier when tax time rolls around. If you’re starting your own business, keeping detailed records of everything is essential. You’ll have a million things to think about as you get the business up and running, and if you track as many details as possible in a spreadsheet, it’s easy to find the information you need later. Need a basic spreadsheet idea? Make a list of your goals, and in the next column, mark whether you consider it an A, B, or C priority. Now you have a list that can be sorted by name or by priority level. (I like to gray things out after I accomplish them, but it’s your spreadsheet, and you can use it however you want.)
Give yourself plenty of pats on the back.
My photographer friend told me that whenever she pushes herself out of her comfort zone to accomplish something work-related, she hears her career coach’s voice in her head, saying how proud she is. Even people who can’t afford a real career coach deserve to experience that feeling—so let’s give it to ourselves. When you take even a tiny step toward one of your goals, tell yourself, “Great job on that!” Celebrate your successes as they happen, and take a moment during next week’s self-coaching session to feel good about everything you accomplished during the week.
Of course, there are limits to self-coaching. Professional career coaches can do things that you can’t easily do for yourself, like give you expert advice on your specific situation. They can provide motivation and encouragement when you feel like giving up. (That’s hard to do when you’re coaching yourself.) They can also see what you’re going through from an outside perspective, and give you honest feedback on what you’ll have to do to reach your goals.
Self-coaching isn’t perfect, but it’s free—no matter how many sessions you want—so why not try it out?
Make an appointment in your calendar right now, and set it to recur every week. You aren’t just making time for yourself, you’re making time for your dreams.
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