What My Coaching Clients Taught Me in 2020

One topic came up more than any other, and it made me realize I needed to look at it more closely myself.

As a professional coach, many of my clients came into 2020 thinking that they would be focusing on one or two particular areas of professional or personal growth, only to have their entire lives thrown for a loop by the pandemic. For some, suddenly the promotion was far less important than simply staying employed. For others, working on behavioral blind spots became secondary to keeping quarantine-induced household chaos at bay.

As the pandemic wore on, one theme began to come up in conversation again and again. Sometimes it was only mentioned in passing as a wistful memory or slight annoyance. More often, it was a shadow that cast its pall over everything. For everyone, it boiled down to two words: self-care. And more specifically, the lack thereof.

Self-care vanished when it gave up early morning workouts, alone time, or being “off” from work because of the omnipresent laptop. It looked like snappishness, doomscrolling, or weight gain. It felt like fatigue, insomnia, or misery. It showed up in many ways, both simultaneously unique and consistent. For those who had an established practice of self-care pre-pandemic, its loss was mourned. For those who went into lockdown without one, the lack of prioritizing one’s needs seemed increasingly urgent. So, what to do?

Coming up with creative solutions to bring back self-care became a popular coaching discussion, and the clients’ solutions were always distinctly personal and unique to their situation and personalities. I am so grateful to have been a thinking and accountability partner for them at a time when many were isolated from their usual support network.

Meanwhile, I empathized deeply with my clients who were struggling with self-care because I was in the same boat. For me, self-care seemed like the easiest thing to throw over the side to keep afloat this year. Like many self-employed entrepreneurs, 2020 meant I constantly wondered, is it possible to have a thriving business in a pandemic? The only way to figure that out, I reasoned, was to work like hell. Focus single-mindedly on tasks and ignore the reminders from my watch (and my aching back) that I hadn’t stood up in hours. Hole up in my office while the family grows grouchy outside the door because I’m way past the hour when I said I’d be done working. Collapse in front of the TV at night to eat terribly and continue my bodily metamorphosis into a couch cushion. It was not a virtuous cycle, and my guilt (and back pain) was becoming unbearable. For crying out loud, didn’t I know better?

But then something illuminating started happening with my clients. The self-care routines they were implementing were working. They were feeling better. They were more motivated, more at peace with the craziness and the sadness of 2020 that was still swirling around them. I saw resilience, I saw hope…and I saw inspiration. My clients were showing me the way and (unknowingly) encouraging me to start making changes in my daily self-care. It started small like drinking more water, and grew larger later like recommitting to regular exercise. The difference in my mood, productivity, and relationships were immediate. Coach, coach thyself.

I don’t like the concept of New Years’ resolutions and stopped making them years ago, but I do resolve to continue the work of self-care in 2021. Every single person in my life, myself included, is noticeably better off when I make it a priority. In fact, my family is turning self-care into group-care at my request by hauling me away from my computer to go for a walk, meal planning, or telling me to put down my phone.

It is great to have accountability partners for self-care, and my clients continue to be one of my greatest sources of inspiration. In turn, I know they are getting a better coach — not just because I am walking the walk, but because we are walking that road together.



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Ruth Calabrese

Ruth Calabrese


Certified leadership coach, speaker and humorist. And I love mac 'n cheese.