• Cara Heilmann

Three Questions To Ask Your Client To Determine If They Are In The Wrong Job or Just Burnt Out


I absolutely love and believe in what I do–so much so that I train other coaches. Do I feel like this is what I’m meant to be doing? Absolutely. Do I regret becoming a coach? Never. I consider it my calling, my mission. So why do I feel burnt out?


Dealing with a job you hate will burn you out sooner than later, unless you are naturally blessed with a huge capacity for detachment. But you can absolutely burn out on a job that you adore. That old saw about “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” I appreciate the sentiment–but respectfully, it’s more like “Do what you love and you usually won’t mind that you’re working your butt off.” When we love our work, we can become very immersed in it. We think about it constantly. We bring it home with us. We’re always ideating and innovating and refining things in our minds. But human beings require periods of rest. We need to have an “off” switch. Or at least a dimmer. Everyone has a finite amount of weight they can bench press, and if you’re consistently adding more weight to that barbell you will eventually find your muscles just give out.


As a career coach, you’ll often be working with folks who are looking to reinvent themselves. Sometimes they are already clear on why, and need help with the “how.” Sometimes, all they know is they hate their job.


It can be hard to tell the difference between temporary burnout and genuine misalignment, and not all of your clients will be self-awareness unicorns with a firm grasp on the difference. Here are some discernment questions you might want to ask. Some of them might seem obvious.

  1. What is something you can’t not do? As in, what are the things about you that are basic and non-negotiable? (Some people are fundamental explainers. Some are interpreters. Some are mechanics. Some need to be in service. Some are researchers. What are your client’s “being me means approaching every situation through this lens” traits?)

  2. Do you derive your sense of identity, or purpose, or meaning, from your work, or is your identity invested in other things? If so, can you identify what about your current or recent job wasn’t validating for you?

  3. Have you ever had a job you loved? What was it, when was it, what did you love about it and why did you leave it?

These and similar questions can often provoke a reflection from a client that will clarify whether they have transient burnout or are truly not where they should be. Clients might reach the realization that they basically love their job, but the salary is inadequate and they are burning out because they feel resentful over money strain. They might reawaken a suppressed longing to go back to school. They might be festering over a thwarted lifelong dream of becoming a restaurateur that makes their current life as a marketing manager feel empty. Once you glean a few of these insights from a client, you are on your way to guiding them toward a reasonable, sustainable path forward.


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