As a copywriter and business owner, I can’t listen to an industry podcast or open a newsletter without finding some mention of the importance of finding balance within the hustle. I do my best to stay on top of my self-care, and a few weeks ago I signed up for an early morning spin class at a studio in here in Nashville I’d never attended before. I’m new to indoor cycling, but have found that the dark room, red lights, and heavy bass allow me to convince myself that I am a morning workout person (which is actually a total and utter lie). In any case, I clipped in and prepared to pedal out some of the noise in my head.
Now, I should start off by saying that I am not averse to instructor encouragement or hearing inspirational anecdotes during a workout. After all, there is science that validates the power of positive thinking. But as soon as this particular instructor started proselytizing about our guiding light and shedding negativity, I felt like a lululemon-clad Billy Graham had descended upon us and I was immediately turned off. For most of the class she gesticulated wildly from her bike, elevated above her spinning pulpit in the front of the room, preaching her sermon of wellness and woo.
Of course, boutique fitness heavy-hitters like the SoulCycle franchise might be to blame for what appears to be a recent uptick in “meditative fitness.” And like most millennial-ish female entrepreneurs with a little disposal income, I’m drawn to things that promise me less stress, more energy, and greater enlightenment under the guise of #selfcare.
But I’m also well-versed in marketing psychology and I’m a trained mental health professional. I’ve studied the inner workings of the human mind and I’ve applied behavioral science in treating dysfunction in real people. So in short, I know a thing or two about the path to healthy, sustainable change.
And it does not begin and end with vision boards, essential oils, bath bombs, yoga retreats, life coaching, inspirational quotes, or anything else someone is trying to sell you on Instagram.
But it Feels So Good
All of the those self-care endeavors I just mentioned feel good, at least for a little while, and can have a meaningful place in a healthy lifestyle. And if you’re reading this and you’ve got an extra ticket to a yoga retreat in Bali - sign a sister up.
The issue here is that in commercializing self-care and coaching, we risk positioning ourselves to purchase solutions rather than do the real work necessary to achieve long-term results. Not to mention, the wellness and coaching space is an almost entirely unregulated industry. I can call myself a life coach, soul healer, or dream weaver and start charging for my “services” today - and no one governing body exists to check my credentials (or my intentions). For example, maybe you’ve heard of the MLM essential oil company called Young Living who has come under fire from the FDA for false claims. One of their reps who operated as “The Path to Sunshine” was marketing one of their oils as a treatment for sexual assault. And that rage that’s welling up inside you as you realize what you just read? DoTerra has a “treatment” for that too.
In Praise of Heavy Vetting
As human beings, we are naturally conditioned to avoid pain - sometimes even at our own expense. It’s so much easier to fork over $2k for a “wellness weekend” or coaching intensive then it is to engage in the painful process of acknowledging our own limitations and self-imposed barriers. As delicious as those vegan bites might be during your blissed out retreat, they aren’t a lasting fix for whatever is standing in the way of your own growth or healing.
So what do you do? Set fire to your vision board and yank the crystals out of your bra? Maybe.
What I’ve found to be most helpful is slowing down and carefully vetting resources and supports before money ever changes hands. One of the most powerful things I learned in graduate school was how to measure the impact of my work and communicate my value to stakeholders. Of course, not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything we measure matters. But remember that as a consumer you always have the right to ask questions, and here are a few you should be asking the prospective healers and helpers in your life:
Ask a prospective coach or helper to provide you with information on the outcomes of their work. Ask how their clients’ lives improved because of their work together and ask to speak to references. If you hear crickets, or if they’re offended by the inquiry, run.
Before someone offers you advice - in business, friendship, love, or on your yoga mat, find out what qualifies them to do so. Ask about credentials and training, look for social proof, and find out if they are being supervised by a more senior member of their profession.
If you’re going to purchase a workshop or retreat in the personal development space, definitely ask about the experience of whoever is leading the course. Ask what type of theoretical framework the training is grounded in (not because you need to understand the nitty gritty of the framework - but because you need to find out if there is one).
Dig around and look for reviews published on the provider’s website or elsewhere. Are they actively engaged on social media? Are they providing value to their followers? Or does it seem like their presence is more aimed at sales alone?
Check to see if the coach or provider is soliciting feedback. People who care about doing ethical work ask their clientele about what’s working and what’s not.
With a little practice, you can ensure that these points get covered organically within the first few conversations and it doesn’t have to feel like an inquisition. I recently hired a business coach myself and I had to ask him a few tough questions about his experience coaching women. What struck me was his willingness to engage and open up about our differences, and that went a long way in building trust between us.
TLDR: When you’re stressed out and you’re not meeting your financial goals, it might be tempting to throw some money at a would-be savior who looks like she’s living the dream. But before you do, remember that the process of achieving success is terribly unsexy and rarely shared online. You deserve a coach or helper who can demonstrate their value and who respects you enough to be transparent about what they can and cannot do for you.