The Selflessness Switch

The question was "How do people with jobs that require pessimism: lawyers, firemen, policemen, turn that switch off in the rest of their lives?". It was posed to Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and the man behind "Learned Optimism".

It was a stumper. Seligman is man with many answers but he couldn't conjure a satisfying response to this one. Lawyers, who must imagine the worst possible outcomes for their clients and do everything to prevent it, or policemen, who must imagine the worst possible threats to their own and others safety, must somehow find a way to flip into a completely different mindset when they put their job down for the day.

It made me think about coaching, a job that doesn't require pessimism. It does, however, on many levels require selflessness. Coaches feel a strong pull to day in, day out, put themselves out to the athletes in their charge and not always get the same in return. Which begs the question: how can coaches switch their selflessness enough to be their best selves?

Too much of a good thing

Some of the best coaches I know are selfless to a fault. Let me explain. They are suffering from health problems related to their lack of self-care. I recognize the trap because I've fallen into it too many times to count.

The last time I can remember was a year ago. My mother was dying of a brain tumor, and I had the time and flexibility to pour myself into caring for her. I didn't set good boundaries. Before I knew it I was deep down in a hole, deeper than I'd ever been in my life. 

The best coaches I know can tell a similar story. About how they don't make time to exercise but are there for every kid they coach (including running extra practice for Allie so she can go to that lecture). Or how they've foregone relationships because it was just too hard to fit into their coaching schedule with so many nights and weekends.

Or how they've stayed and coached a team because they felt such strong loyalty to the swimmers that they work with their, sacrificing a better life for their own family so that other families can thrive.

I certainly don't have an answer, but I want to start looking for one. Coaches need a selflessness switch, a way to turn off the thing that makes them so great for the athletes they coach for long enough to be great to themselves.