What I Learned About Investing in Myself After a Year of Coaching

Jean Hsu

Jean Hsu

Co-founder of Co Leadership, Engineering leadership coach. Previously engineering at Medium, Pulse News, Google. Likes sushi, code deletion, and copy-editing.

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It had taken me two weeks to write the email, even though it was on my mind constantly as something I wanted to do. She replied a few days later, attaching a pdf with details of the coaching engagement and rates. For another two weeks, the reply sat, pinned to my inbox, with no response.

I desperately wanted to work with her, but the money was more than I had ever spent just on myself. As a coach myself, I of course charge for coaching, but in my mind, there was a big difference between charging VC-funded companies so that their employees can benefit from coaching, to individuals paying their hard-earned post-tax personal bank account dollars for coaching. And I had this unspoken internal struggle that I was charging more for coaching than I was willing to pay a coach myself out-of-pocket.

This past year, I've been coaching senior engineers, tech leads, engineering directors, CTOs, and VPs of engineering. The difficulty of prioritizing themselves comes up all the time. They would never let someone schedule over a 1:1 with a direct report, but those few “Do not schedule: work time” blocks they have on their calendar for their own sanity? Sure, no problem, just schedule right over it.

I was the same when I was an engineering manager. I poured my heart into one-on-ones and advocating for my direct reports. I worried about their problems over the weekend. I asked them what excited them and did my best to align that with their work. But when my own manager asked me, “What would make you happier at work?” I was at a loss for words. “uhhh...I'll think about it and get back to you.” He was the same too! He always encouraged me to take vacations and sick days, but as far as I could tell, he rarely did—he was too busy taking care of everyone else.

It's not just at work that this is a struggle. I have two young kids, and for a long time, I was so resistant to weekend daytime babysitter relief. It felt like a luxury, that I didn't need it, that we would struggle through these early years (and my parents certainly never did it, so what did it say about me as a parent if I did it?).

Right now, I'm drafting this email in a coffee shop by myself in Berkeley, having left our kids with a babysitter. Until last year, I'd never had a professional manicure or pedicure. I've still never had the kind of spa day I hear people treat themselves to when they are wonderfully unapologetic about self-care. But even in these few hours each weekend, here's the thing I've realized. I'm a better parent when I go home to my kids having had time to myself. I'm a better wife when I've had some alone time to do whatever I want (even if — no, especially when — it's writing newsletter emails!). I am present, I am joyful, I am ready for adventures. And at work, when you prioritize yourself even for that 30 min break you need between a wall of 1:1s, you show up differently for the people you are meeting with afterwards.

So yesterday, as I was virtually beaming positive love and affirmations to a dear friend over Slack (who is also looking for a coach, but was hesitating because of $$), it hit me. I deserve this too. I deserve to have an amazing coach. So often we create these stories of choosing between X or Y. If I spend money on this, I can't save it for my kids' college fund. I can do meaningful work but not make much money, or I can sell out and make a lot of money but be miserable. And I was totally doing that to myself. If I spent money on coaching, I'd have less money to contribute to our household expenses. Which as an engineer and rational person, seems TOTALLY TRUE and correct and logical.

But you know what else is true? In the crudest terms, in committing to work with her on this period of accelerated self-growth, I will make more money and the investment will pay for itself many many times over. This coach will push me beyond what I ever thought I could do. I've seen her coaching in a class setting, and it blew me away. It makes me want to always be coaching and be coached for decades to come, so that I can one day be as in tune with my body and emotions and self.

And that's really the lesson I learned: Investing in yourself doesn't take away from something else. It will enhance every aspect of my life, and because of it, I will be a better co-founder, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend.

The mission of Co Leadership is huge, and it can feel daunting, but the more I invest in myself, the better equipped I will be to take on all the challenges that come our way. As I admitted to Edmond that it was a lot of money for me right now, he wisely replied, “there are fewer things that are higher ROI than investing in yourself.” Of course he would say that! He wrote the book on effective engineering and leverage and optimizing for high ROI!

It's taken me a long time to learn that lesson, and I'm still a work in progress, as we all are. But yesterday was a big leap for me. In saying YES I want to work with my coach, I was also saying yes to working on myself, and I was also saying yes to believing that my coaching is worth the money companies and people are paying ME to do it. And I was saying no to playing small, and to putting myself last.

All that care and love and advocacy you give to the dearest people in your lives—the way you stand up for your best friends, partners, kids, friend, and colleagues? You deserve it for yourself. And in choosing it for yourself, you also model for all those people that it's normal and amazing to sometimes put yourself first—which speaks louder than any words.

This week, or this month, or this quarter, find a way to take some time for yourself. Stand up for yourself at work, ask for what you want, ask for more personal development budget to invest in yourself, pay out-of-pocket if you can afford it. Get a babysitter just so you can go write at a coffee shop. Whatever it means for you to put yourself first, do that. YOU ARE WORTH IT.

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Jean Hsu

Jean Hsu

Co-founder of Co Leadership, Engineering leadership coach. Previously engineering at Medium, Pulse News, Google. Likes sushi, code deletion, and copy-editing.

Read More
What I Learned About Investing in Myself After a Year of Coaching
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