Balancing Act: Cheryl Richardson

Life coach and author Cheryl Richardson explains why taking care of business first requires taking care of you.

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Cheryl Richardson knows more than most about the keys to keeping a life in balance. And yet, the popular life coach and bestselling author acknowledges that she’s not immune to the same symptoms of stress and lack of self-care that afflict so many of her clients and fans.

“When I get out of balance, I get irritable,” Richardson admits. “I start craving sugar and carbs and going through the kitchen cabinets in desperate search of cookies. And I become self-critical, beating myself up over small stuff. These are all early warning signs that I am not taking good care of myself.”

If anyone has an excuse for occasionally feeling overwhelmed, it’s the 47-year-old Richardson. Considered one of the founders of the life-coaching industry, she was among the first to receive master certified coach credentials, and she served as the first president of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She acted as team leader for the Lifestyle Makeover Series on the Oprah Winfrey Show and accompanied Winfrey on the nationwide “Live Your Best Life” tour. A New York Times bestselling author, she’s produced and hosted two PBS specials on improving quality of life, and hosted her own television show — The Life Makeover Project with Cheryl Richardson — on the Oxygen Network. Today, she writes a regular coaching column for Body + Soul magazine and hosts an Internet-based radio talk show, Coach on Call, at www.hayhouseradio.com. Meanwhile, she continues to run a large online community at www.cherylrichardson.com and is already working intently on her next book, due out in January 2008.

That’s a lot for any one person to take on, and Richardson knows it. But when this hard-working coach starts seeing the telltale signs of frayed ends, she also knows that it’s time to do more — not less — of the things that help restore her. “I exercise every day, make sure I get a good night’s sleep and meditate regularly,” she says.

She also keeps an eye out for the early signs of overload. And when she sees them, she takes immediate action: “I stop what I’m doing and ask myself: ‘Who would die if I walked out of the office right now and went for a walk in the woods?’”

The answer is always the same — no one.

Checking in with herself like this and taking time to put things in perspective helps Richardson manage the demands of her busy schedule without getting overly depleted. “When I start feeling out of balance,” she says, “I stop what I’m doing, leave the office and do something that rejuvenates me. I hang out with my husband; I go out into nature; or simply close my eyes — even if only for 10 minutes.”

Richardson discovered her passion for helping others when she joined her dad in the family business as a tax consultant after high school. “Being a tax consultant back then wasn’t what people now would expect,” she explains. “Before computers did the tax returns for us, people would meet with their accountant and talk about all aspects of their lives. I learned so much about people’s lives that way: how their businesses were doing, how much money they made, how many kids they had or wanted to have, what dreams they wanted to save for. The relationship I had with my clients was very intimate — and it was this ‘life planning’ part of the business that I loved.”

In order to be more involved in the life-planning and personal-growth aspect of consulting, Richardson evolved into a “business counselor” to help people, as she puts it, “grow their businesses by growing themselves.”

That coaching approach proved particularly successful in helping people reach their goals, so when she met Coach U founder Thomas Leonard in the early 1990s, she enrolled in his training program and became a master coach. Her coaching career quickly flourished and led to opportunities — like the Oprah series — Richardson never could have imagined.

“I never expected the Lifestyle Makeover Series to last a year, but the audience was really hungry for practical ways to improve their lives. And the women really took to this challenge of improving their lives one small step at a time,” she recalls. “I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to bring my work to millions of people.”

Today, she advises clients to practice what she calls “extreme self-care,” a concept that requires striking a balance between the many demands that drain us and the activities that nurture and sustain us. Essentially, Richardson explains, extreme self-care involves recognizing the importance of nurturing ourselves on many levels; making time and space for beauty; and pleasure, relaxation, and recovery. “Spending time in nature and having some sort of spiritual practice that keeps us connected to our core,” says Richardson, “are vital ways to practice self-care.”

And by taking care of ourselves, she notes, we can better care for those around us. “When we do this, we begin to care more about others and we become more available to our family, our friends and our community,” she explains. “Our availability to be of service to the world is directly related to our ability to be of service to ourselves.”

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