You don’t need me to remind you that 2020 was one hell of a year. The COVID-19 pandemic, a global stock market crash, the crushing of the global supply chain, work from home, virtual school, policy brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, the rise of authoritarian populism and white supremacy, the U.S. elections and the general assault on democracy (and decency), Brexit, devastating wildfires around the world, swathes of restaurant and shop closures, shocking celebrity deaths, Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing, locusts and murder hornets, and the Pentagon finally acknowledged UFOs. It’s impossible to process it all.
My primary role this year was to provide my clients with stability, ease, perspective, and hope as they and their teams moved to work-from-home — all while maintaining productivity, financial solvency, strong physical and mental health, and progress toward long-term goals. Some clients fell victim to mass layoffs while others were asked to take on more responsibility than ever. Some struggled to balance work with full-time childcare while others struggled with the loneliness of living alone. Some clients contracted COVID and slowly recovered while others had loved ones who tragically lost the fight. Every single person was in some form of pain, whether low-grade distress or the hardest times of their lives. And I was right there with them going through it too.
I think of my coaching practice like a hanging mobile: every day some people are up, some people are down, some people are sideways, but the whole ecosystem is in balance. I consider myself the wire. It’s my job to be strong and steady yet flexible and light, and hold it all together. But this year…the hits just kept coming. And I had nowhere to hide.
I had to rely on my personal practices more than ever before. Yoga, journaling, walks in nature, romance novels, feel-good TV, nourishing foods, weekly therapy, tender tending to our houseplants. I did anything I could to stay grounded and settle my nerves. There were breakdowns and crying jags, and I let them come. Fredrick’s willingness to be a witness to my pain allowed the emotional waves to crest and break away.
I also had to confront truths about my white privilege and complacency and gross lack of self-awareness about my role in the oppression and mass murder of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. I’ve always proclaimed myself to be a Grade A progressive who cares deeply about social issues and works tirelessly to make the world a better place. But 2020 taught me that, frankly, I have very little skin in the game. I personally benefit from white supremacy on a daily basis, and I have sacrificed almost nothing to dismantle the systems that were designed to cause harm to black and brown people in this country and around the world. I don’t want to use anti-racism as yet another opportunity for white-woman self-development and self-congratulation, so I won’t. Just know that I have made a vow to be an anti-racist and to decolonizing myself, and explicitly commit to using my advantages, platform, voice, resources, and unearned rights to stop the violence that I myself have perpetuated.
When lockdowns started in mid-March, I was convinced the floor was going to fall out from under me. Coaches aren’t essential workers. I started making lists of my wartime skills for when the world turned sepia-toned and I had to start working in a factory (I can be melodramatic). But somehow, despite all the turmoil, I managed to have a great year of business. It was my most profitable year ever, I had my highest-grossing month ever, and we doubled the amount of our charitable contributions from last year. Yep, yet another sign of my absurd privilege—which I will never take for granted again.
Here is the story of my 2020. Thank you for reading.
- I celebrated 15 years in business, and got an overwhelming response on social media from friends, colleagues, clients, and fabulous folks I’ve met along the way.
- I completed Phase 6 of a massive, multi-year organizational design and culture change initiative with an institutional client I’ve been supporting since 2016. I’ve now coached 18 of their senior leaders in 6-month one-on-one coaching engagements—some of whom are now on their 4th engagement. At year-end, the team was recognized in a widely distributed report for being the most profitable and innovative area of the institution, even in the pandemic.
- I held dozens of pro bono coaching sessions with undersupported BIPOC in design and tech, and people affected by layoffs.
- I presented my talk “Empathy is an Inside Job” at virtual company off-sites and design team meetings.
- I received a PPP loan to cover my payroll for 8 weeks, and supported other small businesses in how/whether to pursue it themselves.
Results, Outcomes & Impact
All of my client engagements are 100% confidential, so I won’t give specifics about what big dreams they held, what issues they faced, what steps they took, and how beautifully they navigated to a new way of being—during a year of so much upheaval and anxiety and loss. Some share in their own words about their personal coaching experience in my Testimonials. Below is a selection of the major themes that emerged in 2020.
- New jobs found in a pandemic
- Promotions & raises earned and celebrated
- More delegation and focus
- Boundaries established and maintained
- Conflicts addressed, resolved or accepted
- Many résumés, portfolios, interviews fine-tuned
- Speaking gigs moved online—and nailed!
- New cities, new homes
- Paid relocations across the country and the globe
- Two permanent residencies finally granted
- Volunteering efforts increased tenfold
- Certifications completed, new degrees embarked upon
- Professional networks expanded & cultivated
- Layoffs endured & new, better jobs attained
- New relationships flourished
- Unhealthy relationships concluded
- Painful losses mourned
- Illnesses endured, healed, managed
- Identities & views publicly voiced — louder than ever
- Nature soaked up, bodies cared for, resilience gained
- Self-respect & self-love abound
Sometimes I vague-tweet when I can’t help but celebrate my clients’ wins.
Client hesitant to apply for rare dream job, afraid to fail. I pushed them, they pushed through. Just got the offer! Risks are worth taking.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) May 4, 2020
Head of Design client at volatile company built best-in-class practice for uncooperative CEO. Through a year of coaching, we rebuilt their confidence and self-worth. Now they’ve taken their talents to a much more mature org where their investments will pay returns. Worth the wait
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) August 11, 2020
Client’s direct report struggled for years. Together we clarified goals and redesigned role to highlight their strengths. Now an indispensable member of the team, soon to be promoted—and boss is a hero.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) July 21, 2020
Design Executive client with eye-popping résumé always struggled to fit in. We got clear on core values and priorities, found fertile ground. Now she knows she’s born to stand out.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) July 15, 2020
Three clients started new jobs this week. Companies are in fact still hiring. Yes, times are tougher than ever before. But it's not completely hopeless out there. Keep pushing. You'll get there.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) June 26, 2020
Client pushed out of design leadership role landed more Sr job at renowned co making 2x $$. Turned tough ending into exciting new beginning.
— Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess) May 22, 2020
Clients, Time & Revenue
I am so SO grateful to my clients for your trust and vulnerability and courage and passion and commitment and self-respect and love. I am in awe of each and every one of you, and I consider it the ultimate privilege to get to walk alongside you on your journey and witness your tremendous growth and development. Thank you for inviting me in. Deepest bow to you.
- 27 private clients with 6-12-month coaching programs
- 4 employer-sponsored clients with 6-12-month coaching programs
- 5 organizational clients with 6-month engagements
- Holding 311 coaching sessions (~375 coaching hours)
- Crafting 20 custom coaching programs
- Investing just 24 hours with prospects who didn’t become clients (because of their choice or mine — fit is everything)
- Offering 75+ hours coaching to pro bono clients
I finished 2020 with 9.4% year-over-year increase in gross revenue compared to 2019. Notably, June 2020 marked my highest grossing month in 15 years of business. Meanwhile, net income (profit) increased by 10.4% over 2019, making 2020 my most profitable year in business, both in total profit and profit margin (5.8% greater than in 2018, my highest-grossing year ever). A silver lining to being stuck at home?
I’ve now had 144* total lifetime individual coaching clients since 2014:
- 64% (92) with at least 6 months of coaching
- 54% (50) re-ups for more coaching
- 11% (10) clients who’ve re-upped their coaching packages 3 or more times
(*this number represents clients with explicit coaching engagements, and does not include one-off sessions)
I offer 3 package options to my private clients, allowing them to choose the duration of coaching and additional services. Since I started offering packages in 2016, 33.33% of clients have bought the lowest package, 40.74% bought the middle package, and 20.37% bought the highest package. That ratio has been fairly consistent each year.
- I’ve accrued 2900 total coaching hours. That’s actual hours in coaching sessions with clients. ::head asplode::
- I have coaching clients in 15 countries across 6 continents (none in Antarctica yet), and in 64 cities around the world. We make it work with time zone differences, and my conference line has local dial-in numbers for almost everywhere.
- 88% of my clients come from referral — whether by one of my clients, a current or former colleague, social media, a family member, or someone who has seen me speak at a conference. I’m indebted to the great people who send other great people my way. In addition, 1 in 10 clients find me through organic search — googling for “design leadership coaching,” “UX leadership coaching,” “empathy leadership coach” or some variation thereof.
- Across the board, 72% of my coaching clients are women*; 30% of my clients are non-white*; 10% of my clients are LGBTQI+*; and 11% of my clients are over the age of 50. I am eager to support even more leaders who are underrepresented and underestimated in tech and business.
i have been working with @whitneyhess off and on since 2013 and would reco no one else.
— Kaitlin (Maud) Moon (@kaitlinmaud) March 5, 2020
Coaching helped me understand & accept truths about myself, and my relationships with work and the world. Whitney is compassionate, authentic, skilled at facilitating reflection, and generally rad – I recommend reading her thread on coaching, and taking her up on a chat. https://t.co/gS6nzilbBD
— Laura Ellena (@MissPaaj) April 8, 2020
There is nothing better you could do for yourself (and everyone around you) than engage this precious soul as a coach.
My 5 month program with @whitneyhess was one of the most transformative, restorative periods of my life.
— Tim Merrill (@timeril) June 24, 2020
I may be discovering this podcast a little late, but this is exactly what I needed right now. Thank you @whitneyhess https://t.co/P6HWwR5ydg
— Alexis Robison (@AlexisRobison14) April 25, 2020
You are an inspiration. Thank you for doing this work!
— Julie Regina (@_julieregina) August 4, 2020
It’s been so great to see where you’ve taken your career. I really admire you.
— Kevin Farner (@kevinfarner) August 5, 2020
Ms. Hess, you are always such a nice ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak feed. Thanks for making Twitter a little better.
— Tormod Halvorsen (@airwhale) October 15, 2020
November 11, 2020
Whitney Hess: Putting Humanity Back Into Business
Podcast guest @whitneyhess thought she'd be a designer forever. So it surprised and pleased her to find that she could have an even greater impact as an executive coach, supporting progressive creative and design leaders. https://t.co/nR4bYjqpvZ pic.twitter.com/7l3NZwytrn
— TEN7 (@TEN7) November 26, 2020
May 6, 2020
Empathy + Culture + Leadership
April 10, 2020
Practicing Self-Empathy with Whitney Hess
Thank you @whitneyhess for sharing your talents and wisdom on self-care during these challenging times. Your insights are a great OSS contribution. https://t.co/r6KQgmLM0D
— megansanicki (@megansanicki) April 10, 2020
I conducted a dozen admissions interviews for Carnegie Mellon University’s Master’s in HCI (I’m a 2004 grad), and offered mentoring and career coaching sessions at the IA Conference (both with groups and individuals).
You’ll be a great interviewer, Whitney! Good luck to the interviewees. #TartanProud https://t.co/LFdLFKP9pP
— Carnegie Mellon (@CarnegieMellon) February 12, 2020
Woohoo! We know you (and all of our #hciialumni interviewers) will ace your interviews! Thanks for supporting our MHCI program. 🙂👏
— CMU Human-Computer Interaction Institute (@cmuhcii) February 12, 2020
I wanna thank @whitneyhess for a great mentoring session. You've really helped me connect the dots. And thank you @theiaconf and @kylesoucy for facilitating these spaces for professional advice #IAC20
— Bibiana Nunes (@bibinex) April 29, 2020
- Listening to Bodies Long Distance (6-Week Training) — with Suzanne Zeman, Institute for Generative Leadership, Virtual
- ICF Business Development Series (On-Demand) — Various Speakers, International Coaching Federation, Virtual
- Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration with Stacey Abrams (1-Day Event) — with Dr. Theodore R. Johnson, University of New England, Portland, Maine
- The Information Architecture Conference 2020 (On-Demand) — Various Speakers, Virtual
- Nonviolent Communication Virtual Intensive Training (10-Day Intensive) — with Roxy Manning, Sarah Peyton, Kathy Simon, and Kathleen Macferran, Center for Nonviolent Communication, Virtual
- Integral Team Coaching (10-Week Training) — with Sahar Azarabadi and Cynthia Luna, New Ventures West, Virtual
- The Million Dollar Focus Retreat (3-Day Conference) — with Rachel Rodgers and Various Speakers, Hello Seven (We Should All Be Millionaires), Virtual
- 2020 Dignity Conference: Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict (3-Day Conference) — Various Speakers, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, Virtual
When we became a Certified B Corp in June 2018, and changed our legal status to a Public Benefit Corporation, we made a commitment to donate a sizable portion of our revenue to 501(c)(3) nonprofits whose missions we feel personally and professionally align with ours.
In 2020, we made contributions totaling more than $10,000 to the following organizations:
- ACLU of Maine
- Cape Elizabeth Land Trust
- South Portland Land Trust
- Portland Trails
- Maine Coast Heritage Trust
- Friends of Casco Bay
- Preble Street
- South Portland Food Cupboard
- Wayside Food Programs
- Cultivating Community
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
- Full Plates Full Potential
- The Locker Project
If there are other organizations you think we should be supporting, please let me know.
- Fredrick and I remain debt free. We have built an 8-month emergency fund, are contributing to our tax savings accounts with every paycheck, and began saving for a house. ::fingers crossed for 2021!:: We’re on month 15 of using the Every Dollar app to create and stick to a monthly budget (both for personal and for business, two separate budgets), with room for charitable giving and the occasional splurge. The freedom that being debt free gives you cannot be overstated — it has changed our lives.
- Like many of you, I’m sure, we spent countless hours on Zoom for birthday parties, holiday gatherings, reunions, book clubs, writing groups, a baby shower, a funeral, and happy hours with old friends.
- We attended synagogue services online for Passover Seder, the High Holy Days, Chanukah, and some Shabbats.
- We lost my Uncle Davey and Aunt Barbara within 5 weeks of each other. Fredrick and I attended Dave’s funeral in Los Angeles the week before the shutdowns started in March (we wore masks because we saw what was already happening), but then only immediate family was allowed at Barbara’s interment. May they rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing to us all.
- I was able to rejoin my NVC practice empathy group from NYC when biweekly sessions were moved to Zoom. I love these ladies!
- I maintained weekly talk therapy via phone, and in September was able to resume monthly polarity therapy (energy/bodywork) sessions following strict CDC guidelines.
- I maintained a regular yoga practice (2-3 times weekly) with teachers at local studios via Zoom, as well as some classes with my favorite teachers in San Diego, San Francisco, and Chicago. In addition, the daylong yoga fundraiser for Sea Change Yoga moved online so I was able to spend the day practicing at home and even recorded a session on time-lapse.
- We continued weekly trailwalking and forest bathing, and walked in a “virtual” 10K for charity.
- I hit my reading goal for the year (36 books) by August.
- Fredrick and I are coming up on two years in Maine. We’ve spent days at the beach and in the woods, blueberry picking, apple picking, Saturday farmers markets (all with physical distancing and smart precautions). Follow me on Instagram for pics of our adventures.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions or want to dig into anything more, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to share anything that may benefit you or your business in any way.
I hope our paths cross in the coming year. Wishing you and your loved ones good health, emotional and financial wellbeing, renewed hope, and lots of love in 2021.
All my love,
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