Stress at Work : Interview with Career Coach, Compass Maven

You guys, I'm so excited to share Carolyn Birsky with you!

First, she's a gem of a writer and human being.

Second, we both went to Middlebury College together (although we didn't know each other at the time) and she was one of my health coaching clients during most of 2016. I was lucky to witness and help support her nutrition and wellness during a period of major transformation for her, founding her business Compass Maven. She'll tell you all about it! 

Third, her bimonthly newsletter / blog is one of the only emails I allow straight in to my inbox, it's just that good (so subscribe, nudge, nudge). I've learned a ton about my own life, patterns from my prior career in finance and current work styles from reading her pieces and piggybacking off her knowledge. 

Finally, she's a very dear friend and you're in such good hands. This was a fun and important interview, thanks for reading!

Xo, Michelle


Q: Carolyn, can you introduce yourself and tell our FitVista community a bit more about you?

Sure! I'm Carolyn Birsky, a certified life and career coach based out of Cambridge, MA and the founder of Compass Maven, a business that serves to help 20-something women go after and get what they want in their lives through 1-on-1 coaching, workshops and content.

I help my clients navigate the confusing decade that is their 20s so they can set themselves up for a successful future while creating a fulfilling present.

I became a coach after spending the majority of my 20s confused about what I wanted to do with my life. After graduating Middlebury College in 2010 with a BA in Psychology, I started a career in sales, but kept finding myself switching from job to job, feeling stuck and unhappy. After more work bathroom meltdowns than I can count, I came across coaching through a webinar of all places, got myself a life coach, said “This is it!” and enrolled in a training program. I received my certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) in September 2016, quit my corporate job that October and haven’t looked back.

Throughout my journey, I knew there was an opportunity to help other women get out of that "stuckness" I felt in my life and career and that’s how Compass Maven came to be.

For more, visit


Q. What do you think the biggest stressor for millennials in the workplace is?

I think it’s a combination of being overextended and unengaged.

From my corporate sales experience and listening to stories from my clients, I feel like there are a lot of people (women in particular) working their butts off to do it all: perform well at work, stay fit, eat well, keep up friendships, keep up romantic relationships, travel.

Being an extremely career driven generation of women, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to prove ourselves at work and advance our careers. And yet, a lot of the time, we’re not engaged in the work we’re actually doing. This inevitably leads to many women finding themselves asking “What am I doing this for?”

Yes, some women absolutely love their jobs and others are totally okay with it not being their true passion in life - though I would argue these women are probably overextended as well. But I think it’s the combination of being overextended and disengaged that creates the biggest source of stress.


Q. How do you create space for yourself at work?

This can be a tough one, especially in high-paced work environments where people are expected to be “on” at all times.

My biggest recommendation? Take a lunch break! Like, an actual lunch break away from your desk and out of the office.

When I worked for other people, I was always really good at taking a lunch break. I think I got in the habit because my first job out of college was technically paid hourly and I wasn’t paid for my lunch hour, so I made sure to take it. Since taking a lunch became a habit, I brought that with me to my future employers. It helped with my sanity AND my efficiency. I got a break from the office and my work, so that when I got back, I was able to look at everything with fresh eyes.

Now, for those of your readers who are freaking out a bit at taking a lunch (some of my clients have pushed back on that too), I suggest working up to it. What I mean by this is taking 5 minutes here and there throughout the day to get up from your desk, walk around the office, and then get back to your work. Over time, you can take 10 minutes, then 20, then 30. And then, who knows?

By getting more comfortable with taking some time away from your desk to breathe, maybe you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable enough to take an hour lunch. It’s okay if you’re not there yet. I’d aim to get comfortable with at least 20 minutes, though.

You’ll thank yourself later.


Q. How do you handle stressors from work that are carrying over into your evenings?

I feel like there is a short term and a long term answer to that question.

Short term: Get your mind off the topic.

When I was little and had a bad dream, my mom used to tell me to “change the channel.” I’d pretend that I was clicking a button on a TV remote and literally change the scary image in my mind to something I loved, like a birthday party or swimming. Something that was completely unrelated to the stressor and made me feel good.

I think the same can be applied to work stressors. I’m not suggesting that you ignore the stressors entirely, but sometimes you need to just take a break from them when you’re outside of the office.


  • Get some exercise. Go to the gym or a workout class and sweat it out. Or even just go for a walk. Getting your body moving can help release some of the tension you’re feeling.
  • Schedule a “no work talk” dinner with your friends, family or significant other. Having a meal that has zero work talk involved can get your mind off what’s going on at the office and allow you to dive into other important topics of conversation in your lives. We spend so much time at the office, it can be a relief to go out with some girlfriends or your significant other and just talk about things that are completely unrelated to work.
  • Meditate. I know this isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it’s worth giving it a try. Even taking 10-15 minutes to just be silent and breathe can help you work through some of the stressors you’re dealing with at the office. I find when I’m stressed out and take the time to meditate, I often find some good solutions to the problems I’ve been mulling over.


Long term: You need to take a look at if this is a consistent theme or a one-off occurrence.

Do you once and awhile come home stressed out about a client interaction or a project at work? Or do you find that every night you are coming home with the same complaint about your boss or colleague or your job in general?

If it’s the former, use some of those short term solutions to just get it out of your system. If it’s the latter, it might be time to take a real look at the work life you’ve got going on.

If you really can’t disconnect from work stress every day, might it be time to look for a new job either internally or at another organization? Might it be time to advocate for yourself in a conflicted relationship with a colleague or your boss?

I’m not saying you should walk in tomorrow and quit your job upon realizing that it is a constant source of stress outside of the office. I’m suggesting that you start considering your options and what is really going to make you happy. And then find some space to explore this either with a coach or a mentor or someone you trust.


Q. What self care thing can't you live without?

Going on walks!

I love starting my morning with a cup of coffee while walking around my neighborhood listening to a podcast. I started doing this earlier this spring when I was sick of being cooped up inside from our snowy Boston winter and just needed to be outdoors. Now, I make sure I do it at least a few times a week. It gets my body moving and tons of inspiring ideas come to me as I listen to my favorite podcasts.


Q. How can you tell in your body when stress or anxiety is building in your system?

We focus a lot on physical health but a big contributor to physical health is mental health. Stress, anxiety, negative thinking can actually lead to physical symptoms, even if the root cause is mental.

You choose your thoughts.

You have the power to decide what you think about and how those thoughts are going to affect you.

For example, when I get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, I immediately feel all twisty in my stomach and really tired. Like my body wants to throw up and then sleep to avoid the negative thoughts. But once I can break through that cycle, all of those physical symptoms just evaporate, like they were never there.

So the trick is training ourselves to change our thoughts when a negative thought surfaces. In order to change our thinking, one trick I often find it helpful to ask myself,  “What is the worst case scenario?”

Sometimes just following the negative thought to the worst case scenario helps us to see how unrealistic that scenario actually is. If we can recognize that it’s just something our mind has created and not something based in reality, it’s easier shift away from stressing about it.


Now … the the lightening round!

Q. What’s your go-to workout?

Spin class!

It’s fast paced, sweaty, pushes me harder than I’d ever push myself and it’s done in 45 minutes. Plus the studio I go to in the Boston area (Turnstyle Cycle) has themed music classes, so I can choose to go to classes with music that I Iove. Anything Beyoncé or Lady Gaga themed and I’m there!


Q. What are you having for lunch today? 

I’m having the Michelle Cady special (i.e. what you lovingly refer to as a kitchen sink salad)!

I use my gorgeous bamboo bowl - thanks again for the recommendation! - and fill it with lots of lettuce and kale.

Then I chop up pretty much every veggie I have in my fridge and sometimes fruit (today I have blackberries and strawberries that need to be used). I’ll top it off with some grilled chicken or eggs for protein.


Q. Inspire us with a recent client success story!

I have a client who has been very unhappy in her job for a while, knew she needed to make a change, but had no idea what she wanted to do next. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay in event planning or try something totally new.

We’ve done a lot of work around what’s important to her in a job (such as her ability to be creative and have the autonomy to make important decisions around projects), as well as her strengths (such as her ability to build great relationships with clients and her strong problem solving skills), and then exploring how those characteristics can carry over to different types of positions.

I’m happy to report she’s in the midst of interviews for a new role that she’s totally psyched about and happens to still be in event planning, but with a company that will give her much more autonomy to make important business decisions, as well as flex her creativity muscles!

In a way she surprised herself that she wanted to stay in event planning, but her story is a perfect example of how much a company’s core values and culture can affect your experience in a job.

>>> Bravo to you and your client, Carolyn! 

Q. What’s the coolest event you’ve recently attended? 

Can I give 2 answers?

The first would be going with my sister to a live workshop that Gabby Bernstein held in NYC. Her work has been really influential for both of us, so seeing her in person in this beautiful church in the East Village was magic.

The second is a little more personal and was the first Vision Board Workshop I ever held. It was in my apartment with 6 girlfriends testing out the concept. I had food, wine and a killer playlist and it was just this awesome night of creation and supporting each other. I’ve held other Vision Board Workshops (and continue to do so) here in Boston - hopefully NYC soon! - and they have all been great, but there is something about that first one that always makes me smile.


Q. Do you believe in doing less or doing more?

Ah this is so hard! I definitely believe in doing less but… I don’t always walk the talk. If you looked at my calendar you wouldn’t say I’m “doing less”. But I do think that there is a ton of value in finding time to do less and slow down. Also, I don’t believe in doing more just for the sake of doing more. Working smart and efficiently is my jam, even if I tend to have a very full schedule.


Q. Your favorite quote recently.

Damn girl with the hard questions!

I post a quote every Wednesday on my Instagram account and I read so much that I feel like I’m swimming in quotes. BUT I think that one of my favorites has to be from Elizabeth Gilbert - who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic and whom I’m dying to meet. In one of her podcast episodes she said:

“I will remind you that the definition of responsible is the ability to respond. The definition of responsible is not how many hours you put into the work week, but how well as a human being you are capable of responding to life.”

Mic drop! I mean, seriously, I think I paused the episode and just sat with that for a while. It’s so spot on and such a great reminder to all of us in our busy lives.


Q: Carolyn, where can we find you? 

My website is, where you can find my blog, freebies and get on my newsletter. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram (@compassmaven) as well. Or if you want to just say hello, you can shoot me a note at

>>> Thank you for your time and knowledge Carolyn, you rock girlfriend!