At the end of the day, what the hell is this coaching all about?

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I really struggled to accept that I had to add  a sentence on my website which explicitly states that I am a certified coach from a school which is ICF (International Coaching Federation) certified itself.  This has to be specified of course!
If I hadn’t approached coaching about ten years ago, when it was just starting to take off in Italy, if I had a been a person, a professional who is now beginning to find out what coaching is about, I would be confused and have trouble in seeing it as something positive.

What is a coach?

Someone who on a DVD cover, points his finger at you in an iconic star and spangled banner style “I want you!”? Telling you that-you-are-cool-just-that-you-don’t-know-it-yet-while-he-instead-knows-it-and-can-help-you-discover-it (basically without him you are very uncool, full stop).

He who in absolute anonymity established a school for the spreading of the word (which in this case is not the word but the “method”) and in one week, all inclusive crowns other new coaches?

He who when talking about himself and telling you how things happen in life, from the height of his pedestal (which he has stepped on to on his own or someone else has put him there), becomes a leader or guru (despite himself) and motivates the crowd?

He who everyone talks about in the company? Who will help you become the manager the company is looking for? Oops what I mean is: he who will help you become the manager you want to become and the company will want because the company always wants managers who really feel confident in themselves. They have to be leaders, be humble, have to work well in a team, drive the team, but at the same time feel part of the team, feel equal, but also:

“Am I a leader or not? Shall I  be the driving element or shall I just sit in the background? Shall I decide or let others make the decisions?”

If I were to approach coaching now, probably after a number of attempts to understand what it is all about, I would abandon that path and opt for psychoanalysis.

But my story is different.

I was lucky enough to meet a coach nine years ago.
I met him while I was looking for a coach for my husband. He was obviously unaware! He is now my ex husband, and probably this is also obvious! (for those of you reading and for those of you who are also coaches I can hear your scornful laugh).

The coach, explained to me professionally how it didn’t exactly work that way, and that is, you don’t look for a coach for someone else, you look for a coach for yourself.

After a few weeks of deliberation, I asked for a meeting and said

“Ok, if you can’t coach him then can you be my coach?”

and from there my path began.
Did I know exactly what a coach was and what he did? No.
I knew what he had explained to me, but above all I knew all those things that had stayed in my mind.

What had convinced me to “I am going to start this coaching thing” was the “you will work on your present, you will define your objectives, your action plan”.

That was all that I needed: being concrete reassured me that this coaching thing could actually do me good.

My coach was (is) an hour and fifteen minutes away from my house, and I remember my first trip over really well.
Throughout the hour and a quarter long trip to get there, I kept asking myself: “Why the hell am I going? What am I going to say to this guy?”.

My life was a nice concoction in that moment, both privately and professionally. It was my sabbatical period, two homes, in two different regions in Italy, more or less at five-hundred kilometer distance from one another, I had convinced myself that in one way or another I could be a wife, or better, I had convinced myself that I could be a commuting wife (500 km one way + 500 km back, a week) and I felt gratified.
A few months before meeting him I had left my job, exactly after 10 honorable  years in a big, important and great company, where I had a really “cool” role,  among the most envied with viable economic security that had allowed me with time to build my nest and create other very traditional securities.

I had left because it wasn’t enough for me (I can hear a cry “Are you crazy?) and I had done it before finding out what I could have done instead. Even if I was certain then, as I am now, that I was not ready to pursue the VanLife.
After my resignation, and once the news spread, I received different job offers. But I refused them all, worried that I would get caught up again in that whirlwind from which, I kept telling myself, it takes years to get out of, probably a lifetime, and I would have regretted the fact of being pulled back into that whirlwind, I knew it.

I didn’t though have a plan in mind. Certainly not to my credit.

Analysis, strategies, objectives, planning, results, growth etc etc etc, for years I had learned that you can’t do anything without having everything or almost, it was all clear in my mind and even on paper, but what about me?

Sabering a bottle of bubbly champagne, not even for a special occasion, I was leaking wine all over the place.

Once I got to Seba I understood straight away that it wasn’t important to be ready for something (really?!?) rather it was important to be ready to open all channels, all five senses, maybe even the sixth sense, open towards everything surrounding us and even more complicatedly, everything inside ourselves.

He asked me some questions. Many questions. Many, many questions.

About me. Nothing could have been easier, right?


A life spent at school and at work learning to answer all kind of questions, but what about answering questions on ourselves?!


“What sins have you committed?” is probably the first question as a child, as a Catholic child, you are asked and forced to look inside yourself, but really, what sins can you commit at the age of nine and so as to not disappoint Don Adelino who is expecting some sins from me I tell him that “I did not do as I was told”. And that is what everyone did, everyone, one after another, everyone had sinned by disobeying their mom and dad. Some braver kid would throw in a “I sometimes lied”.

After catechism, nothing!
After two hours of coaching (usually a session lasts one hour, but due to the distance we had agreed on two hours per session) and many questions, clear, concise questions directed at a girl whose eyes were rolling around in a vacuum, I got  back into the car and headed home.

The hour and a quarter which took me back home consisted of a long and uninterrupted cry. For my broken soul (I do think it was my soul).

“Who am I? What the hell do I want to do in life? Why do I feel so stupid? How is it everyone else knows where to go, what to do, who to be and I just don’t know?” “And who the hell is this guy to ask me all these questions?” “No, I’m not going back anymore!”.

The same spiel happened after the first three or four sessions. And this proves that in spite of my “I’m not going anymore!” I did go back to that guy. And after nine years I still go. Now I only go in extreme cases, with a query which is clear and  already packaged. I have learned.

Sometimes though I go even just to tell him things after they have happened, what I have already done, like a little girl in the confessional box who knows she has sinned with sins which aren’t very important, like when she disobeyed her parents, so what’s the big deal, what can really happen to her?
And my coach, he knows this, and that’s ok. Because in any case, after nine years our relationship has grown, as well as the mutual trust and respect. A marvelous thing.

Coaching for me is a path which has led me to rediscover myself, rediscover myself in life, all around, it doesn’t matter if the cue is professional, personal, sentimental or philosophical or whatever.

“There is no break along this path, and there is no, well established, final destination, it has many intermediate stages, instead the ones which are well defined, and, in my case, at the age of forty or more or less, it is a path of self awareness, enthusiastically accepting the fact that I am a constant work in progress.”

Again: what is a coach?

A coach is a guide. Who engages with me to help me rediscover who I am every time I find myself asking the question, who will help me find the system (the desire and the resources) to pick myself up every time I fall, to help me choose my path when I reach a junction, to help me ask questions that in that moment I need answers to.

How much do we really need a guide?
I do a lot. Of course I have many friends, many are close, others are far away, I have access to endless resources, but solitude and the sense of loss in certain moments, cannot be taken away by friends, family, colleagues.

Books are excellent travelling companions without which I could not live, but they are occasional coaches, who revolutionize a point of view, or help me jump forward, or magically define vague feelings into words.

The coach-guide helps me define the dots in an area of my life, and join those dots. It is the IT that helps me upgrade my operational system.

I believe it is important for each one of us to find our own guide, our own IT.

We are complex beings and we live complex lives.

I believe that it is best to have many guides for life’s different aspects.
I have: my best friend since I was 11 years old, for everything and more on me, various friends/consultants for the professional part, my architect/consultant friend for every aesthetic aspect of where I live or where I would like to live, my psychologist/friend with whom to confront myself during critical or difficult moments, the admin friend for the management part which-I-don’t-really-want-to-know-about. And then the trusted lawyer, the trusted accountant etc. They don’t know each other, but it consists of great team work, a team which supports and helps me.

It is the people you meet along the journey, people you choose, or people who choose you and with time take up an important role, even in spite of themselves.

Then I have my coach. Instead, you do choose your coach.
If at a certain point you feel compelled to add a coach to your team, my advice to you is to have many first meetings with a number of coaches, until you find yours. When you find him/her you will realize it.
Not necessarily will he be similar to you, the cutest, the kindest, the one who has your style, or has a nice smile, or whatever.
It might end up being the one that disturbs you the most, the one who manages to push you, even if by a few millimeters, from where you stand.
You will recognize him by the fact that for some weird reason you will feel like returning to him.

And it will be worth it, IF:

  1. At first: “You accept yourself as a good person who can make mistakes”. (Oh dear this may encourage outlaws?).
  2. You DON’T set off with the idea of NOT being able to: be who you want to be, do what you want to do, get where you want to be (and repeat). Because if you set off with this idea, you don’t need a guide to tell you you’re right, you can do things on your own and for free.
  3. You convince yourself that the questions asked, are questions that you have to ask yourself, and that nobody can answer if not yourself. You need a guide for this? You choose.
  4. If you want someone who answers your questions for you, you need a consultant who is an expert in that field, not a coach.
  5. The guide is a guide and act as a guide. (This might seem a repetition of point number 3, but trust me, it’s needed)
  6. Once you have had questions fired at you and you have asked yourself more questions, and once you have answered these questions, you have to stop with questions and answers and move forward and TAKE ACTION.
  7. Accept that you are the only person responsible for what you think, say, and do (or don’t think, don’t say, and don’t do).
  8. If you want someone who represents you in terms of “responsibility”, once again, you need a consultant, not a coach.
  9. You tackle the entire path with all its hurdles and pot holes, without going round anything. You thought it would be easy eh? First mistake!
  10. You understand that the steps made forwards are forward only if concrete and measurable (there are no placebo pills such as tarot cards, crystal balls and hand reading).
  11. The understanding that your path lasts a lifetime, not a simple weekend or a module divided into 4 sessions. You thought it would be quick? Second mistake!
  12. From a certain point on you wish to say goodbye to your guide and be independent.
  13. And in the meantime you have probably even chosen consultants for the specific sections in which need specific and/or technical skills.
  14. You work hard. And then, you keep on working hard.

“Happiness is an inside job, enjoy the ride!”

Sebastiano Zanolli

P.S. For a detailed definition of coaching all you have to do is search on google.