How Does a Humanitarian Worker Become a Personal Trainer?

Before becoming a personal trainer I have been a humanitarian worker for almost a decade, and people who know it sometimes ask me how could I go through such a radical change of career. They rightly assume that my former job was extremely rewarding, even if tough and demanding on many levels, and they wonder if I don’t miss something now that I do “no longer help people.”

Pict 1: emergency health clinic to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone

Pict 2: Karimojong children from the most impoverished region of Uganda

From 2006 to 2016 I have worked for International NGOs and the UN and was deployed in several different missions among which Afghanistan, Uganda, Nigeria, Haiti, Lebanon and Palestine, to bring relief to populations affected by war and natural disasters. I’m asked if I do not miss to be in the front line, the adventurous life, and the rewarding feeling that always comes along when you contribute to relieving suffering and saving lives of vulnerable people crippled by poverty and conflict. It’s a fair question, and the answer is that yes, sometimes I do miss that life. What I do not miss is the frustration that so many times comes up with not being able to help in the most effective way possible, the bottlenecks of the humanitarian systems, and a greatly unjust world. A noble job, yes, but effective? Sometimes yes, sometimes… no.

Pict 3: The United Nation field base in Kabul

Pict 4: the basketball team I was coaching in North East Uganda

In recent years, I have become familiar with the work of authors such as Marshall Rosenberg on Non-Violent- Communication, Tara Brach on Radical Acceptance and Compassion, and Byron Katie (The Work), and became more and more convinced that a better world is possible, but the work needs to start from within: what I mean with that is, even though it is a noble intent to bring relief to whoever needs it, and, on the political side, to try to solve conflicts diplomatically, peace can never translate in a worldwide reality if we do not bring it within ourselves first. And it’s like that that I found myself in an incredible spiritual journey of awareness and self–improvement, that eventually brought me to make the decision of leaving the humanitarian career and dedicating myself to the second thing I know how to do best, that is coaching people.

 

I’ve started as a “side job” in the countries where I was deployed by the Humanitarian Agencies I worked for, and this commitment brought me incredibly rewarding experiences such coaching a basketball team in Uganda or starting a Thai Boxing Club in Kabul. I then eventually decided to leave the humanitarian career and dedicating myself full time to personal training and coaching. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was a deliberate and conscious one: it was the time to “help myself” to change, to bring some inner peace within, and pass it on to all the people I meet daily. To work as a personal trainer is only a tiny little part of that, but during my sessions I always try to promote body positivity and truly champion my clients’ success, as I believe that exercise can really lead to self-love, prevent and combat disease, increase energy level making more energy available to go about the day. People, of course, are free to use that extra energy in whatever way they judge best, but it is always my hope that some of that, coupled with higher self- confidence, can lead them to work on self-love and self-improvement, to be happier and making people around them happier too, to be stronger not only in the body but in the mind too, and ultimately, to be more effective in whatever commitment they decide to channel that extra energy into.

Pict 5: Thai Boxing Club Kabul

Pict 6: Let the beauty of what you love be what you do (Rumi)

It is my intention to challenge the concept that fitness boils down to always one thing: how a person looks. I want to teach clients that they can be healthy at any size, and that being in shape actually has little or nothing to do with how their body looks. I love to get my clients excited about setting performance-based goals alongside aesthetic goals. Performance-based goals increase self-esteem and body image, and they always (ok, 99% of the times) come with the side benefit of looking great. With a vocabulary borrowed from my humanitarian experience, I ironically call the achievement of aesthetic goals collateral damage (it is, in truth, a collateral advantage). Knowing that many women and men admit to be dissatisfied with their bodies I know there is much more work to do, but more than in the gym or in the workout session, in the mind, and much of this work starts with our thoughts about our own body. Once people understand this concept and own it, the change in the body comes along almost automatically, I’m the living proof of it.
 
My desire and motivation is to accompany as many people as possible in this exciting journey of the soul, where body and mind meet. Every day I’m grateful to have this opportunity, and to work with beautiful people coming from all walks of life, to help them achieve their goals, and continue learning about human nature, my favorite subject of them all.

Pict 7: Connecting with one of my client and bringing personal training beyond physical exercises