Elena Maringelli, 50, knows all too well the challenges of living and working in China. A single mother to a 23-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter, the Italian executive has been living in Shanghai for nine years.
Maringelli’s relationship with China started in 1988 when she moved to Yunnan to study Chinese and anthropology. By 1991, she had graduated and married a Chinese national. They soon moved back to Italy together and had two kids. When her youngest was 2, they separated due to the strain of having little money and deep-seated cultural differences.
And yet, for years Maringelli kept her eye on China. “I was always yearning for China. You have to understand, I had chosen China and had always had an interest in it,” she says over WeChat voice call. When she got the opportunity to move to Shanghai for work in 2007, she jumped at the chance.
For the next couple of years, Maringelli immersed herself in her job doing marketing for an Italian industrial equipment company. Though her kids eventually adjusted to school in English, she says she struggled to build a support network. “In Shanghai, it’s usually couples. The man comes here for a job and the woman stays at home. I was the outsider because I was the woman without a husband, so [other women]didn’t trust me,” explains Maringelli.
Towards the end of 2009, she started noticing troubling changes in her son, Jacopo. By 2010, he was formally diagnosed with schizophrenia. Around the same time, the company asked her to move back to Italy; by then, she was disillusioned with mismanagement, high turnover, and internal politics.
To make things worse, the doctors discovered a chronic liver condition that forced Maringelli to receive invasive weekly treatments and go on sick leave for a year. “The company couldn’t fire me because I was sick, but I got lawyers involved and it was a stand-off,” she says.
By 2012, Maringelli was at her lowest point, both emotionally and physically. “I felt like I made a series of bad decisions, starting with my husband … and ending up with me in Shanghai, sick and with no job prospects. I saw no light.”
A light in the dark
Upon seeing her desperation, a university classmate referred Maringelli to Dalida Turkovic, a Beijing-based personal and executive coach. With Maringelli’s permission, we reached out to Turkovic through email.
She writes, “At the time of our first contact, Elena was feeling emotionally drained, discouraged, confused about the way forward, with lack of hope that situation could be changed for the better.”
Maringelli describes herself as a pragmatic person who was wary of “New Age” concepts, but she decided to hear what Turkovic had to say. “My first impression was that she was a shaman,” she says. “I felt a kind of authority I wasn’t used to dealing with. I liked her. I saw that she was very intelligent, and that’s something I value a lot.”
“The first few times, she told me things that seem obvious now, like ‘You’re not what you think’ and ‘Your mind can trick you into hearing things that hurt.’ You can silence that voice; I was only hearing that voice, constantly,” she recalls.
Over several months, the women maintained weekly coaching sessions. Maringelli followed a regimen of meditation, qigong (a Chinese system of coordinated breaths and movement), and mindful walks with her dog. “Every session was a small step towards the final outcome,” says Turkovic.
“[In the past], I never did any physical activity,” says Maringelli. “I was my mind, my body didn’t exist. Meditation was a very big discovery; I could feel immediately that it was good for me.”
Turkovic gave Maringelli assignments related to her personal and professional development. For example, one week she asked her to consider her skills, experience, negative traits, and the conditions she wanted from her career. The next week, she prompted Maringelli for results of her job search.
By the end of 2012, after about five months of coaching, Maringelli received a job offer from another company. Though she eventually declined, an important shift had already taken place. Throughout her career, Maringelli had been one of the only women in the upper echelons of her field. “I couldn’t see myself as a useful person in the company, and I wasn’t. I was always trying to hide,” she says.
“With Dalida’s help, I saw that to start a new [job]I needed to go back to zero. I needed to see myself as an expert – even without being an engineer and being a woman. When I succeeded in seeing myself like that, I was. I am.”
When competitors called her for an interview, she went in without any expectations but felt completely in control. “I knew I had the job. I could see myself as a positive person, and I gave that impression,” she says.
“The shifts were happening in waves and there was more than one breakthrough moment,” says Turkovic. “As soon as she defined a ‘dream job,’ she was able to make the right choice.”
Eventually, Maringelli took up Ashtanga yoga. It became a bonding activity with her daughter Nina, who started noticing positive changes in her mother. “She said I used to be very angry because I was a single mom with a lot of things to do. The Italian mom style is to shout first, spank later,” laughs Maringelli.
When Nina broke up with her boyfriend, Maringelli led her through a few meditation sessions. “She was very grateful,” she says. Though Nina is now away at university, mother and daughter remain close.
Making a change
Christiane Zhu-Lambrecht, a personal coach and educator based in Beijing, says that women usually seek out a life coach when they feel trapped in their current situation and do not know how to change it.
“Expat and local women alike face multiple pressures,” she says. “Some want to learn how to deal better with stressful situations, others want to have better relationships with their partners and/or children. Many women want a boost in self-confidence. They want to get stronger to tackle their tasks and lives.”
To clarify whether coaching is right for you, Zhu-Lambrecht offers some guiding questions:
● Do I want to look at the changes and challenges that my life brings?
● Am I overwhelmed? Irritated? Confused?
● Do I want a better balance?
● Do I want more fun and positivity?
● Am I looking for what’s next in my life?
● Am I ready for a change?
If the answer to any of these is “yes,” a meeting with a life coach may be beneficial. That said, coaching is not a panacea. “The coach is not there to fix the client’s problems,” stresses Zhu-Lambrecht. “Coaching is self-exploration. The client decides where the journey will lead – she is the expert of her own life.”
Rather, the coach will support the client as they devise their own goals and develop greater awareness of their strengths and weaknesses. The coach can offer ways to understand the client’s behaviors, help them explore new perspectives, provide feedback, hold them accountable, and be their cheerleader in the self-improvement process.
At the risk of sounding cliché, Elena Maringelli is like a whole new person. She quit smoking and drinking, watches what she eats, exercises regularly, and has found a new community through yoga.
“Working on yourself always brings truth,” she says. “Sometimes, women tend to ‘sacrifice’ themselves. But by neglecting their needs, they’re digging a very deep hole of unhappiness.”
There’s no magic formula, she says. “Life is made up of moments today. Don’t live in the future, which has not come yet, or in the past, which is done. Live for yourself because you’re with yourself all the time. Every day, I’m thankful to be alive.”
Small Steps Coaching
Small Steps Founder Dalida Turkovic has been living and working in China for 26 years. She has provided personal, executive, and mindfulness coaching for a variety of nonprofit, corporate, and individual clients.
Contact: 6416 6125, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.small-steps-coaching.com
Educator, Personal Coach, and Team Facilitator Christine Zhu-Lambrecht has lived in China for 12 years. She has worked extensively in intercultural settings, and combines her experience in social work and business. Her clients include professionals from small and medium enterprises, schools, nonprofits, and individuals.
Mental Health Resources in English:
BJU Psychological Health Center
Beijing United Family Hospital’s Psychological Health Center provides consultations, assessments, and treatments to adults, children, couples, and families for mood disorders, relationship and parenting issues, loss and bereavement, and educational and developmental needs. Corporate and personal coaching is also available.
Contact: 5927 7067, beijing.ufh.com.cn
International SOS Beijing Clinic
International SOS’ mental health specialists can help patients with individual therapy, family therapy, couples counseling, stress management, parent-child relations, psycho-educational assessments, and more.
Contact: 6462 9112, www.internationalsos.com
Oasis International Hospital
Oasis’ mental health department offers counseling and therapy sessions for individuals, couples, and families for anxiety, depression, life transitions, child development, parenting, personal growth, relationships, trauma, and more.
Contact: 5985 0398, www.oasishealth.cn
Vista Medical Center
Vista provides help for individuals and families for mood disorders, panic attacks, eating disorders, sleep disorders, chronic stress, adjustment issues, and more. Services include assessments, therapy, and counseling.
Contact: 8529 6618, www.vista-china.net
Yoga by Yonnie
Yonnie Fung offers private yoga therapy sessions to restore or maintain balance using yoga principles and techniques. In consultation with renowned yoga therapist and medical doctor Dr. N. Chandrasekaran, Fung designs a yoga practice based on each client’s needs, lifestyle, and habits.
Contact: email@example.com, www.yonniefung.com
This article originally appeared on page 50-53 of the April 2016 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Elena Maringelli