This is a speech adapted from the event entitled "Wherever You Go, There You Are" - featuring stories of personal growth and overcoming adversity. The evening was a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters, a not-for-profit focused on helping children reach their potential through mentoring.
I’m Charlotte Messervy, founder of Sankalpa.co. We offer coaching, workshops and retreats. Sankalpa is a combination of my experience career coaching and teaching yoga and meditation. It’s about bringing more intention and mindfulness into our daily lives. And it is something that was born out of my personal experiences.
Through my time coaching over the last two and a half years, I’ve heard the same questions over and over:
What is my life purpose?
What is success?
Will I ever feel fulfilled?
If I’m successful, why don’t I feel happy?
I asked these questions for so long and only in the last four years did I start getting answers to them. I’d like to share my story and hopefully it can be helpful to any of you asking these questions of yourself.
At 28 years old I was working in a corporate job in Boston. I jumped right into the company after university and started climbing the corporate ladder throughout the next 5 years.
I was in a high stress role - requiring regular work travel, rolling out programmes to different governments around the US, and running trainings to large groups of strangers.
By all accounts, I was successful. I was doing what I thought was required of me to be considered hardworking and driven, but what I came to realise is, while I had the external life of a person who was doing well, internally I wasn’t fulfilled.
I needed a change, something drastic.
I considered business school and interviewed for roles in New York and San Francisco, but even with the cool and cutting edge companies I was considering moving for, I felt uninspired by the thought of continuing in the grind.
Then there was this other idea in the back of my head. It was the crazy one that no one I knew had done anything like and that had no practicality to it.
This option was to: quit my job, end my on-again-off-again relationship, give up my apartment and material comforts, and go traveling solo around the world for as long as I could afford.
I ultimately chose the crazy option. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to be surprised and challenged in a way I couldn’t plan for myself.
So in 2014, I left my friends and family, my comfortable lifestyle, the city I called home, and the American values behind. I removed myself from conformity, social pressure, family traditions and all that I based my life off of.
I went through 14 countries in Europe and Asia over 9 months, many of which weren’t even really about sightseeing - they were about self-exploration. It was during this time that I finally got in touch with my zest for life, something I had lost at 28 and honestly didn’t know if I’d ever get back.
I had always been known as a huge extrovert - I was one of 24 cousins on just one side of my family and had a large, close-knit group of friends. Traveling afforded me space to myself for the first time in my life, It gave me physical and mental distance to gain insights and a greater sense of perspective. It wasn’t always easy - I also spent a lot of time with my self-limiting beliefs.
It was in solitude when I had to look at all my preconceived notions of what life could be, what success means, and what a healthy relationship might feel like. These were things I never stopped to consider before.
I started to understand how I was unique from others - the qualities my friends and family were used to were abnormal to others. I felt much clearer that what I wanted to offer the world was around coaching, creating experiences, and authentic and honest communication.
There were also incredible external things I got to enrich my life with from this trip. I didn’t really plan and just followed my intuition to decide where I went. This means serendipity had a hand in things. For example, I met my now fiance at a surf camp in Portugal.
The trip offered all of the challenge and surprise I had been craving. But after traveling for 9 months, Mike and I came to Australia with no jobs and no idea where to move.
It was a fresh start, building a life from the ground up together. It meant that we could decide what we needed - a sea view for example, and what we didn’t - like a TV.
Creating this new life was not without its difficulties. Anxiety and panic attacks were the result from integrating a year of travel, self-development and constant change. They were something I first experienced right after my trip ended when I stopped over in the US and brought with me here, despite my best efforts.
Anxiety is a fear of the future. Fear still lived deep inside me - I think it was this push and pull happening between the new situation I put myself in and my old preconceived notions about who I had to be. The anxiety was just my body and mind telling me something was way off-balance.
It was at this time I decided to embark on a long held dream of completing yoga teacher training. During the year long course, I was able to ground and structure my beliefs and values to help me find a clear path forward. I started to use yoga and meditation as a tool to become present and fully show up for both the good and the bad stuff in my life. It brought the openness I found in my travels into a system which I could use for the rest of my life.
In the two and a half years I’ve lived in Sydney, my life has become richer than I could have imagined it would ever be. And it isn’t all luck, it came with a lot of hard work which, for me, seems to come from approaching each moment as mindfully as possible. Just this habit alone has shown me amazing changes.
I haven’t had a panic attack in two years - some of this had to do with finding the right balance of work and life - and I spent most of the last years working four days a week as that allowed me to show up as my best self to work instead of burning out.
I also know now that anxiety is normal, so when I wake up feeling that, I do my body scan meditation - noticing what I’m feeling without engaging in all the drama of it.
This mindfulness practice has also helped me to trust and surrender - which is much easier to say than it is to do! I am a person who enjoys control, so this has been particularly challenging. However, I have seen again and again that if I stay open-minded, I will find opportunities at the moments I need them.
Sankalpa is a perfect example of this - I was not planning on creating my own business for some years, but all the opportunities came at the right moment, mentors encouraged me to go for it, and I was more ready than I realised.
If I had been given the same opportunity while living in Boston, I am almost positive I would have missed out on it. There is a certain trust you have to develop to go with the flow of life rather than against it, and I am very glad to be able to use my energy much more strategically than I used to.
So, am I fulfilled?
Yes - more than I ever have been.
Almost every day I feel a moment of fulfillment. However, I constantly work on the balance I'm striking between elements in my life and I probably always will! This is what comes with constant change and I'm ok with that.
I believe that through facing adversity we can gain courage and self-confidence. Ultimately we can learn from our struggles to gain the wisdom and perspective that will define who we are and what we can offer the world. Hopefully through sharing our own stories we can all learn and help one another to succeed in overcoming adversity.