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Meet Melina Charis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melina Charis.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I truly had no idea how much my life could change in the span of a year until recently. A year ago, I was fresh out of graduate school and in my first job in higher education. It was a difficult and stressful transition into my new job but overall I was happy and fulfilled – I was on the path I had envisioned for myself.

And the path I had laid out was: I would work at this job for a while, maybe get promoted, get my doctorate in higher education, and then keep climbing the ladder from there. The truth was that when I entered the field of higher education I had no idea that a doctorate was pretty much required to climb any sort of ladder, and after taking on a ton of student loans just for my Masters’ degree, I completely dreaded the prospect of taking on more.

So here I was, just a few months into my first job out of graduate school and already agonizing over my next steps. Then one day in September of 2018, I remember having the thought, “I don’t have to stay in higher education. I can work in a different field.” And this one thought changed the entire course of my life forever.

The truth was that since starting my full-time job I had become disenchanted with higher education. I won’t go into all of the reasons why, but I was just feeling like the field wasn’t a fit for me any longer. I was yearning to become a new person, and higher education felt like an old version of me that I was desperately clinging to.

And then a few days later, I had another thought that would change my life. “You should start a blog.” What?! As soon as I had that thought, too, it felt so right. I barely slept that night, thinking of what I’d want to write about (wellness and mental health) and what the blog’s name would be, and the next morning I had bought a WordPress domain and launched my blog.

And that was the act that truly changed (and saved) my life. Blog posts began to pour out of me. It was so incredible to get to share my stories, my thoughts, all I had learned so far in my life. And most of all, it was the most incredible feeling to be writing again.

Writing has been such a constant in my life since I was a child. I would write books of poetry and short stories from elementary school on, lost in the world of the characters I had created. I was finally remembering that part of myself I had pushed away and forgotten.

After starting the blog I started putting myself out there more on Instagram, something I had always been afraid to do. I met amazing people pretty instantly, some of whom I’m friends with IRL now. And I started following all of these amazing women who were working for themselves and living these incredibly bold and creative lives, something I had never really seen or been exposed to before.

And I knew I had to do that, too. Through the connections I had made through blogging, I learned about the coaching field and it sounded perfect for me – I have a strong background in psychology but never wanted to be a therapist. I absolutely love listening to others and helping them think through challenges to find solutions. And I loved that as a coach, you worked for yourself. I was quickly realizing that that was something I needed to do.

I am now a full-time blogger and coach, and I could not be happier to have taken the leap to start this business so I can live my life on my own terms. As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco as my husband is on a work trip up here. I now have the freedom to work wherever, to travel, and to build my dreams rather than work for someone else’s. I could not be happier in this new phase of my life or more grateful that I made it here.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely not been a smooth road, but no worthwhile path ever is. I’ve always been a worrier – that’s just my nature. I’d worry about how I’d feel when I left for college, and what type of college I’d get into…when I was in middle school. I’ve always been over-prepared and high-achieving because I thought that if I just prepared enough, I could prevent the worst from happening. And that’s where my mind naturally goes…to the worst-case scenario.

When I was younger I had an intense fear of failure which mostly manifested in needing to always be at the top of my class in school. I needed to prove so badly to myself and everyone else that I was smart enough and good enough that I drove myself to the point of panic attacks because I just couldn’t handle everything on my plate and had no time to see friends or take care of myself. I was constantly harried and stressed in the drive for achievement.

But I was constantly rewarded for it – told I was doing a great job by teachers, friends, and family members. I was highly successful in the traditional sense of the word, but only because I was so afraid of failing. My ego would take huge hits if I got less than a B on any test or exam. I was terrified of criticism or of being anything less than perfect. Sound familiar?

These are typical characteristics of someone with high-functioning anxiety. High-functioning anxiety generally manifests as a type-A personality, someone who is successful, put-together, and driven. But despite these seemingly positive attributes, someone with high-functioning anxiety is often experiencing intense worry, negative self-talk, overwhelm, and fear. This fear does often drive us to perform, but eventually it takes its toll on our lives and on our health.

It finally took its toll on me after I graduated college. I went through the rigorous application and interview process with Teach for America in my junior year of college, because I was terrified that I didn’t really know what to do with my life and I wanted to have a plan. I also knew that only very successful people got into Teach for America, so getting in would also satisfy my intense need for validation.

I got in, and almost as soon as I started the program in the weeks after graduating, I knew I had made the wrong choice. I had wanted to join for all the wrong reasons, but now I was stuck. As everyone reminded me, I had made a commitment and I also had bills to pay and no idea what else I wanted to do, so I stayed. But I also developed anxiety and depression on a level I had previously never experienced.

In the worst weeks of it, I had a hard time getting out of bed because I was so overwhelmed. I was constantly breaking down in tears, having panic attacks, and was barely sleeping. I no longer wanted to do things I had once enjoyed, like watching TV, cooking, or hanging out with friends. I had a hard time explaining to my now-husband, then-boyfriend, what was happening to me.

I quickly realized I had anxiety (which I had somehow never realized before that point), and I worked on shifting my mindset to manage it enough that I could stay in my job for the two years I had committed to. It took almost everything I had mentally to stay, but I did. I slowly started coming back to myself, little by little, as I adjusted to my new job and lifestyle and did everything I could to make it bearable.

But my high-functioning anxiety still manifested itself in various ways. I would wake up every morning around 4am because I would be filled with the anxiety of facing another day. I struggled with a lot of self-doubt, feelings of not being good enough, and imposter syndrome. For the first time, I had to work on letting go of my relentless drive for perfectionism so I could just live my life.

Luckily, when I finally quit that job a year and a half later I was able to truly heal myself. I started eating healthier, exercising regularly, gratitude journaling, and practicing mindfulness and meditation. I learned a lot of tips and tricks that helped me manage my anxiety when it did flare up, and that’s the reason I started this blog – to share those tips and tricks with others.

I will always have high-functioning anxiety, but I see it now as a friend rather than an enemy, and I don’t let it control my decisions any longer. I know it’s there trying to give me advice, but instead of seeing its advice as helpful and practical, I don’t listen. Because I know that there are other, far better, ways of living now.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a writer and an alignment coach. I work with mindful + ambitious women to help them make friends with their fear and calm their inner critic so they can live a more aligned + empowered life. So many women are afraid to play bigger or follow their dreams because they have such loud negative voices in their head, and none of us are ever taught how to manage them.

That’s where I come in. I bring a unique blend of spiritual and practical tools to help women firstly discover who they truly are and what they truly want, and then help them make a plan to get there. That’s one of the many things I love about coaching – that it provides dedicated space for us to really reflect on our ultimate goals and assess whether we’re on the path to get there or not.

As coaching is a relatively new field, I get a lot of questions about what it is and what I do as a coach. There are also many different definitions of what a coach is, but one of my favorites is “a coach is someone who helps you witness your own mind so you can change it to get what you want.”

Coaches are trained to listen deeply without judgment so they can help clients identify limiting beliefs or negative thought patterns that they are unlikely to be able to see themselves. Even the most self-aware people who love digging deep into their own psyches (like me) can benefit from a third party observer who is trained to notice where they’re getting stuck or limiting themselves – because most of the time they don’t even know they’re doing it!

I specialize in mindset and mental health because that is what I’ve struggled with the most in the past. I believe that mindset is everything! Finding ways to manage my fear and anxiety is the only reason I’m sitting here writing this today and was able to start my own business as a coach. It takes a lot of courage (and the right tools and supports) to go after your dreams, and I love helping women do just that.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I’ve lived in LA my entire life, and I absolutely love it here. I love how you can find something different in every neighborhood, and that there’s literally no way to ever get bored here. There is so much to do and there is such a diversity of culture that I’m still finding new things to discover after living here for almost thirty years.

I love that there’s such a focus on wellness, spirituality, and inclusivity. It has been a wonderful birthplace for my business and I feel so lucky that I get to call LA home. I love that this city is full of creatives and dreamers who are hustling and living life on their own terms. There’s such a wonderful energy in this city that inspires me daily.

I do wish sometimes that people were a bit friendlier, as I’ve been to other cities where people go out of their way to connect and chat. And of course, I wish it was easier to get around without a car and without so much traffic! I’m lucky that I work from home now so I don’t have to commute.

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