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How do you become a spiritual and transformational coach before you hit 31? That’s well before many of us figure out what we want to transform into. Charlotte Nguyen’s journey gave her insight beyond her years. She was born to two Vietnamese peace activists who taught her about spiritual healing and mindfulness at an early age. Now, it’s impossible for her to separate her contemplative practice from her desire to alleviate suffering in the world.
She spent 10 years at organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, working to support refugees, victims of domestic violence, and un-housed populations. And she poured her whole self into her work.
“There was a part of me deep down that always knew I wasn’t really making the contribution that I could make because I was constantly exhausted, depleted,” she says. She eventually left that work, but she didn’t want to stop giving back. She studied the lives of influential teachers, looking for a way to give to others—and to herself. She saw a gap at the intersection of well-being, caregiving, and social justice.
This discovery ultimately led her to launch Get Free!, a healing practice and community, in 2017. Her mission is to help her clients heal from trauma and oppression, but also to find spiritual well-being. Unlike other organizations that focus exclusively on one or the other, Nguyen understands them to be intertwined—and that both must be addressed simultaneously. She doesn’t ignore oppression, nor the wounds that people experience. Instead, she leans into them. Her work reminds people of their importance without ignoring their lived experiences.
“The people who gravitate toward my work may be people who feel like they’re too traumatized to experience healing or freedom or joy or pleasure or abundance,” she says.
She draws on her training from Sister Chân Thuan Nghiêm, a dharma teacher at a center founded by Thích Nhat Hanh, whose work also influences Nguyen’s practice. She sees Hanh as someone who challenged the status quo, criticizing certain societal norms even when it wasn’t popular to do so. It’s a sentiment she hopes to embody in challenging our so-called wellness culture.
As a woman of color who is a survivor of sexual assault, Nguyen understands how people might have an aversion to the self-care culture that promotes bubble baths and face masks as keys to well-being. Instead, she hosts meditation workshops, group retreats, and tea ceremonies, cultivating a community among her clients. People seek her out for individual coaching sessions, as well.
“My approach to healing really departs from the colonized blueprint,” she says. She believes people who are “at the intersections” are the true holders of spiritual knowledge and wisdom.
Her extensive knowledge is coupled with relatability, making her a powerful spiritual leader. “I’m not a sage on a stage,” she says. “I’m not a monk on a mountain. I’m right here in the trenches with you.”
Her community sees her as an everyday millennial trying to figure out how to apply ancient practices in the modern world. Sharing her vulnerability helps her connect with people. One client told Nguyen that while traditional talk therapy never seemed to work for her, Nguyen’s coaching did. Her willingness to open up about her own ventures off her path helps to make her clients feel more human.
“I think that’s sort of my superpower,” she says. “My influence is not in how articulate I am or how unique I am or how charismatic I am. It has nothing to do with that,” she says. “It’s just my willingness to be human and share it publicly.”
She hopes other wellness practitioners start to embody a sense of relatability as well—putting humanness at the center of wellness practices.
From Summer 2022