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Chelsea Pottenger was fighting for her life in a psychiatric hospital when she made the decision to focus on how she wanted to feel. Calm. She moved out of the city, left her corporate career and learned the tools to achieve this feeling. Then she set out to help others feel it too.
Chelsea grew up in a country town to a hard working class family. She remembers vividly that when she was aged 14 and nine months, all she wanted was a Rip Curl wallet. Her parents told her that if she wanted anything in life, she would have to work for it. Chelsea worked three jobs to save up for the wallet. And what she learned was the value of motivation and discipline.
These values grew further when Chelsea was 16 and read a book called The Success Principles that opened her eyes to possibilities beyond her regional town.
“I thought, I don’t have to stay in Albury and I don’t have to drive the Datsun that leaks when it rains. If I’ve got enough grit and drive, I can write my own story,” says Chelsea.
At age 17, Chelsea got drafted for two professional basketball opportunities – one in Australia, and one in America. The choice was between playing for the Tigers in Melbourne or Division 1 in Oklahoma through a scholarship. Chelsea chose America.
Six months before heading to the United States, Chelsea moved to Sydney to train with her NSW Institute coach. Her coach advised her to play with the Wollongong Hawks team once a week to prepare her for Oklahoma. While in Wollongong, she met her now husband, Jay Pottenger.
“When it came time for me to move to the US, I didn’t want to go. I was in love,” admits Chelsea.
“My mum told me that I needed to go and chase my own dreams, my own goals. She said that Jay would be waiting for me if he is the right person.
“I was in love but wanted to play in the NBA too. So, I left.”
A few months after moving, Chelsea fractured her back and after one year when she was released to start training again, she fractured the same injury.
“I had a choice to stay and keep going with this NBA dream or end my scholarship and go home.”
Chelsea chose to move back to Wollongong and enrol in a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) at the University of Wollongong (UOW). She started dating Jay again who was also studying at UOW.
“I had the most sensational time at UOW. I loved the campus and my degree.
“I chose to study a Bachelor of Commerce specialising in Marketing because I wanted to have a degree that can take you to many places and unlock many doors.”
The degree gave her the means to gain a variety of exciting corporate jobs in Sydney over the course of 12 years. But after the birth of her daughter, Clara, Chelsea experienced severe postnatal depression.
“I really wanted a baby. We tried for seven years so we were elated when we found out that I was pregnant. But then nine months later, I was in a psychiatric hospital fighting for my life.”
Chelsea stayed in the hospital for five weeks.
“I wasn’t safe being out in public. I was suicidal and if anyone’s in that mindset you need to be somewhere where they can monitor you all the time.”
She says she wished she knew about the Gidget Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation that supports the emotional well-being of expectant and new parents – that Chelsea is now a proud Ambassador of.
When Chelsea’s psychiatrist asked her how she wanted to feel, Chelsea replied by saying that she wanted to feel calm and at peace. Her psychiatrist said that all her future goals needed to be based on achieving those feelings. She told Chelsea that her qualities would make for a great psychologist and suggested that she retrain.
“All of my decisions became about that sense of calmness. I moved out of Sydney to chase that feeling of calm, to live at a slower pace. So that was number one. Number two, was to go back to university to study psychology.”
Chelsea pictured with daughter Clara and husband Jay
Chelsea was studying for accreditation in meditation and mindfulness when she had an idea.
“I remember asking Jay if he thought that the tools that I was learning would be valuable for people working in corporate jobs. I knew from my experience, that the corporate world was hard, fast-paced, 12 hour days, so I couldn’t stop thinking, imagine if they knew what I now know.”
This idea formed Chelsea’s health and wellness business, EQ Minds.
“When I first started the company, I dreamt of how amazing it would be if I could help one person in this world – if I could help just one person not end up in the hospital like I did.”
Chelsea started by delivering free workshops to her local rotary club.
“How I was feeling after the workshops and the feedback from participants was just so magnificent. I wasn’t earning a single dollar, but I was refining my craft.”
After six months, Chelsea’s friend, who recognised the impact of the work she was doing, invited her to meet an HR representative from eBay.
“I explained the practical, science-based tools around mindfulness that I could share with them and that I believed would be helpful for their staff.
“They invited me to come and deliver a session. And when they said they’d pay me, I couldn’t believe that I’d be getting money for something I love doing.”
After delivering one session, eBay asked Chelsea to run another eight more.
“Once you get a company like eBay on your books it opens so many doors. I was then asked to deliver sessions at Uber and Westpac, which started building this momentum.”
Three years later, with some of the world’s biggest brands as clients, Chelsea asked Jay to join EQ Minds. At the time he was working in a senior role at a bank in Sydney but decided to take a sabbatical for one year.
“I said to Jay, ‘If you don’t love it, you can always go back.’
“Within two weeks, he told me he’d never go back.”
In 2020, four years after launching EQ Minds, Chelsea was approached to write a book. But at first, she said no.
“I didn't think I had the capacity, but then I thought, what happens to the people who don't work at Commbank or Google? They don’t get access to these tools and that’s not fair.”
The day that Chelsea signed her book deal, she had a mental health relapse.
“I was off medication at the time, and we had a massive year. It was the end of 2020, during Covid, I was running three sessions a day virtually and we just bought a house. People often think mental health relapses happen when you’re in a crisis but it’s not necessarily the case.
“That night, Jay held me and said, ‘Let’s call your psychiatrist straight away. We're going to pause the company for a month. I’m going to be your bouncer, and no one is coming in. It's just you, me and Clara. We’re going to double down on your self-care.’
“So that’s what I did – I paused everything for four weeks. I saw my psychiatrist, got back on medication, surfed and meditated every day.
“If you ever go through a relapse, it’s like an injury. If you injure your knee, you ice it, see the physio and recover. It’s the same thing in the brain.”
Chelsea’s book, The Mindful High Performer, was published in May 2022 and has been sold out and reprinted three times.
EQ Minds is now a team of 12, with six speakers and growing. But Chelsea does not want to stop there – she has a big vision of moving beyond the prevention space.
“The EQ Minds speaker business exists to help people not end up in hospital. But if they do, the last place you ever want to go is a psychiatric hospital. We want to change that.
“When I was sick, the hospital honestly saved my life. But we don’t have enough hospital beds for mental health patients and if you are lucky enough to be in a psychiatric hospital, you feel sick – the food isn’t there to heal you and the lighting isn’t right.
“My vision is to create a healing space with psychiatric treatment for those who need it.”
Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing)