One aspect of my Next Act plan was to talk with people about everything from life transitions to activities and issues and fields that intrigue me – and to share those conversations here. After all, the first half of my life mantra is Explore, Discover, Share. Like everyone else in the world, the pandemic forced me off the road and into a ditch for a while. But things are finally getting back on track. So... let’s explore!
Claire J. Gilchrist can be considered a master of life transitions – having navigated several of her own and now assisting others through various changes and challenges as an independent coach and counselor. I connected with Claire when she was vice-principal and student counselor at my son Mtuseni’s college in Johannesburg. She got a taste of dealing with a demanding American parent from my calls and emails – and provided valuable perspective on South African culture and dynamics as I guided Mtuseni through college life and beyond.
Claire’s life has traversed a fascinating series of stages, with each lasting about ten years. She had a successful career as an actor in South Africa, with work in television and theater. (And a music project in London with the producer of Duran Duran!) When acting work began to dry up, she became an actor’s agent, eventually owning a successful agency.
After doing some self-exploration and education, she recognized a strong desire, a calling, to help people on a more personal level. She sold her shares in the agency and started a personal coaching business. After a few years the global recession hit, and she landed the vice-principal job, where the large at-risk student population presented her with many counseling challenges. Later, she moved to another college as head of the acting department for a few years.
She now runs a successful business coaching and counseling individuals, couples, and groups, helping people address a broad range of personal and professional issues. She also conducts workshops, delivers corporate training, and speaks to groups.
I talked with Claire about making big life transitions and the risks and rewards that come with it. When making a midlife change, she says, “You have to run toward something, not away from something. And you want to be absolutely sure that what you want to be doing is driven from the heart, that it’s your passion.”
As I wrote in a previous post about self-exploration, Claire said that when working with clients in transition she starts by creating a detailed profile. She uses the Enneagram as part of the process, but says people can use a variety of tools that are readily available.
The important thing is “to look at every aspect of yourself, which can reveal hidden interests and passions. Explore all your loves, your little dreams, what you wanted to do when you were a child.”
She shares the story of a client, a successful businessperson, who wanted to make a change. He mentioned that after college he took time off and traveled through India. When he described it as a waste of time, Claire responded “No, that’s a part of you.” They explored the experience and how it fit into his life story, and this spurred ideas for new directions in his life. “Everyone has their own journey,” Claire says.
Life transitions aren’t easy; they can trigger a lot of fear. Claire readily acknowledges her own difficulties. “Fear was huge for me,” she explains. “I jumped out of my acting agency and rode on faith. I had nothing more than this indescribable ‘knowing’ inside that coaching, helping people, was what I was supposed to do.”
Much of the fear people have about this situation arises from the potential for experiencing loss. In Claire’s view, transition-related loss isn’t a potential, it’s a given. “If you make a change in your life, you’re inevitably going to lose something,” she says. “It can be a loss of friends, community, family. A loss of routine. Of salary. It might be a loss of self-identity.”
“Who is this new me that feels this way or thinks this way?”
When she left the acting industry, Claire says it was the biggest transition she’d ever made. “I started changing. It wasn’t a change of job; it was a change of purpose. It was a complete change in me.” She says she began thinking, “Who is this new me that feels this way or thinks this way?”
The biggest loss, she says, is your comfort zone. “You lose what you know. And we’re often so scared to lose what we know – even if it’s not good for us. The comfort zone is what keeps a lot of people stuck. But letting go of it can give you exactly what you need for growth.”
But it’s called a “comfort zone” for a reason. Making big changes in your life is, quite frankly, uncomfortable. Even if it’s necessary and exciting. “Change isn’t natural for people,” Claire says. “So take time to integrate the process: mentally, emotionally, and physically.”
For Claire, the most surprising aspect of her change journey was discovering what she was actually capable of, the courage she summoned to do it. “We can talk ourselves into – or talk ourselves out of – a lot of things,” she says. “There’s no point in sticking with something you’re unhappy doing. It’s better to take the risk. Yeah, it’s gonna be scary at times, but trust in the process. You have this life... Live it!”
For more information, visit Claire’s website at www.vocaliselife.co.za