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Changing Jobs, Leadership

How TEDxCharlotte unlimited me

February 17, 2013

I had just spotted someone I thought I knew but couldn’t figure how or why I knew him. So I walked up to this guy and asked, “wait a minute, do you do leadership development work?” He said “Yes, of course.” It was Mike Whitehead who is the CEO of my current company at The Center for Intentional Leadership.

I had never met Mike until that day at TEDxCharlotte 2011. I had been trying to figure out how I could follow my passion and told a dean at Davidson College about my ideas. He told me I should contact Mike, but I never did. It was like the universe had finally brought us together. So after that first conversation and several others, I went to work with Mike and pursue a career that allows me to fully live out my purpose. And I couldn’t be happier.

I will always be grateful for TEDxCharlotte. Of course I go nuts for all the videos and an amazing day listening to the most innovative minds in our city. However, even bigger than that is how the event brings together like minded people who think with unlimited possibility.

The theme this year was actually “Unlimited.” Like uncommon, remarkable, exceptional or even unusual. It was an inspiring day throughout that started with a rousing talk from J.D. Lewis from the Twelve in Twelve Foundation. J.D. traveled with his two boys around the world doing humanitarian work in 12 countries over the course of a year. He spoke about the the power of re-creating our own stories. And reminded us that the only person who usually limits us is ourself.

Charles Thomas from Queen City Forward had one of my favorite quotes of the day which was “let’s turn people less fortunate than us from deficits to assets.”


I loved hearing the authentic stories from Molly Barker from Girls on the Run and Robin Emmons from Sow Much Good. Molly gave a powerful speech about creating a new type of conversation in our country. One that starts with listening and compassion. She reminded us that at the core of leadership is authenticity and vulnerability.


I loved what Robin shared about how we have to take a stand for what is possible in ourselves. She reminded us that we are not here to live a scripted life. We are here to be seen, be heard and make a difference in the lives of others. She was awesome.


And it was tough to not be fired up after hearing the passionate speeches from Chad Henderson at NODA Brewery and Cassie Parsons from Harvest Moon Grille. I could on and on about the rest of an extraordinary speaker lineup.

In 2011, TEDxCharlotte put me on a path to just “going for it” with my life. There is something special about being in a room full of incredible, forward thinking people. When the day was over, I was completely charged up and energized. I think the organizers sure got it right, because I left feeling unlimited.





Changing Jobs, Exercise, Uncategorized

Full Expression with Clary Hilliard Gray

November 25, 2012

Below is an interview with a good friend named Clary Hilliard Gray as part of my “Follow your Passion” series. I was really struck by Clary’s story of pursuing a career she loved and how it emerged. She had a lot of courage to go after something that isn’t the typical corporate path. Hope you enjoy!

Hey Clary, thanks so much for doing an interview for my series called “Follow your Passion.”  So tell us all a little bit more about what you do at the Hilliard Studio Method•.

Hilliard Studio Method® is a core-centric, pilates based workout utilizing resistance training, intense isometric positions, floor and ballet barre work created by my mom and myself. We often call it “Pilates on steroids” and it is hands-down the most effective workout for the female body in the nation. My mom and I run the studio here in Charlotte, just launched an iPhone app and our second DVD Hilliard Studio Method® Total Body Sculpt is coming out in December.

How did you identify this as a potential career path?  What were you doing before you started at this company and why did you make the change?

I had been happy in my marketing position at a large law firm, but after two years in a long distance relationship, I was getting married and moving to Boston where my husband was starting business school.

As you may know, there’s nothing like nuptials on the horizon to whip a girl into shape! As soon as I got engaged, I went to mom and said, “I’m running and doing yoga every day, but I don’t have the body I want” and so we got creative.  Mom already had a successful private Pilates studio and so upon that foundation, she (and me learning at her side) built a new method of exercise incorporating heavy resistance, barre and balance work. And the results were undeniable. By wedding time, we were both in the best shape of our lives and mom’s clients were too!

That was when I knew in my heart I had found my passion for helping women find their power to transform their bodies, and very often, their lives too. But it was three months later before we put a name to the Method, Hilliard Studio Method® and began running the business side.

I always hear people talking about the importance of not being afraid to fail.  The idea that sometimes when you follow your passion or make a big change, there is no way of knowing how it will turn out when you start.  How did you handle those thoughts?  Did you have to take some risks along the way and was it hard to make the change knowing you were leaving a secure job?

I was less afraid to fail than I was of what people would think of me for not following the corporate path. But the struggle was internal and once I found peace and even delight in working for myself (and in leggings instead of suits), I felt like I was living a full expression of myself.

My husband Robert was beyond supportive, even acting as my assistant when I was running from one class in Boston to another in Cambridge, he would set up weights, towels and get the room ready.  Robert and his classmates called me an entrepreneur, wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way. I guess when you are doing something you would do for free anyway you don’t think to put a label on what you’re doing. I found support from my patient husband, mom, dad and the wonderful community at Harvard Business School.

I know for me personally when I made a big change, it wasn’t always easy or perfect along the way.  There were definitely some bumps in the road that could have easily deterred me from staying on the path of doing work I love.  For me it just took being really patient, enjoying the journey and getting comfortable not knowing what the future holds.  What has this been like for you along the way of growing your business?

Running a startup, you become a Jane of all Trades, knowing a little about a lot of things.  It’s up to you and your business partner if you have one to do the marketing, accounting, IT, research, tax and legal procedures, oh, and that thing you’re so passionate about! It was overwhelming at times, especially when it came to learning and executing aspects of the business I really would rather pay someone else to do.  But as you said, patience is a must and learning a new trick is always fun in the end. As we have grown, we’ve had the ability to pull in a brilliant group of women who are experts in their field and have freed up our time to further develop our Method.

How have you felt both personally and professionally since you made the change to pursue work you love?  How did it all turn out for you now that you guys have been in business for almost 5 years?

Running my own business has been a blessing for me as a mother of a 14 month old. I have the flexibility to work on my own time and still be a mom. I taught three days before the birth of my daughter and started back three weeks later, which sounds intense, and would be if I had gone back full time at a corporate job, but working with my own mother and on my own time, I was able to contribute when I was needed and at my own pace. Working full time still allows me to be with my little one every afternoon until bedtime. I get my work done when she’s sleeping (and often she accompanies me to executive team meetings) and that flexibility is one of the best aspects of my career choice, although it was not something I considered when making the decision four years ago.

Any advice to readers out there contemplating starting their own business?

Be sure you’re confident enough to wing it from time to time and scrappy enough to get things done yourself.

Clary really has an amazing story, and I love the energy she brings to life. One of my favorite parts of her interview was when she said doing this work was like “living the fullest expression of herself.” She really listened to her own voice about what made her come alive and then made it into a career. The best part of about what Clary is doing is that by being the fullest expression of herself, she is inspiring other people to do the same. Not only does she help women transform their bodies and their lives, but she invites people to be their most authentic self. She sure is a Jane of all Trades! Have a great week.

Changing Jobs, Culture, Leadership

Staying Close to the Soul

July 15, 2012

A few people have asked me recently what it is like at my new job at The Center for Intentional Leadership. Well the best way I can describe the new job is that it allows me to stay close to the soul. I truly feel that our company is making a difference in everything that we do.

It was a major change going from commercial real estate to leadership development work. The transition hasn’t always been easy, and I am learning the importance of taking things slow. I have tendency to try and figure everything all at first and can overdo it. So I am learning to be with the process and trust what is happening with my training.

I am with an amazing group of people that are so dedicated to making an impact in the lives of both people and organizations. Everyone I work with is incredibly supportive and wants to help me in every way they can. The other day I was feeling a little overwhelmed trying to manage several different new tasks. One of my co-workers noticed this in me and came by to see me after a meeting. She helped me see that I was actually overwhelming myself and had let the tasks control me. I also had not created enough time for activities that energize me. The next day I thanked her for being so supportive and helping me gain this perspective. She responded, “you know what Jon, I just really care.”

On my second day of work our CEO said this to me, “you know Jon, I really want you to learn from my experience but also learn from all the mistakes I have made in my life. Because in the end what I really want for you is to be much better at this work than I am.”

Recently during one of our engagements I wasn’t sure about sharing some insights with our lead consultant. He really encouraged me to share my thoughts with him and our client and then said “Jon, I completely trust you.” I am feeling more empowered every day.

This past Thursday we had a kickoff event to discuss our new upcoming course called Intentional Leadership for the Next Generation. It is a course designed for people in their late 20s and 30s to align their passion, potential, and unique strengths in both their personal and professional lives. We had an amazing discussion with over 40 leaders in Charlotte, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. It was a big deal for me personally because back in February I declared in one of our seminars that I would start a leadership development program for young people. This was before I had any idea I was changing careers, but I was passionate about doing it one day. And within six months it was happening. Thursday was an amazing night!

So my work really allows me to stay close to the soul, and I can really be myself each day I go into the office. As e.e. cummings wrote, “To be nobody but yourself when the world is trying its best night and day to make somebody else is to fight the hardest battle any human being will fight.” I don’t have to fight this battle at my new job. And now I get to devote my life’s work to making sure others don’t have to fight this battle either. Have a great week.