My midlife career change saved me
Clair Cusack, 40, from Bristol had worked for 23 years in the corporate charity sector, latterly as a fund-raising manager. She loved her work, found it hugely rewarding and enjoyed making a difference to people’s lives. Clair’s work was always desk-based and indoors and as a lover of the great outdoors, she sometimes found that a little stifling. So she spent her leisure time cycling, mountain climbing and running to help redress the balance of her office job.
“I love to run, cycle and rock climb and that physical activity outdoors gave me relief from the day-to-day stresses. It was like I came alive out of work.”
Tragically in 2007, Clair’s father died suddenly in a car accident. The shock and grief rocked Clair to her core and she feels she never really recovered from the tragedy. “After Dad died I was unable to deal with stressful situations and felt anxious all the time. I suddenly had fundraising fatigue and, for the first time in over 20 years, found my work really tough,” says Clair.
Signed off with stress
In February, 2012, Clair was signed off work with stress for three months. “My employers were very understanding and I was given plenty of support through my GP,” recalls Clair. “I attended a stress management course and had some life coaching-style therapy to help me come to terms with the loss of my Dad and to help turn things in my life back to positive. I learned coping mechanisms and was helped tremendously through meditation, yoga and acupuncture.”
By the time Clair returned to work she was physically and mentally much better. But her views and priorities had shifted dramatically and she realised that she was no longer suited to her work. “I was approaching 40 and felt that I was young enough to still do something with my life,” says Clair. “As soon as I returned to work I realised that my stressful, desk-based office job was no longer right for me and I made the decision to leave and retrain for a completely different career.”
Time to retrain
Following her heart, Clair opted to train as a personal trainer with The Training Room. She followed its six-week intense course and within two months of leaving her job, she was setting herself up as a self-employed personal trainer.
“It was a bit of a risk switching careers, taking an income break for a couple of months and retraining,” admits Clair who lives on her own and is responsible for a mortgage and all her day-to-day bills. “While I was pleased to leave the corporate world, there were elements of my work that I brought to my personal training. I loved meeting people and helping them reach a fundraising goal through encouraging them to tackle challenges or try new activities to inspire others to sponsor them. Working as a personal trainer I find myself once again helping people realise what they are capable of, encouraging them to set challenges and devise a route to success. While my career has changed, there are many elements that I found rewarding from my previous job that I use today in my work.”
Freedom of choice
Clair chose to be self-employed rather than working for a gym or health club. “I really wanted the freedom to do things my way and I also knew that I wanted as much of my training time to be outdoors and at new venues to keep things fresh. To begin with I worried I might not make a living out of personal training. I had looked at it fleetingly a few years ago and decided against it,” she says.
However, the combination of her stress, her need to change career and her love of exercise, gave Clair the incentive to make her move.
Clair qualified as a personal trainer in October 2012. She immediately set up her website and used her office skills to market her business. She works predominantly with women who, typically, are middle aged and wanting to lose weight and get fit. Clair does one-to-one personal training and also teaches indoor cycling and circuit classes at local gyms. She is now making a name for herself teaching ‘chair aerobics’ to older people and absolutely loves this. “I have a small class of older people and, as the name suggests, much of their workout is done sitting down. We sing along to the golden oldies and it hardly feels like exercise – but it really works and they love it. I also renewed my previous Holistic Massage Diploma and offer massages to clients looking for relaxation or to relieve aches and pains.
A new chapter
“I feel like I’ve started a new chapter in my life and feel free and no longer restricted by an office routine. When I was on sick leave I realised there’s a whole world outside the office. Not everyone is at their desks 9-5: there are people on the move, having a busy day away from offices.
“You could say I should have done it years ago but actually years ago it wasn’t the right time for me. Now is the right time. Within four months of qualifying I was able to pay my mortgage and bills, within five months I moved into profit.”
Clair is also now the proud owner of a lovely puppy called Bella who she says is adorable and the icing on the cake. If she still had her old life she wouldn't be able to own a dog and would have missed out on all the love and fun she enjoys.
“Mum was very supportive of my career change and thinks it’s absolutely brilliant how my life has changed and how much happier I am now. She thinks Dad would be proud of what I’ve done – and I think so too.”