Claire Mackinnon

This is where your strap line will go.

I help people whose career is sucking the life out of them. They don’t want to leave their job because financially there’s too much at stake. They care about their organisation and team, have worked hard to get where they are and want to make it work. But find themselves thinking ‘what’s the point?’  The relentless politics, shitty behaviour of people who should know better, long hours, pointless meetings, never ending emails and having to pretend like they’re on it 100% of the time is exhausting and they’ve had enough.

My one-to-one coaching programmes guide you to reclaim the joy in your life and get on in your career without selling your soul.  We create clarity on what you really want and dig into what holds you back. Through a blend of coaching and mentoring, my programmes liberate you to have the work and life you long for.

I was a classic people pleaser from a young age. I learnt that keeping my head down and not making a fuss was the best way to get on. I was a straight ‘A’ student. The only thing I failed was my driving test and I never got detention at school.

When I was a teenager my schedule was packed – learning the piano, violin and flute, dancing, playing in orchestras, bands, singing in choirs and during the school holidays I’d be on tour with my county’s Youth Orchestra. I lived for those trips – I loved performing on the stage, and the parties afterwards. 

I decided to study music at University. I loved the freedom of living away from home and made up for lost time with my social life. It was like being on tour every day – immersed in a subject I loved and partying with people who got me.

One day my bubble burst when the girls I had planned to live with the following year told me they’d changed their minds because my partying would mess up their studies. I was floored and confused. I’d never felt more like myself, and these people were telling me they didn’t like it. I didn’t stop partying but I enjoyed it a little bit less after that.

I studied with some of the greatest living composers whilst at Birmingham, and discovered my talent for writing music. The notes seemed to fall out of me and I loved creating something from nothing. As I honed my skill, I dreamt of becoming a film composer, but as I reached my final year, I chickened out, convinced I’d become a struggling artist. I decided to join a Banking Graduate scheme instead, to experience the ‘ real world.’ From the minute I walked into the assessment centre I felt like I didn’t belong, but I went with it, ‘performed’ and got the job.

6 months after I graduated I returned to Birmingham to attend the world premiere of a piece of music I’d written in my final year. I had won the university composition prize, which was to have my work played by a professional orchestra in a public concert alongside the works of established composers.

As the conductor invited me to the stage to take a bow it felt as though I was saying a final goodbye to the creative life I had dreamed of. After that it felt pointless to play and write music, so I stopped.  

In my new life in the corporate world, I quickly got to grips with what was needed to be a straight A student. I was convinced that at any moment, someone would realise they had made a mistake at the assessment centre and offered the wrong Claire the job, but I worked my backside off, and kept getting promoted.

I listened intently to my mentors and managers and put into practice everything they taught me. I decided to specialise in HR. Parts of my work came very naturally to me and I loved them. But these moments were fleeting. What dominated was a nagging thought: ‘why are we doing this?’ What is the ACTUAL point? It felt like we were all on this giant treadmill, and I couldn’t see what difference it was making in real terms, beyond shareholders getting richer and customers having their money taken care of.

Neither of these things made me excited. I kept going and resigned myself to the fact that this was just how work in the real world  felt. It was paying the bills and then some, and I told myself I should feel grateful for that.

I’d met my boyfriend, Ross, a fellow graduate, when I’d started at Barclays and by the age of 25 we were married. By 29 I’d given birth to our daughter, Holly and two years later our Son, James. On paper I had everything I thought I wanted, but there was a growing feeling of unease that I didn’t understand or want to understand. So I carried on regardless.

One Tuesday in 2011 my body started to bleed. Violently and suddenly. I was rushed to hospital and after various tests found out I had several early-stage tumours in my bowel and that I needed surgery. The two months that followed were a blur, as I prepared for my operation and contemplated the possibility of serious illness or worse.

After an agonising wait I was given the news that all was well. I didn’t need any more treatment, just close monitoring. The people in my life celebrated. But I felt numb and sad. Sad that I had to get back on the treadmill and carry on living a life that felt joyless despite having everything I thought I wanted. And I was so ashamed of how I felt. So I put on a brave face, went back to work after my maternity leave ended, and carried on.

The next year was the worst of my life. Ross and I worked with a counsellor and tried to save our relationship. At the same time, my company was going through a merger. As HR Director I was leading a huge part of the work and I felt like I was on a year-long interview. The stakes were high, and I had to prove myself and keep my job when the restructures came. Ross and I tried to make our marriage work and he moved back in a couple of times. I always quickly returned to feeling numb and uneasy but convinced myself it would get better.

I found being apart from the children on the couple of nights Ross had them very hard. I would watch mindless TV, cry and drink a bottle of wine until I fell asleep. One day I saw a post on Facebook about a dance class I had always thought of trying, and something told me to get off the sofa and go. It was a Salsa class and it was incredible. Like nothing else I had ever experienced. Afterwards when I got home, I was buzzing and didn’t get to sleep for hours. Through that incredibly difficult year, I kept dancing a couple of times a month. When things felt dark, I knew I had this magical thing in my life that topped me up and it kept me going.  

One morning, when Ross had moved back in, he was in the shower and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I got out of bed. I was about a stone underweight and looked so sad and desperate. I didn’t recognise myself. And then I had a moment of complete clarity. I knew exactly what I needed to do. All the fear I had been carrying fell away, and I was finally honest with myself. When Ross walked back in the room, I told him that I knew deep down our marriage was over and that I couldn’t carry on this way. I felt a sense of calm I had never felt before. We both felt sad, but we were also relieved. This was the right decision for the whole family.

What I know now is that until that moment, most decisions in my life, big and small, had been driven by a fear of something: being rejected, being disapproved of, being alone, failing. In that moment of clarity, my fear took a back seat. It was still there, but it quietened, and I listened to a different part of myself. That part told me my kids being happy and secure did not require me to be a martyr. It told me that everything was going to work out and that I had people around me who loved me. This was the start of me demoting my fear from running the show, and everything started to change.

At work, I had conversations with tricky stakeholders I had been shying away from and it felt easy. Instead of running around trying to prove myself, I took a step back and focused on what was most important. By doing less, and being more courageous, the results I created with my team skyrocketed.  I realised that keeping my job didn’t depend on me working 12-hours every day. I realised my own worth to the organisation and when the restructure came I breezed through the interviews without breaking a sweat. I was amazed.

When I spent time at home I often felt waves of grief and felt lonely. But I also felt so much calmer and present with Holly and James. They were only little, 3 and 6, and I started to enjoy my time with them in a way I hadn’t before. I realised that feeling sad about my marriage ending didn’t mean it was the wrong decision. I learnt not to feel afraid of my feelings and as I let myself feel sad the difficult emotions slowly evaporated, and I felt more and more content.

I danced every week and one day decided to try a new class. There, in the beginner’s section, I met a wonderful man, Mark, who would later become my husband and Stedad to Holly and James. We met up each week to go dancing, and I soon realised this was the person I would be sharing my life with.

As my confidence grew I decided to follow my heart and start my own business. I had no grand plan, but I knew I had a lot to offer and I wanted more flexibility, variety and meaning. I  resigned from my job, set up my own HR consultancy and walked into a full schedule of rewarding projects with people I loved working with from day 1 of my new venture. I had no strategy, I simply connected with people I had loved working with in my past career and opportunities kept presenting themselves. The opportunity to deliver some coaching and training came up, and I realised this was the work I was meant to do.  As I immersed myself in my professional coach training I never looked back. I stopped taking on HR projects and moved 100% to coaching and developing leaders in organisations. It felt scary to leave behind the career I had built over 15 years, but it also felt 100% right.

One of the things that blew my mind about my coaching work was the power of looking beyond our logical mind for the answer. Finally, the weird and wonderful mix of my life experiences made sense.  My creativity, heart, mind and body all had a part to play in my vocation as coach and I could use them to serve other people and make the difference I had been longing to. I discovered my talent for helping people tap into themselves in a deeper way, using my own creativity, and how transformational this was.

My journey has taught me so much. I have learned that working until I bleed is not the answer. I have learned to accept myself more and more, and to stop trying to please other people all the time.  I have learned to listen to myself more and make changes that feel life-affirming even when they scare me. I have discovered the power of my intuition, putting my joy first and trusting that the next step will always be revealed. I also know that I never wanted to stop dancing. Ever.

The judgemental internal voice of fear is what had been running me for most of my life and most of my clients are very aware of theirs when we start working together. What they don’t know about is the vast array of other voices and energies inside us which can play a very different role if we let them. Internal ‘allies’ that are wise, compassionate, fun, sassy, adventurous and courageous. When we decide to recruit these as our ‘inner leadership team’ everything changes.

I love teaching people about this, and supporting them to actively recruit, nurture and integrate a new life-affirming ‘inner team’ into how they live and lead. I support people to demote the ‘fear-led CEO,’ reassign them as a consultant to call in when needed, and have their new team run the show. Often these life-affirming parts of us haven’t had much airtime and are shy about stepping forward. So this isn’t something to think your way into. It is something to be experienced and cultivated. I have a knack for quickly sensing and inviting these parts of people to take the stage, and once they do, my clients become unstoppable.

What I believe is that we don’t create real, lasting results by fiddling around with the external circumstances. It’s the internal shifts like recruiting a new ‘inside team’, and taking action driven by that, which causes transformation in how life feels and the results we create. That’s why new year’s resolutions are famous for hardly ever working. The will-power of your fear-based CEO will win, unless you do the work to demote him and get the other parts of you playing their part. I often receive emails from people telling me about the amazing things that continue to happen in their lives and careers, long after our work together has finished. Nothing is more rewarding to me than reading those words.

My object is a mini Golden Gate Bridge keyring. In 2017 as I continued to explore different kinds of dance, I followed the strongest intuitive pull I have ever felt, flew to San Francisco and after 3 days of preparation performed my first burlesque solo on the stage in a professionally produced show. I carry this keyring with me wherever I go, and it reminds me of what is possible.

It represents me reclaiming my creativity and my love of performing on a stage after so long away from it. It reminds me to keep stumbling towards my dreams and enjoying it all. 

My Burlesque stage name is Aphrodite Jones. She is also my inner CEO.  Aphrodite is sassy and grounded. She doesn’t strive or grasp for things. She is like a magnet to people because of who she is not what she has accomplished. She’s a Goddess and an imperfect human. She owns who she is, she flirts with the rules and she trusts herself and life. That is who I choose to run the show and this object reminds me of that every day.

You have wisdom and resources inside of you that you may not dare to believe are there. But they are. When you hear a whisper inside you that makes no earthly sense whatsoever, listen. It is your inner CEO. She is there, waiting to take the stage. If you let her, she may take you somewhere you never dreamed of.

If you’ve been moved and inspired by Clair’s Story Portrait, you can contact her and find out more via the following links: