Full Expression with Clary Hilliard Gray

by jon on 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.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Cichan December 2, 2012 at 9:34 am

I witnessed Clary’s growth as an entrepreneur and individual. She inspires people on a daily basis, not only through her fitness training–but as an individual. Clary has in incredible support team through her partner-mom, father and ever supportive husband. Congratulations to pursuing your passion and dreams!


jon January 5, 2013 at 7:46 am

This is fantastic. So nice that you were able to be apart of her path! Thanks for reading!


Susan Renee December 9, 2012 at 9:26 am

Clary is a remarkable person. She is incredibly smart, poised, gracious, and generous. She would be successful in any pursuit and it is inspiring to see her choose the path she feels passionate about instead of the expected corporate routine. She exemplifies true inner strength and helps other women achieve it on a daily basis!


jon January 5, 2013 at 7:47 am

Wow. Thanks Susan. The passion so clear in her.


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