The author of the "bodyworker's bible" found his way through meditation
But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
-Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean Baptiste Le Roy, November 13, 1789
Franklin's view of death and taxes rings true some two hundred years later, but his forecast of only two certainties in life wasn't enough for Thomas A. Claire '73. By the time Claire reached his late thirties, he was approaching the pinnacle of a successful business career as the treasurer of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world's largest luxury-goods company. At least by society's standards, he had it all. But he knew there was more.
Slowly, Claire began an inner spiritual journey that took him from the world of business to a career in bodywork, an all-encompassing term for the field of touch therapy or massage. Now a consultant, practitioner, teacher, and writer in New York City, Claire says his career took a 180- degree turn, but it was an evolution that took place in small increments. In other words, his tale isn't fodder for a Hollywood screenplay about the high-powered business tycoon who threw it all away.
Claire's story is that of a fiercely bright, somewhat shy, and above all very introspective man who embarked upon a second career to find that life does promise more than death and taxes. In addition to personal fulfillment, he found the same professional acclaim he received in the business world. His 1995 book Bodywork: What Type of Massage to Get and How to Make the Most of It has been called the bible for the field of massage.
A French major at Kenyon, Claire had a youthful ambition to become a university professor. After graduation, he landed a Fulbright teaching assistantship that led him to Paris, where he taught high school for a year. He later earned a master's degree in comparative literature at Brown University. While it looked as if he might be on the road to earning a Ph.D., Claire discovered teaching wasn't the field he thought it was.
He decided to combine his background in language and literature with his business and international experience. With those interests in mind, he worked in publishing for two years before discovering that publishing, much like teaching, wasn't exactly what he'd hoped for.
"I realized publishing was interesting, but it was basically a business," Claire says. "I think I entered publishing somewhat idealistically, thinking I was going to be working with great authors."
Claire decided that if he was headed toward the field of business, he should be paid well for his work and enjoy it. He began his corporate career by earning an M.B.A. from Columbia University. Afterwards, he gained experience in finance by working for the commercial bank Irving Trust Company. He then worked for W.R. Grace and Company before moving to Hartford and Rowe, and finally he landed his position with LVHM.
After more than thirteen years in the corporate world, Claire had what he calls an awakening or calling, which he believes is common for many people in early middle age. "In some respects, I think people are programmed," says Claire. "There's this time capsule that goes off between the ages of thirty-eight and forty-five. People start to think, `Gee, I've been living this life, doing everything I'm supposed to do, but now I have to stop and ask if there's more.' When I looked at my boss's job, I said, `I don't want that job.' That's when I knew it was time to take stock."
Claire found his calling through meditation. Sitting quietly, listening to his thoughts, he found that there were many things he didn't know about himself. He says he had always taken his body for granted, and he wondered what would happen if he increased his awareness of it. Considering that Claire attended college during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the height of the counterculture movement, there's some irony in the amount of attention he gives his body today.
According to Claire's classmate and friend Elizabeth R. Forman '73, now a senior associate director of admissions at the College, their years at Kenyon didn't foreshadow his current profession. "Our time was one in which we thought more about how to escape the body, but the fact that Tom has become who he is, well, I think that means we don't know a lot about the world when we're twenty-one," she says. "I always thought he would become a teacher. You can tell by looking at his life that he's smart and unique. I think even when we were in college we all realized that about him."
Terms like meditation, massage, and bodywork may evoke images of Lisa Kudrow's dithering character Phoebe Buffay, who works as a masseuse, on the television sitcom Friends, but Claire dismisses the stereotype, saying he is not a new-age flake. "People have begun to use the term massage therapist rather than masseuse or masseur," he says. "In the past, there have been some negative connotations associated with the field, but it's an honorable profession. It requires an extensive educational background and an awareness of how to deal with people."
Claire's awakening made him not only want to find more in life for himself but also to help others find more as well. "I wanted to be able to share the profoundness of bodywork with others," he says. "Bodywork helped me to be a more open and optimistic person. It seemed ideal to me, to practice a profession that I enjoy and that gives satisfaction to others and to be paid for it."
Claire has been able to make a profitable living with his new career, but it was a company restructuring that gave him the financial wherewithal to make the shift from one profession to the next. When LVHM was acquired by another company, he took the opportunity to negotiate a financial package that allowed him to pursue his more spiritual passions. With corporate restructuring a commonplace practice, Claire advises those in search of new career options to seize the day if they are offered a severance package that may provide them with the financial means to pursue their dreams.
Takeovers and restructuring aside, Claire has plenty of advice for those who are unhappy with their jobs. "People should think about what has truly inspired them in life. I often encourage people to think back to their childhood. A person who is inspired by art may not become an artist, but he or she may be able to find a job with an art gallery that's of interest," he says. "When pursuing a second career, I think people should talk to those who work in the area in which they are interested. I guess I'm telling people not to give up their day job until they really know what they want to do. Some people can step back, take a look at their present situation, and realize that they can make subtle shifts in order to be happy."
Claire also encourages people to try working on a part-time basis in a new profession before making a change. He tells people not to leave a stressful job in hopes of finding a job that is stress-free. "All jobs contain an element of stress," he says.
Both of Claire's careers have been satisfying to him, but in different ways. He has found what he calls a more zen-like existence, enjoying the freedom that comes from being his own boss, but his new career is not without its challenges. He misses the security and social interaction of the corporate world. And without his corporate identity, Claire finds it necessary to keep himself firmly grounded. "When you're in the business world, it's nice to be at a cocktail party and reel off your title. People immediately put you in a niche as someone successful. When I say I do bodywork, people aren't sure what to think," he says. "My sense of accomplishment and self esteem are much more internalized now. I measure things by my own standard, not the standard by which the outside world measures things."
For Claire, finding more in life has meant acquiring less. "I realize the fewer possessions I have and the more simply I live, the more I can get done," says Claire. "We've become a society of accumulators in which we judge ourselves by what we have rather than what we need."
Claire, who is working on a series of books, sees himself practicing in the field of bodywork for many years to come. "The nice thing about what I do now is that I can easily do it on a part-time basis after I've retired," he says. "I really don't see an end to it. I think this is where I was meant to be in the first place."
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