Barbara Sher left us on May 10, 2020. She always reminded us that Isolation is the Dreamkiller. Almost a decade ago, Barbara began preparing for a time when she could no longer gather people together around her. She wanted to leave us with programs that would bring you and other dreamers and Scanners together to do all the things we love. These remain, led by people she trained to carry on for her, in Barbara’s Club and Sher Success Teams, where Barbara will continue to speak to us for many years to come.
From Barbara’s son, Matthew Pearl:
13 May 2020
Our mother, Barbara Sher, died last Sunday. She was one of the great thinkers of our time. She would have been 85 this August 14th.
She was born in Depression-era Detroit. Her parents, like many of their generation, lived in fear and believed that the American Dream would equally apply to all and protect them from the horrors of past generations in Europe.
Mom had other plans: she moved to 1960s New York and raised two little boys by herself, starting on welfare and doing social work to feed us. She knew that dreams are fragile and can easily go to their graves with their unfulfilled dreamers, unless they are nurtured and supported by others (“Isolation is the Dream Killer”).
She decided to stop allowing the people who came to see her for counseling to dwell in the rooms of their past—the going trend—and instead to focus on realizing their wishes. (She used our last money to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times in the late 1970s that read, “Realizing your dreams can be more therapeutic than analyzing them.” The giant photo of herself in the ad was beautiful and powerful. Mom was neither self-absorbed nor vain, rather fully engaged in every moment, especially when it came to Danny and me.
Barbara Sher wrote, “What you love is what you are gifted at, there is NO exception.”
She taught the world this simple truth:
We were put on this earth to do more than use up natural resources. You are here to do what you are—not what your parents thought you should be—and you owe your gifts to the rest of us for the gift of being alive. We need the LOVE you feel when you are using your talents, as if all our lives depended on it (which they do, now more than ever).
At every one of the many retreats she and I ran together, she would say, often with tears in her eyes, “One of the saddest things I have ever heard is, ‘most of us will go to our graves with our music still in us.’” Mom did not. She did not believe that anyone, regardless of where they came from, should be forced to dream for small things. What she loved what was she was gifted at, and the world is a better place because of what she brought to the party.
Rest in Peace, Mama
I love you,
From Barbara’s business partner, Patty Newbold:
It is with great sadness that I report to you Barbara Sher’s passing on Sunday, May 10, 2020, of natural causes. Please know that Barbara cared deeply about your dreams and your unique genius. She spent the last decade preparing for this eventuality by creating Hanging Out, the Survival Guide for Dreamers, her Book Clubs, her Idea Party and WriteSpeak and by preparing coaches and Success Teams leaders and WriteSpeak coaches and Book Club guides to carry on her work. She wanted to be sure you will have even more of her thinking than she could share in her many books, as well as people she trusted to assist you.
Barbara would remind you in this time of awful changes due to the pandemic that “Isolation is the Dreamkiller, not your lousy attitude.” Please share your wishes, your plans, your obstacles with other people, especially now. Barbara and I could not visit each other since March 11th, due to Covid-19 security measures, but as recently as Tuesday, we were discussing her latest Barbara’s Club project — and her craving for peanut butter and strawberry jam — by WhatsApp.
Credit: Jennifer Blair, NYC, 2017
Barbara was a middle child. She would have turned 85 on August 14th this year. After spending her preschool years in Detroit (where one of her relatives ran a speakeasy), her family moved to Los Angeles, where her parents, Sam and Nettie, ran a bar. After finishing high school, Barbara discovered the fascinating assortment of people to meet and subjects to study at UC Berkeley in the 1950s. She wanted to major in math at first, but she switched to anthropology, which allowed her more variety in her studies and fewer tortured homework sessions.
She married and divorced twice. In between, she found herself a single mom with two young children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She loved New York City, but life was hard. I’ll let her tell you, in the words from her TEDx talk (I really hope you are among the almost 2.5 million people who have watched it):
When I was about 36, I had just gotten through a very bad year. I’d gotten a divorce, I had no money, I was in New York City, I had two very small children. I couldn’t get a daycare center, so I couldn’t take a job. We stayed in welfare hotels in New York; that’s worth writing a novel about. They have cockroaches, so I would tell the kids, we could name the cockroaches, and we played “early computer games” with cockroaches on the wall.
But we got a daycare center, I got a job, we got an apartment, and the kids were in school. And I was washing dishes when I was 36, and I thought, “By God, we made it.” The kids were great, I cried a lot, but we did it. We did it, that’s good, I’m proud of myself.
And then I had another thought. I thought, “Is this it? Is that what I get? Is my gravestone going to say, “Her house was frequently clean for very brief periods of time?”
It was still the era when the truly interesting jobs were almost all in the Help Wanted – Male column of the newspaper. She found one on her own, running confrontational encounter groups for a psychiatrist. In Barbara’s words:
I was in the group and he said, “You’re hired; you can be a leader.” Because I was good at it; in my family, we always hollered at each other. And it was a natural ability, I didn’t think much of it, and I had groups every night after work.
Then one day, working in a group with a longtime, challenging client she calls Ronnie (you’ve probably heard her tell his story), Barbara discovered something that worked a lot faster and better: Success Teams. Working together toward our dreams. Asking for help with obstacles. Holding each other accountable. Wanting each other’s success even more than our own. Pitching in where our talents could help another person get what they most wanted.
Barbara shared what was working in her very first book, Wishcraft. published in 1979. By the time the 30th Anniversary Edition was published in 2009, over a million copies had already been sold. More books followed: Teamworks! (the only one that’s out of print), I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (1994), Live the Life You Love (1996), It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now (1998), Barbara Sher’s Idea Book (2003) and Refuse to Choose! (2006).
Over the years, Barbara’s books have been translated into many other languages. Most recently, those in Russia and Eastern Europe, where people are now able to start their own businesses, have joined her millions of fans worldwide.
Barbara quickly became an in-demand speaker at corporations and conferences, a PBS pledge-week star, one of Oprah’s favorite guests of the entire year Barbara appeared on the show. She had never even heard of speaker as a career, but she nailed it, giving millions of people new hope and practical tools for making their craziest wishes come true. Barbara was one of the first life coaches, doing private sessions with many lucky people over the years. In 2006, she began running retreats in Europe and the US, starting with a Scanner Retreat on the island of Corfu.
Credit: Tammy Garver, Corfu, 2006
Throughout all of this, Barbara fought back against numerous awful health issues, bouncing back again and again. She wrote I Could Do Anything while dealing with breast cancer and the threat of not finishing the book in time. She still wrote such an important, life-changing book that it made the New York Times Best Seller list.
In 2007, Barbara launched her WriteSpeak program, to help others with a message get their books and workshops created and promoted. She taught her last WriteSpeak Teleworkshops in March of this year, but we had already compiled enough recordings from earlier WriteSpeak classes that when she had to miss one of them, things went on just fine. From 2010 to 2014, Barbara taught a bunch of great people to use her life coaching methods.
In 2011, Barbara began a project that she had long dreamed of, called Hanging Out. She stepped back from her usual practical methods — and her focus on going after dreams — to invite us to just explore who we are and what delights us. Hanging Out launched in April of 2012, and it will continue as long as there are people who want to peel away a few more layers of resistance to uncover new interests and dreams. In 2014, her online Book Clubs began, a chance to do the exercises in her books with lots of support and company.
Throughout all this, Barbara had other hobbies, like any good Scanner. She was fascinated by the Silk Road and even built herself a model of its geography. She bought a farm in the Catskills and grew apples and chickens and fresh vegetables, nestled among dairy farms, with sunsets to die for. She bought a cave house in Turkey and invented what she called “plop philanthropy” — just plop yourself wherever you are and help. She created a place where women could learn the traditional weaving techniques of the region and gave them laptops and helped them set up a non-profit to sell their hand-loomed rugs. She discovered Usenet and The Source and the internet and kept finding new ways to connect people. She taught herself to paint by copying and recopying her favorite painting until she could reproduce it.
Credit: Mindy Stricke
Barbara’s love extended to a number of dogs who were family to her and lived and traveled with her throughout her life, including Fipo, rescued in Greece, and Buddy, a tiny rescued Yorkie.
Many of you have written to Barbara about your dreams, your relief at discovering her books, or the ways in which she changed your life. She has boxes and boxes of these letters and many folders full of emails on her laptop, too. Your letters meant the world to her. She felt so connected to you. She wanted so much for you. Jennifer Blair, who was her co-author and editor for the Survival Guide for Dreamers, reminded me today that she dedicated the Guide to Eleanor F, “who sent me this letter many years ago and whose voice is always in my mind when I write my books.”
This is Eleanor’s letter:
Thank you. Although your book may have come too late for me (I’m 74). Why did it take me so long to find your book? Why didn’t I hear about it? I wish I knew. It should be required reading in our schools. Kindergarteners should know parts of it, and it should be part of teacher education. It should be required reading for every expectant parent, or a hand-out in every gynecologist’s office.
I could have been an architect, an interior decorator, a health care professional, a writer, a linguist, a world traveler and an instigator of individual cultural preservation around the world. I could have had a house which I designed high on a cliff overlooking any view of my own choosing! I could have been a member of the medical team on the ship HOPE! I could have had my own wild animal preserve in Africa, devoting my life to care and preservation.
When I longed to enter a nurse’s training after high school, it was forbidden by my stern but caring parents. “You’ll have to see male body parts, and that’s unlady-like” I was told. So I remained a “lady” and sold flowers in flower shops, worked as a sales girl in other stores, was a typist, a “secretary,” a file clerk.
I’m still trying. I’m half-way through my first novel, but I’m acutely aware of what the odds are for a first novel.
Thank you again for your book. It kept me awake all night choosing my colors (yellow and purple), etc. etc. I still feel defeated, but I’m happier because I finally know why I was such a failure when I had such dreams -SUCH DREAMS!”
Do what you love! All of it. It is the heart of Barbara’s message to us. If you are looking for a way to honor her life as you grieve her passing today, that is the way to do it. And if you’re a Hanging Out member, maybe stick a twig of rosemary in your pocket to remind you.
Barbara leaves behind her two brothers, Arthur and Kenneth Sher; a talented and adventurous grandson she adored, Leo Sher; and two sons. Her firstborn, Danny Pearl, is a musician who cared for Barbara through a difficult illness last fall. Her younger son, Matthew Pearl, many of you know from WriteSpeak, her Scanner retreats in Europe, or from his skillful editing of Refuse to Choose!
We will miss her infectious enthusiasm, but Barbara’s work will continue. I (Patty Newbold) will continue to work online with the brilliant and talented team Barbara chose: Doret Jordaan, Tammy Garver, and Patrice Jenkins. Matthew Pearl and Gundrun Schwarzer will continue her work in Europe. And her many Success Teams leaders and Barbara Sher Coaches will continue her work all around the globe.
Credit: Matthew Pearl, Saarbrucken, Germany, 2018
Let me leave you with a few great quotes from my very dear friend, Barbara.
“When you play it too safe, you’re taking the biggest risk of your life. Time is the only wealth we’re given.”
“Imaginary obstacles are insurmountable. Real ones aren’t.”
“Every single one of us can do things that no one else can do — can love things that no one else can love. We are like violins. We can be used for doorstops, or we can make music.”
“The amount of good luck coming your way depends on your willingness to act.”
“You must go after your wish. As soon as you start to pursue a dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning.”