How to Use Adversity to Live a Remarkable Life

Sherold Barr at World Domination Summit
Sherold Barr at World Domination Summit

On July 8, I spoke with my friend Ishita Gupta at World Domination Summit about how to use fear and adversity to live a remarkable life.  For my portion of the talk, I focused on how I navigated through a disturbing and horrific event — my younger brother’s murder — that actually led me to a new career path.  I like to think of this as a “calling.”  We are all called many times in our lives to follow a new course but we often ignore the call.  What I know now after five years of coaching hundreds of women is that all of us go to hell and back in our lives.  Hell on earth is when we suffer from our thoughts and beliefs.  All of us travel on this journey we call life and there are challenges each of us face along the way.  I now believe these challenges are here to help our souls evolve.

I wanted to share a portion of my talk with you in today’s blog.  I am writing the final four chapters of my digital manifesto that I hope to have finished in September.   I’ve devoted one whole chapter to this subject that is very personal to me.  You can get the first five chapters of my manifesto if you fill out a short survey here by Friday, Aug. 3.

The “HERO’S JOURNEY” is leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer more mature condition” – Joseph Campbell

Until you are willing to face your worst fear, you will never be free.

What do you believe is the worst thing that could ever happen to you?  I have had my worst fears come true.

I was riding high in my personal and professional life. In the late 90s, having created a boutique PR firm niched in healthcare technology, I grew my company into a mid-six-figure business.  I proudly represented Microsoft’s healthcare solutions group and other healthcare software vendors to national media and analysts.

Then it happened.  In 2005, my youngest brother Byron went from being my brother, to a missing person, to a homicide victim, then eventually to a cold case statistic.

For ten days, the whole family waited in vain for Byron to return our more and more desperate phone calls. We filed a missing person report. Then a few days later I received an email informing us that Byron’s car had been found, across the state line, with a substantial amount of blood in the trunk.

St. George Slaying the Dragon
St. George Slaying the Dragon by Gustave Moreau

All night long, night after night, I lay in bed imagining what he must have felt like, bleeding, locked in the trunk of his car, not knowing what was happening or going to happen. I kept seeing and experiencing his panic. I played these mind movies over and over and was literally paralyzed by the terror of what was happening to my family.

When my mother went in for DNA testing, it was confirmed the blood in the trunk was Byron’s, and the case was stamped, officially, as a homicide. As a mother to a son, myself, the most difficult part of this was witnessing what my mother went through. Losing a child is a parent’s worst fear. It ranks up there as a collective worst fear.

Three years after his disappearance, Byron’s skull and bones were found on a remote farm outside the city where he lived. He had been shot in the head. Each new step of the way my family and I went through hell, suffering the valley of the shadow of death. We were victims in a CSI episode that haunted us for years.

While the finding of Byron’s body brought us some closure, we never knew who had murdered him. I thought by getting involved with the investigator of violent crimes I could manage to keep the case alive, but now, seven years later, his case is cold and our calls to the police department are not answered.

Byron’s murder took me off my career path. I downsized my company to a few clients and helped my staff find full-time employment.

And I grieved. I grieved for two years.

I knew from the beginning that it was up to me to make this mean something.  I could use this defining event to grow or it would take me down.

In 2007, I stepped forward on the journey of personal growth, meeting important teachers who changed the course of my life.   I saw that I had been living an egoic life – the American dream.

It is such a hungry ghost!  It is never satisfied and is empty of meaning and purpose.  With deep soul searching I began to realize that even with the pain, I clearly belonged on this path.  There was meaning to it all.

I faced my own demons – my own shadows – and saw how I hadn’t shown up for myself in my life.  This was not easy and it took me to my knees.  

But I know taking action when we are afraid is how we become courageousCourage is being afraid and taking action anyway.

I got to work. One of the first steps involved learning how to question any thought that caused me to suffer.  The result?

The most important truth that I want to share with you today:  Any time I was suffering with emotional pain, I was believing a lie.  

I must now repeat this again:

Anytime we are suffering from any type of emotional pain – anxiety, frustration, anger, and sadness – we are believing a lie.

I discovered my thoughts and beliefs were the cause of my own suffering. Each time I saw a mind-movie of Byron’s blood in the trunk or imagined how he was killed, I suffered.

In some horrible way I was murdering him over and over in my mind.  I learned too that the meaning was not in keeping this cold case alive; that only threw me in prison and kept me a victim.   My thoughts and mind-movies were imprisoning me.  This painful work resulted in my seeing the good that came from the tragedy of Byron’s death.  To go inside, heal my own life and follow a path that felt more like my true calling.

I also found the gift of self-compassion. Gazing back over my life brought sadness to recognize how I beat myself up over many defining moments in my life. What I took away from them, what I made them mean, the story that I told myself, was simply not true.

Facing fear and adversity is necessary to open us up to who we are meant to be. We always have the freedom to choose how we experience these difficult times. We must walk through the fire of that which we fear most to find the gift of gold, the gold that resides in the hell of our past traumatic experiences.

The hero’s myth is the ultimate formula of self-realization – this is our journey we all face with fear and life challenges. It’s how we look at these challenges that gives our life meaning

From this experience, I know these things are truth:

►Until we are willing to face the worst thing that could happen to us, we will never be free.

► I am a freedom fighter. I help women find emotional and financial freedom – by doing what they truly want to do. I help them find freedom from their worst fears by helping them remove blockages to their highest success. To become a freedom fighter you must confront your worst fears, and research, learn, and take small steps. To go through the fire and be free!

► Our fears and challenges in life are callings for us to step forward in a bigger way in our life. What we fear most could be calling us to our soul’s destiny.

► We must walk through the fire of our fear and adversity to get to the gold – the gold is our freedom and happiness.

► Life is meaningful, no matter our circumstances. Our greatest task is to find that meaning for our life. One way we can find meaning is to practice courage in difficult times.  The bonus is that this also builds self-confidence.

How to Map Out Your Defining Moments

I know, in your life, there have been positive and negative experiences that have defined and redefined you.  The powerful events become part of your consciousness because they changed who and what you thought you were. These defining moments form your personality and your core beliefs, impact how you view the world, and are so powerful they can make you stronger or can take you down.  A part of you is forever changed by these experiences – especially if they were catalytic.

How to cope with adversity

Often in a catalytic event, the instant it happens you are not the same.  Your life has been forever altered.  This brings up a multitude of thoughts, feeling and behaviors.  To someone who has experienced a negative event such as an attack or robbery, the defining moment may bring up feelings of fear, safety issues or may create a view of the world as unsafe.

List 10 Defining Moments That Changed Your Life

What did you make each defining moment mean?

What you make these events mean is the story you will live out in your life.  This is a powerful, life-changing concept.

This is a chance for you to really think about what you took away as a lesson or meaning from these events in your life.

Here’s the incredible piece of this: it’s not too late to change what story you tell yourself about your life!  If you become conscious of the meaning you can become clear about what your beliefs will be as a result.

Ask yourself: “Is this meaning I took away from an event empowering me or disempowering me?”

To answer this, try focusing on this question: Do you gain energy or lose energy when you think about this defining moment?   If you lose energy and feel disempowered, question this belief.

Consider looking at it a different way. You may be surprised that you can start to take away something completely different from the experience.

I highly recommend The Work of Byron Katie at http://thework.com.  Go to the resources section on the website and look up Helpline. You can call the Helpline for free and get a trained facilitator to help you question a painful thought or belief.

The choice is our own whether or not a defining moment in our lives will become a positive or negative core belief. It is how we perceive and react to these moments that define us.

It is never too late to rewrite your past and create a new story.   It can change the course of your life!

    1. Laura Gates – thank you so much for reading this post. It is a bit of baring my soul. I am so pleased that you came to hear me speak. Thank you for being such a friend.

    2. Laura – thanks for your comment and for reading this post. I am learning to use my voice so this is gratifying.

  1. I’m reminded of our conversation at dinner at #wds and wish we could have spoken for longer. This was a beautiful post – sad I missed it live, but thank you for sharing here. Let me know if you venture up to Seattle!

    1. Anne – you are such a special secret weapon (who would call you that?) ha ha. I am so pleased we are getting to know each other. I think the world of you and your skills. I like to ponder the bigger things now – our soul’s callings and deep discussions about why we are here. So this is the first time I have bared this much. It’s a start to more. I appreciate you being in my community and if you ever get back down to Portland, we must get together. Likewise if I come up north, I will let you know. hugs

  2. Sherold, this is such a powerful post and I am with you 100% in your philosophy. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, we have a choice whether to be a victim or not. A victim of our thoughts, our circumstances…or the hero of our lives – a perennial freedom fighter. I choose the latter! Always have, and I hope to stand with you in solidarity on this and encourage others to make that same bold choice for themselves. Life isn’t fully lived any other way. Much love to you for this heart-centered missive.

    1. Heather – you are my sister in adventure and travel! We just sold our home so we are going to plan either Africa or South America – machu pichu and Galapagos. Will keep you posted if it’s South America. I am so happy we got to meet in person. Thank you for reading and commenting here. It means a lot to me.

  3. What a beautiful post. So rich and full of meaning and teaching. Thank you for pouring your heart into it and thank you for sharing that heart with us.

    Much love,
    Sally

    1. Beautiful Sally – thank you for reading this. I spent what feels like years alchemizing all this learning to get where I am today. I am going to write more transparently now and comments like yours are so validating. My best to you too.

  4. Thank you, Sherold, for this beautiful post. Your heart + soul, your lessons and your teachings shine through.

    This part in particular stood out to me as especially beautiful and meaningful for me:

    “Our fears and challenges in life are callings for us to step forward in a bigger way in our life. What we fear most could be calling us to our soul’s destiny.”

    Thank you.

    In joy + appreciation,
    Claudia

  5. I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you Sherold. I continue to learn and grow from the teachers that have come in to my life and you are certainly one of them. Thank you for this empowering post, and thank you always for sharing from your heart and soul.

    1. Susan – thank you for this sweet comment. This is truly my story of my process. Part two of my talk at WDS was even more personal. It’s in the manifesto;) Thank you for being a companion on this journey too.

  6. Sherold,
    thank you for sharing such a deep, personal story…I was very inspired by you opening up so much about the adversity in your life. Story of your brother, gave me chills…The story of this catalytic event and you showing how what I make my own catalytic events mean makes up the story of my life-it brought tears to my eyes…tears of “Aha!”…I felt touched in a powerful way as I clearly saw how it played out my entire life. You also gave us specific tools allowing us to test if the meaning we took from the event is empowering us or disempowering us. Sherold, it’s one of the most empowering and generous teachings I’ve got in a while. You’re a true freedom fighter…thank you
    Roksana

  7. Rokasana – thank you for this lovely comment. I did bare my soul on this one. The second part of this is even more personal and at some point I will write more about it here. I am practicing sharing more to help you and others learn from my experience. My family went through so much. We were always close but this brought us closer. Yes, the going back through our lives to see how we each harm ourselves and our bodies with our thoughts is where I found the compassion and sadness. As Byron Katie says, our bodies are innocent. And Jill Bolte Taylor says it takes 90 seconds to feel a thought physiologically. Our innocent body doesn’t know if it’s the first time we think that thought or the 100th. This idea that our soul is here to evolve gave me the most freedom. I am so pleased to have you here in my community. Thank you.

  8. Wow, Sherold. You write so powerfully and authentically. I love the way you took something deeply painful and tragic, the homicide of your brother, and used it as a catalyst to break you open. Thank you for sharing your journey and your wisdom.
    Much Love and Admiration,
    Leela

    1. Leela – it means so much to me that you got something out of this piece. I have spent a long time processing this as you can see and it has helped me alchemize this into gold for myself. I now believe this can be true for all of us. So thank you so much for being in my community and reading this.

  9. Sherold… this is both excruciating to read and incredibly beautiful/hopeful/perfect. You’re asking the best questions and if we pay attention we’ll get the best guidance. The story is haunting and I am so sorry. My youngest and favorite brother just died after a fast round with pancreatic cancer..and of course it’s not the same, but there are memories that haunt me that are energy leaks and plenty of fine-tuning that can still happen here.

    Very moving..thank you.
    Love and every blessing,
    Lisa

  10. Lisa – yes it must be hard to read because it was horrific to live it. It took me six years to come to grips with this. I don’t think my family will EVER recover from this brutal loss. The worst part is nothing is being done. Such is life. Your favorite brother – so sorry for such a recent loss. I know the most challenging part of life is the death and loss. He will remain in your heart forever. Of course it is the same in the loss department. There is a good class my friend Christina Rasmussen is offering – Second Firsts. She founded it after her husband died suddenly six years ago leaving her with two little girls. Check it out. Christina is remarkable. I hope to share what I’ve learned with others to help them. Thank you for reading and for writing.

  11. Sherold, i relate emotionally, experientially and spiritually to the depth of your experience. Thanks for being among those willing to do the work required to shift from places of inner and outer darkness to some that do hold more light. Our individual and collective journeys call for many necessary changes to be made within. I myself feel called to sound out the song of a new creation, alone at times and also with others, whenever possible.

    monique

  12. Monique – thank you for writing and for connecting. Those of us who can go down into the underworld and “dare” to step into the darkness of our own shadow self are the brave and courageous women who can bring back to the goods to others and lead the way. Thank you for leading the way;) We are all connected.

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