Sunday, November 7, 2010


I just finished running a 6-day Scanner's retreat for 15 people in a beautiful medieval village in Tarn, not far from Toulouse. (I won't take time to explain what a Scanner is but you'll find photos and explanations at I love running these retreats. The people, the inns, the food (!) are all heavenly. But today I'd like to share one specific thing that invariably comes up, usually by the second day. It's one of the major obstacles that prevents us from turning dreams into reality: memories and expectations of hurtful criticism. No one criticizes dreams at my retreats. We figure out how to make them come true. But hidden in the back of everyone's mind are memories of critics past and the dread of critics waiting at home who could have the power to take our dreams away.

But they don't call me The Resistance Whisperer for nothing. I'm on a mission to save the dreams of every dreamer I meet. Now our good Anne-Claire at My American Market, () a wonderful newsletter from her Toulousian business that gets me my peanut butter fix whenever I need it) is giving me a chance to save some dreamers I haven't met by sharing one of the simple methods you can use to identify and protect yourself from destructive critics, in all their guises.


You just got a fine idea for an internet business, or came up with a really useful invention or wrote a great letter to some editor, and you rushed to share your enthusiasm with someone you know -- only to get the wind knocked out of your sails. Instead of becoming excited, your friend/boss/partner/brother tossed off your idea as worthless, even ridiculous. Or they did something subtle you can't quite put your finger on, but your delight disappeared and was replaced by uncertainty or defensiveness, or both.

You've just brushed up against a critic.

Now the shine is off your idea and you're wondering if it's any good after all or if you're just a moron. What you might not realize is that this might be exactly what the critic wants you to do. Because certain critics -- the destructive ones -- are a special breed. They're not just meanies. They're up to something.

If you're someone who is curious and inquisitive by nature and takes a child-like joy in discoveries, you're often the target of critics. Chances are good that you're far from stupid (curiosity is a sign of intelligence). Maybe you're not an expert, but you have a good eye for something fresh and you love sensing potential. You might even have plenty of experience and knowledge to back up your discovery, but that's not always protection. Destructive critics are on a mission, and they're never stopped by their own ignorance.

All critics aren't destructive. Some are wonderful.
Sometimes you'll come across a genuinely constructive critic, and that's a person you want in your life. These people know what they're talking about and sincerely believe that your idea has flaws. Hearing that a favorite idea is imperfect is never fun, but these people are willing and able to explain what's wrong with your idea and either offer some solutions or point you in the right direction. This kind of critic can save you endless time and keep you from traveling up one blind alley after another. If you find someone like this, you're very lucky. The other name for a constructive critic is 'Mentor.' Constructive criticism is a treasure.

But even the most venomous critic will insist he's only trying to help. And who knows, maybe he's sincere and you're just being too sensitive. So how do you tell the difference?

Stop being the Fallen Hero and turn into Sherlock Holmes.
First, try to drag yourself out of the role of the Unjustly Injured and take a good look at the critic. Ask yourself some questions, like 'How typical is their behavior? What's behind it?' In other words, instead of being hurt or angry and fantasizing about how rotten they'll feel when you win the Nobel Prize, it's time to start scratching your head and wondering why they just did that mean thing. Nothing else will protect you from random slings and arrows of outrageous critics.

But you'll need some special techniques because belittling someone who's enthusiastic isn't in your bag of tricks. You have no idea why anyone would want to be a destructive critic.

Step One: allow yourself to suspect that a destructive critic is up to something.
Criticizing requires no special expertise but it does require a special kind of motivation. When someone like you runs up to a destructive critic with your face full of excitement, the critic gets very cranky. Of course, some recipients of your fine idea are innocent enough; they really just don't 'get it.' But you can tell the difference between the innocents and someone who wants to see the joy leave your face in a minute: the latter are always angry.

But what did you do to deserve anger? You meant no harm. How can you make sense of this?

Step Two: look at yourself with the critic's eyes.
There's no other way to understand what motivates people who return delight with anger except to try to see what they're seeing. There's always a chance you've been insensitive or unaware of their mood when you bounced into their world full of jolly news. Maybe they just lost money in the stock market or kicked their toe against a door, in which case you might owe them an apology. But that's not who we're talking about. The people we're talking about people are typically putdown artists. Now, why would they be offended by your happiness? What is it you're doing wrong?

To find the answer, change the question to this: What do they see when they look at you? If you can imagine yourself in the position of a destructive critic watching you bubbling over with a childlike delight, the answer usually hits you right between the eyes: he won't give you the credit you're hoping for because, plain and simple, he doesn't want to. It has nothing to do with the quality of your idea. It has everything to do with his resentment.

Here's how one encyclopedia defines anger: 'Anger is a feeling related to one's perception of having been offended/wronged and a tendency to undo that wrongdoing by retaliation.' That is to say, you had no way of knowing it, but you just offended someone. But why would it offend anyone to see you enthusiastic? After all, you're not kicking his dog or slashing her tires. What's going on?

Because we pick up subtle clues, we know people better than we realize. You can get some amazing insights with this simple exercise:

Discovering a hidden drama
You're going to write a short dialogue between two people. Pick up a pen and on the top line of a blank sheet of paper write your name and after it, start writing down your discovery. Enjoy yourself. Write about your new great idea as if you were a kid. When you're done, move to the next line and write 'Critic:' See if you can become this angry critic and write down your reaction to the first lines of the drama. Then be yourself again, and answer the critic with your typical defense.

If you can keep up the dialogue for a few rounds you'll start to understand the critic's motives better than you ever imagined you could. More often than not, you'll see that you walked into a drama that has nothing to do with you -- but the critic believes it does. He feels wronged and has you mixed up with the culprit who wronged him. Often the critic is jealous. You might have a hard time believing that, because jealous people see you in a way you never see yourself. Sometimes, the critic wants the attention you're unwittingly demanding when you say 'Look at what I found!!' You might understand the critic's viewpoint in a flash. Or you might never know what set the critic off. All the same, looking for the motive behind the blow a critic dealt you is always useful.

What will all this get you?
Even if you don't figure out what made a critic do a really mean thing, you've shifted the attention to the right place. Instead of feeling uncertain, foolish or injured, noticing the oddness of a critic's behavior means you're acting like someone with very high self-esteem. People who keep their self-esteem continue to value their ideas even if a critic has tried to trash them because they sense the critic's anger and protect themselves. That means that by focusing your attention on what the critic is really doing, you might have just saved a really good idea. Too many quality ideas have been thrown into the trash for no good reason at all, just because their inventor got caught in the sights of a critic.

For that matter, a critic who is mean day after day can actually make you sick if you don't protect yourself. So how do you protect yourself?

Summary and Solution:
Good critic or bad critic, you should try hard to respond in the same way: put aside your sensitivity and try to replace it with curiosity. Instead of 'Ouch!' or 'No fair!' try thinking, 'What is this guy doing? And why?' With that in your mind, you'll be safe when you ask a critic the right questions. They're simple enough: ask them, without attitude, what they think is wrong with it, and what they suggest you do instead.

The results can be amazing. Often the critic is exposed: he has no idea what's wrong with it, and no suggestions for what you might do instead. You'll just get a lot of bluster and the critic will know he's been exposed. But even if someone manages to come up with some disdainful answers, all you have to do is nod with interest, even write them down. (That always gets a satisfying reaction. Try it and you'll see.) In any event, you're running the exchange, you're watching them, and your enthusiasm won't be dampened, just put aside and protected for a little while. If someone really tries to sabotage your enthusiasm when you're alert, they'll be disappointed when you stay cheerful. (Disappointing bad guys feels really good.)

Even if the critic turns out to be one of the truly constructive ones, curiosity is called for. You might get some great help launching your idea. In any event, defensiveness would be the wrong move entirely. You never want to make a good guy work too hard when they're of a mind to help you.

Don't be shy about asking the critic, helpful or destructive, aways with respect and curiosity, 'How do you know that?' If your critic is a deflator, he'll give a stupid answer and walk off in a huff. But if you've found a truly knowledgeable critic, you'll get a real answer. If that happens, you've gotten a gift of high value: the attention of someone who can tell you what you need to know -- and might actually enjoy seeing you succeed.

Such people are rare, but if you find any, listen to their words with care. They could change your life. And when you're rich and famous, you can become one of those rare good critics yourself and do the same for others.

(If this looks familiar, it's the rewrite of something I put up in Resistance Whisperer a few weeks ago. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, forget it and just enjoy. I love comments. You know that, right?)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The joys of a Scanners life...

So much to do and so little time (and I keep coming up with new stuff).

Oh well. Here's the newsletter I just sent out in case you don't sign up for newsletters because you don't want your inbox all crowded. (You might not mind my newsletters so much. I hardly ever send them out. I know that's supposed to be bad business but I get a lot thank yous, which I think is a compliment. ?.

I don't know how to get the links in for some reason. The buttons aren't there today. But almost everything you'll need is at and the German-language info is at way down in the international section. Or write. Or comment.

Hi Friends.

Still running (what else is new?). Running, that is to say, the WriteSpeak program (with about 20 very cool students developing remarkable messages) and the Coaches Master Class (a tiny group of fiendishly talented people who might change the world), and almost ready for a December or January launch of a brand new E.U.-based program that's still under wraps. The first two aren't open and the third one's still a secret (clue: it has to do with weekends, coaching and Scanners), but I'll be part of some very jolly events that you might want to attend so I'm putting the announcements and info up here at the top:

Frankfurt! Had such a great weekend workshop there last year at the Frankfurt Ring that we're doing it all again. We start the evening of Sept 17. Then many will continue on to the weekend workshop, which runs most of Saturday and Sunday. It was fantastic last time. We had a remarkable group of people, smart, friendly, generous and creative. I'm hoping some of them will show up again so we can see what became of the dreams launched last year. Here's a video clip from that event

If you read German, you can get all the details of the Frankfurt events right here. I don't speak much German, but I speak a whole lot English and an intrepid interpreter will be taking up the slack.

Scanner Retreats in the Tarn area of France: The Scanner Retreat of Oct 3-8 filled up fast so I was able to schedule a second Scanner Retreat, Oct 23-28. 5 of the 15 spaces are already taken, so if you want to be there, I wouldn't delay. I won't be scheduling any others until spring of next year. Below you'll find links and a wonderful letter, as well as an amusing summary of the decision-making process you might experience. Or you can skip all that and head straight to

New York
Another Big Cheap Weekend Workshop in New York! The last one was such a blast I'm flying back to NY to do it all again: November 19-21, 2010. It's filling up already, don't ask me how because I'm only just announcing it right here in this newsletter. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Stellar Assistant Andrea and her preternatural posse who loved the last Big Cheap Weekend Workshop in NY so much they're already banging the drum. Here's the link, this time with extravagant praise from attendees of the last one.

Zurich - This is the second round of a very remarkable event which I'm proud to be part of. Last year the other speakers included people who helped run the Grameen Bank with Mohammed Yunus. I'll be presenting there November 25 - 27. Try to make it if you can. You'll be glad you did. Here's the link.

You don't want to know. I've designed two new program. I don't want to talk about it. (Scanners will understand.) (But the programs are so neat!!!)

As mentioned above, there will be a second Scanner Retreat in October, and it will begin on October 23 at around 6pm and will end after breakfast on October 28, 2010. It will be at the same wonderful place we've held the last two Scanner Retreats - in a restored French medieval village, not on most maps, in a 3-star hotel and (heavenly) restaurant run by an owner chef who really cares about the inn and the food.

I get a lot of questions about starting times and food allergies, and apparently a lot goes into making up one's mind to attend a Scanner Retreat, so for once let me answer them in advance by including this funny thing assembled by some grads of recent retreats. Here's what often happens on the way to deciding to attend a Scanner Retreat:

1. Discovery time:
For some reason you no longer remember, you find yourself at listening to the podcast about people with 'too many interests,' and you discover that you're not flaky or weird, and you aren't sabotaging your success. In fact there's not a damn thing wrong with you. Far from it. You read that it's important that you learn how to manage all your interests/passions/ 'hit-and-run obsessions,' and you already know that you need to pay your rent without being head-bangingly bored by a job that should have happened to your enemies. You look at the photos of Puycelsi and maybe sneak over to to see more. Then you read what actually happens during the eight sessions with Barbara and then you read the letters by recent grads and you know this is something special, not average, not likely to disappoint you. It seems so lovely. But you've been fooled before, so, enter stage 2:

2. Snoop-around time:
You check out the videos on YouTube and watch Barb Sher talk about things in front of big groups (she'll make you laugh, but she might also make you cry) and then to small groups at a retreat, and right away you realize she's not like the others out there. If you're Twitter-savvy, you head over and do a search for Barbara Sher and @barbarasher to see what's being said. And you are impressed.

If you're Facebook savvy, you look her up and check the links to her blogs. (Yes, more than one. She's a Scanner. What did you expect?) And if you want to know what people really think of her, you check out Refuse To Choose at and you read the awesome reader reviews (and the occasional insults, which are kind of fun, too). If you're an exceedingly thoughtful person, you might even make a bodily appearance at a local bookstore so you can flip through her books. She's out there. No secrets. It's easy to know where she's coming from.

3. Hesitate-Hope time:
You look at your checkbook and your credit card statement. You wonder whether or not you should put in storm windows or if it can wait another year. You remember that you're not getting any younger and that Barbara just turned 75 and maybe you shouldn't play fast-and-easy with time anymore.
4. Semi-Sort-Of-Decision time:
You decide that you're finally going to stop trying to solve this problem of 'too many interests' all alone and you're going to come spend 6 days with the world's reigning expert on what to do when you want to do everything (or can't bear another job that batters you with boredom and makes you wish you had lived in a different century.)

5. Step-up-and-Ask Time
You write Barbara to tell her what you're thinking and ask if there are really planes that go to Toulouse and once you're in Toulouse, what will happen to you? Will you just stand there in the airport for 6 days, stranded, not speaking French, with no idea how to get to the actual retreat, knowing everyone is sitting around loving each other, having fun, forgetting all about you, remembering that your big brother has been waiting for this to happen since you were born. You can't walk up to a stranger and say, 'Bonjour, how does one get up into the hills to this off-the-map medieval village with the lovable stone houses and the elegant auberge with its comfy, snow-white sheets on plump featherbeds and the incredible food..." And then you remember you don't know if your peculiar eating habits can be accommodated: no lactose, no gluten, or extra gluten, vegetarian, vegan, kosher, cave man, or deep-fried Mars Bars, or if you should bring sandwiches and trail mix.

You're thinking ahead so you type up all your questions on the question form at and send it off -- and you get a personal answer from Barbara! Your concerns are put to rest. (But why isn't she in a stretch limo going somewhere important or making an audience of thousands roar with laughter from a stage in London or Sao Paulo? Maybe she can't afford to hire help. Or maybe she wants to screen applicants personally to make sure she only invites interesting people.)

6. Signup time
You go to the GeniusPress signup page or directly to PayPal and send $2500 (until Sept 7 after which you send $2750) to Barbara's email address (which you got when she responded to your afore-mentioned emails) and you get yourself a wonderful room (shared with another person unless you pay 20 Euros per night surcharge in which case you get a private room), plus a really good breakfast and superb dinner every day. (Well you get dinner the first day, and you get breakfast the last day, you know, but it all works out just right.) Okay. You're in.

7. Jump-into-the-group-email time:
You're invited to join the others who are coming to the retreat, you get to know everyone and share travel tips and see who's coming early or leaving late or heading out for Paris or Dordogne afterwards and what's the best airline and when should you show up and all the additional chatting that people should do because they know they're going to like each other.

8. Come-to-the-Retreat time.
And for what happens next, you might as well just read what a grad of the latest Scanner Retreat wrote:
Toulouse. Barbara Sher. Change. Joy. 04/13/2010

I returned to the USA last night after the Scanner retreat and a week I will remember for as long as I live.

I'm looking at a postcard of an ancient stone village perched on top of a mountain in the south of France, and I'm wondering how to describe the week I've just lived through. I will try to summarize the elements that made up this experience, but I know my words will be inadequate.

Southern France

I have been to France before - along the German / French border, and to Paris. All were lovely. But I have never felt that I had stepped back into history as much as I did in visiting these ancient walled stone cities on top of rolling green hills in southern France. To say they were breathtaking is just an understatement. Everywhere your eye turned was a scene that needed to be captured and framed. And each day, as the sun shone down, the stone walls turned golden, and the fields grew greener.

I walked on cobblestones that have been there forever, sat on benches carved of stone and stared across mountain ranges, found a peaceful, slower pace of life and kind, smiling, patient people who stole my heart.

The Food

I cannot mention a trip to France without mentioning the food. Oh my, the food! Starting in Toulouse, we ate our way through France. I should have said goodbye to my diet when I first saw their breads!

And cheeses. And pat├ęs. And wine. And -- just everything. They make food an art. Our inn had a wonderful chef who took great pride in what she cooked. Each meal was an act of love. People stopped talking and just swooned.

(Strangely enough, although I never denied myself a culinary pleasure, I guess the walking balanced it all out, because I came home one pound lighter than when I left.)

The Other Students

I suppose you know by now that Barbara attracts people from all over the world, who are as intelligent, talented, and diverse as they come. It's worth going to a retreat just to see who shows up. What a club! We had our fair share of genius IQs, talented artists, scientists, writers, crafts persons, business people, singers, grant writers, and more. You could have started a think tank or a small town with the brains that showed up. And funny! Is there anything funnier than a multifaceted, brilliant woman who is relaxed? There was much laughter and some silliness, to be sure, but being a Barbara Sher retreat, there was also heart-breaking honesty and revelation after realization.


I have read most, if not all, of Barbara's books. I own and have watched all of her videos and listened to her podcasts. I've seen all of her Youtube videos. I thought I knew her messages and that there would be no surprises. I was wrong.

She taught me new things, and made me see old issues in new lights. She worked with each person one-on-one, in such a gentle and supportive way that every person there wanted to have her stop and look into their soul and share what she saw. It was powerful, emotional, and healing.

Perhaps the best moments for me were the simple ones - just walking slowly in the village, leaning out on a stone wall, and sharing quietly with Barbara.

How to Summarize All this??

What is it worth to feel you can share who you are with someone and have it accepted fully and unconditionally? When I left France I left behind some old ideas, fears, and beliefs. I brought home a greater sense of peace. JB, Wash D.C.

Okay, there you are. That's everything, except, of course, your audio tips.

I hope you're ready for some dream-launching, because I'm rolling up my sleeves and heading out into the world to make sure that you get all the help you need to make them come true. All you have to do is show up. I know how to do the rest.
See you soon,

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I sometimes get complaints...

Almost all the letters I get from Scanners after reading Refuse To Choose (aka What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything? in Australia, England & some other mystery locations) are heartwarming. You can see them over at if you read the reviews (my favorite reading on the internet - even for other people's books).

But sometimes I get cranky letters.

Now, I love Scanners. They've been horribly misunderstood and blamed themselves for being undisciplined or lazy, and there's nothing I love better than having them find out there's nothing wrong with them at all! Far from it. On a tip I was asked to search the internet for Gifted Adults and found a mass of psychiatric literature about people with the exact same characteristics as Scanners. That's good enough for me. I knew curiosity was a sign of intelligence, so I was halfway there already.

So when Scanners have problems I want to be the hero that can fix them. It's gratifying because I know they've been attacked and unable to defend themselves for a long time. And I know that, after a while, those attacks come from themselves. They beat themselves up because they can't 'stick to anything,' or 'give up when the hard work shows up.'

And I answer them by saying, 'Scanners don't find anything too hard to do except consent to be bored. When the learning ends, Scanners are finished and ready to leave. They're like designers. It's a bad use of their gifts to execute and maintain.'

And I can almost hear them breathe a sigh of relief.

But sometimes I get a letter from a reader that makes me think, Wait a minute. What did you read? The dust cover? I still try to help, but I can't resist twisting people's shorts, just a little.

Like this letter I got today:

On Mar 13, 2010, at 12:05 PM

City: Jackson
State: MI
Country: United States
Permission: OK to publish
Date: 3/13/2010 11:05:45 AM

Question: Hello, I just finished your book Refuse to Choose. I was stunned at the very beginning as I realized that I am a scanner. Problem is what the heck do I do with it? I started a day book but write down ideas I never intend to do anything with. I realize you say I don't have to but what's the point? I don't think I can exist on just ideas. I want to do something! I would like to find something to do that is fun and I can make money with it. I guess my dream is to be self-employed, being paid to do fun stuff, which for me lasts about 10 minutes. R.

So I answered:

From: Barbara Sher
Date: March 13, 2010 12:31:41 PM EST
To: R

Hi R.

You said: I don't think I can exist on just ideas. I want to do something!

Didn't you see the Epilogue: "Your Best Work" about how you should (and a step by step guide showing how you can) finish one important thing (even if you lose interest) and even throw a party for its completion?

You said: I would like to find something to do that is fun and I can make money with it.

Did you miss the many chapters that give you lists of ways the nine types of Scanners can earn an income and never get bored? To say nothing of Appendix A (with Jobs for people who love travel, to learn, to solve problems, to share ideas, etc. etc.) Or everyone's favorite: the LTTL System: Learn, Try, Teach, Leave.

You said: ... fun stuff...for me lasts about 10 minutes

Didn't you catch the part about 'The High-Speed Indecisives' who make loads of money having fun getting sales forces all excited about new items because they are -- for a short time -- all excited about these new items themselves?

Why do I get the feeling you didn't really read my book?
Or, you only read the beginning? Or just flipped through it?

Give it another try and send me some real questions, and maybe I'll be able to help.

Barbara Sher

Well, that's not so nice. But what the hell is the point of getting to be almost 75 if you can't smack somebody on the hand once in awhile?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


What chapter is it in Refuse To Choose aka What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything, where I talk about soirees, those wonderful evenings we used to have where someone talked about a passionate hobby, no experts were allowed, and the people who attended loved learning but didn't want to sign up for classes, study for exams -- they just wanted to know interesting new things? Samplers? I'll go look it up.

This wasn't so odd in the 19th and early 20th centuries: town halls featured speakers like Agassiz (not the tennis player :-)) who had first understood that we had an ice age, and everyone went to listen.

At some of my Scanner retreats we invite people to tell us about something they're presently passionate about and it's like a big smorgasbord of brain candy. I love it.

So with all this wonderful new technology (I just heard of something terrific I'll bring over here in a minute, at today's Idea Party, compliments of that fierce little wizard Tituba) we could have a great virtual Soiree on a regular basis, with someone new presenting a favorite thing, teaching us all something new.

Because passionate, enthused people are genius teachers. I've always felt bad that great teachers had to teach the same things year after year -- though intensely grateful that they stuck around long enough for me to sit in their classes. I mean people like Ted Tayler at Columbia whose classes I audited 3 years in a row, over and over, and learned something astonishing each time. God I love great teachers.

But passionate amateurs have the same chemistry. They make you fall in love because they're in love. So let's think of something. I'm busier than a one-armed paperhanger with the itch (that's why my mom and dad would say, so I can't help it, sorry), but you could do it. Come on, Scanners, let's share our passions with each other. I'll go find that new app.

Monday, January 11, 2010


:-) Got some cute emails today after Barbara Ehrenreich was interviewed on public radio in New York for her new book which, thank heavens, is trying to kick a hole in the relentless demand for positive thinking that has swamped this country for so many years. I think she'll make a real dent and I'm grateful for that.

But, as all of you know, I've been making fun of positive thinking -- that is, the notion that you should force yourself to feel positive and that will make the sun shine and your stocks go up, the thought that negative thinking can give you cancer and make it rain frogs -- for over 30 years.

I'm pretty sure I even make fun of it on You Tube. I mention it in every one of my books, and I open every workshop by saying:

"You went to school, held down a job, raised a kid and stuck to it year after year after year. So let me ask you this:

Did you do it with a Positive Attitude?

Did you do it with a Negative Attitude?

Or did you do it with any damn attitude you woke up with that day?


I even wrote a cartoon booklet I've been meaning to make available on that's called: How To Get What You Really Want Even If You Have No Goals, No Character and You're Often in a Lousy Mood

So I don't want anyone under 40, in the next 10 years saying, 'It's great that you're following Ehrenreich's lead on this positive thinking thing.' I think she's great. She may have a much bigger impact than I've had (my beloved fans continue to insist I'm spiritual no matter how I protest), but there is a place for ego to give credit where it's due, and at 74 I'm in a position to declare and confirm make a fuss about the fact that I got there first and have been fighting -- almost alone -- to get the word out to the world.

And thanks, BE. Glad to have the company :-)

Sunday, January 10, 2010



I am 54. Almost exactly two years ago my treatments for breast cancer had been successfully concluded. I had overcome chemotherapy and radiation treatments, my hair was growing back – and my right breast was still in place. Even before I entered the period of illness I had been quite interested in the topic of “self development” but in the 6 months of sick-leave and during the ensuing confrontation with the “why” of the illness I immersed myself still deeper into the subject. I read my way through most of the pertinent literature, completed six diary books … and slowly learned to sort out the sheep from the goats.

Barbara Sher is 74. She has been working successfully with people for 40 years, for the last 30 years she has been publishing about and practicing her very own kind of “career and/or life counseling.” She created the concept of “Success Teams” and travels the world, today as always, sharing her deep-felt knowledge that we owe it to ourselves and to the world around us to find and live our very own, very special talents. And to be able to find exactly what makes us “burn” (and makes us whole), we need the help and support of a group. This group motivates us, keeps us on track – it is a freely chosen control medium to help us get where we want to be – while at the same time offering a wide gamut of information supplied by all the other group members. Barbara Sher lives in New York and gives seminars and workshops all over the globe.

August 2009

Should I really fly to Corfu to participate in the Sher-workshop? I am a bit overwhelmed by the cost, which seemS beyond my budget. I have also been on vacation twice this year, will my boss let met go away for yet another week? Do I NEED this workshop after all?

After receiving a pleasantly high tax return payment I decide to be good to myself and I book the week on Corfu. It is a fact after all that I learned the most from Barbara Sher’s book during my introspective period in the last two years. With her down-to-earth, up-beat approach and the many practical exercises, she made me grow and understand and bring a lot of floating details together and I found myself understood in a way that none of the other books quite managed to achieve.

Funny thing: for the longest time I had skirted around reading her books, being turned off by both the titles and the cover design of the English originals, to me, a rational German with a rather zen-type design taste, the books looked at first sight much too “positivistic American”, too “tchakka, I can do everything.” Only after a woman friend with a very critical mind repeatedly nudged me to read them, did I finally give in.

Only to find out that nothing could be less true: Barbara Sher is no guru of positivism, doesn’t sell easy answers or promises easy wish fulfillment. Barbara is a colorful strong personality, vivaciously matter-of-fact, practical and seasoned. She has weathered the peaks and valleys of life herself and she doesn’t want to turn us into “better people”. No, quite the contrary. She is more than aware of and realistic about the incredible resistance in us which tends to immobilize us, sometimes totally, sometime partly. If we want to work with our talents, want to live our passions, then this resistance needs to be overcome. And, according to Barbara, this can be done by approaching it in a loving and playful way, and by being very respectful towards our own personal imperfections.

September 2009

I am on the Greek island of Corfu and have a couple days to prepare fort the workshop. I make a map of my life again, of my several lives in Germany, in the U.S., in Italy, in Holland. I see again how important the student exchange year in Cleveland was, how enriching the years in college in Ohio, how difficult but instructive the two years in Italy. I look back on returning to Germany, acknowledge the solidity of two decades of working in PR as a single mom, cherish the more recent developments of a new husband in The Netherlands (getting married in Las Vegas 5 years ago). I try to look with renewed respect upon my collection of diplomas (beginning with the B.A. in psych, the translator’s diploma, the NLP master, the yoga teacher), gather before me my many activities: the longtime interest in Buddhism, travels all over the world, my small and not very successful enterprise of a gallery for modern art from Nepal and publishing a first book of Nepalese short stories and poetry.

Where do I see my own ONE VERY SPECIAL TALENT ? And why can’t I ever seem to become a real specialist in the one perfect passion? Am I complaining on a very high level? Will Barbara Sher, with her special intuition and experience, come up with something totally new for me? Have I been on the wrong track all along? Or totally off any track? I am so very intrigued …

The group

We are 13, and there are even four men in the group. Five of us come from Germany, one woman from Switzerland, one from Ireland, four from the U.S. and then there is a woman from New Zealand, living in London. Most group members are in the 35 to 45 range, I am the second oldest. Almost all of us are academic achievers and work in jobs ranging from good to very good, but somehow the work doesn’t seem to make us quite happy. We are all only too aware of the enormous diversity of our interests and we are suffering from the fact that we don’t seem to be able to commit ourselves to the one big passion. We’re painfully concerned that we’ll never amount to much of anything if we keep on dabbling in so many fields!

Without much ado or introductions we immediately begin with a typical Barbara-Sher-exercise: we separate into threesomes and get busy with the "Lying game“. Everyone has three chances to conjure up a wonderful life and tell the other two about it (e.g. as a famous opera singer, traveling the world, as a medical doctor in the Himalayas saving lots of lives), the wilder the better. That gets us loosened up and is fun.

In a second step I have to turn my back to the two others and they talk about me, describing my personality, while I have to be quiet and just take notes. It is flabbergasting how close tot he real me they get in their descriptions, how much they learned about me so quickly. It seems almost magic that this “good gossip” comes so close to reality.

After this special kind of introduction we all try to express why we are here. It becomes apparent very quickly, that we are so overwhelmed by possibilities (and talents) that we can’t possibly decide what it is that our heart really calls for. Barbara Sher decides to deliver some theoretical basics: we have lost our ability to feel what is really important to us (children can do that, but if we become very level-headed and responsible too quickly, then we loose the sensibility for the things we really love).

Society at large expects from us that we turn into specialists, but – according to Barbara, and here she has come up with a unique concept – there is a special group of people, she calls them "Scanners,“ who just tick differently: they go wide instead of deep, the need broad horizons instead of deeply diving into one subject. In the past these kinds of people didn’t have such a difficult time: they were highly respected even, they were renaissance people (see Da Vinci, or even more recently Albert Einstein). But today what counts is highly specialized knowledge, is the lone fighter.

With passion Barbara Sher continues to address her favorite topic, namely that, "Isolation is the dream-killer.“ To break the barrier of this isolation she has created the concept of success teams, groups of 5 to 7 people who get together regularly over a period of 10 weeks and longer. During the weekly meetings they learn tools and techniques to help each other discover their dreams, to sharpen them, to turn dreams into manageable goals, to break them down into small steps. Sometimes the group just generates ideas, sometimes people are actually personally assisted in their steps. What always works is the “control” exercised very naturally through the group: members promise to do certain steps until the next meeting, the get a reminder call from a buddy in the group during the week. And if you haven’t made any progress until the night before the next meeting, you’ll be sure to make some kind of move even this late date because you are held accountable by the group!

Sher is totally convinced that we owe it to ourselves and to the world to discover our own special talents, to accept them and to live them! Once we have really understood what makes us “burn,” then doing it won’t feel like work. We have to find out way back to a deep child-like curiosity; what makes us feel good, makes us feel whole, what moves us, what would we simply not want to miss doing?

To find out more about this we go through a variety of exercises in the days to come. As we are all Scanners, we have special problems with getting the focus right. Most of us also battle with our overemphasis on rational thinking, we get stuck in our heads. But we have to let go a bit, swing with our feelings, experience deep-felt wishes again.

And we have to watch out for a grand fallacy that makes scanners frantic and realize that we actually do have TIME. We won’t die tomorrow (that’s more easily said for the people without a history of cancer, of course), we have time to do things we love in a timely sequence. She reminds us of a very basic tool for “sequencing” things that Scanners tend to forget: the calendar.

And Scanners need to use at least a 5-year calendar. Such a calendar will relax Scanners into the reality of doing all the interesting things they want to do in sequence, each following the other in blocks of time, or even returning to earlier passions in cyclical way.

Some of us get stuck, though, and can't understand why we often just can’t seem to move forward, that we endlessly remain blocked. During the workshop there are several deeply moving sessions with individual group members, during which Barbara Sher works with "old baggage,“ where people get a chance to discover what it is in the make-up of their family background that might keep them so very blocked. When they are able to go deeply into old memories, old feelings, when they can allow these feelings to surface we catch glimpses of great sorrow, even grief. But we can also see and share the great relaxation after the waves of distress and pain have subsided.

When asked why these old issues come back to haunt us time and time again, even after having worked on them extensively in therapy, Sher answers in her typical down-to-earth way: it’s only natural that these feelings come back again and again (even when if they become a bit less powerful every time), because we are living beings, reacting to our environment and the people around us. We carry our own personal history and we have to confront it whenever it appears – just as we always have to eat and digest every day, have to drink and cannot escape going to the toilet some time later.

So we are called to develop the courage to create first goals for ourselves and present them in front of the group. What is our goal? What is our obstacle? The whole group reacts in a brainstorming session to our goal and the barriers we confront. It is absolutely amazing to see how many helpful pointers and actual leads come from the group. Someone actually knows someone who might help personally, or someone else has just incidentally read something about the solution to exactly my problem, or has heard about it or actually experienced it her of himself. It is incredible and downright inspiring how we motivate each other to come up with still better advice. …

And to further sharpen our dream we work with another of Sher's fantastic tools, the "self-correcting scenario“. Sher is herself an absolute master in this process of correcting a scenario, but some of us also quickly excel in asking just the right questions. After some brief explanation of an ideal scenario Sher amplifies the vision further and continues to ask again and again whether the subject is envisioning things correctly.

Even the most uninspired rationalist reacts to “wrong turns” in this vision-creation and slowly the mists lift and the vision becomes more clear. Now we are finally capable of imagining an ideal day in the future. We have come out of our heads and into our feelings and imagination. We have found our way back to our dreams.

There’s the dream of the single mom whose son has fled the nest and now she seriously wants to dedicate herself to writing. I envision with her the day of her departure for the third book presentation tour (she, in the fantasy has, of course, already published two successful books before).

Or there’s the business consultant who is finally celebrating his success singing in renowned jazz clubs. In my own “ideal day” I am standing with a steaming cup of coffee in the garden of my retreat center in Southern France. A lot of guests come to find out more about themselves in a variety of courses and workshops, but there are also resident artists from Nepal who reside in a special art studio. Everywhere on the grounds and in the building is modern art from Nepal and my book about the art scene of the Himalayan ex-kingdom is selling well…

I have finally managed to find a synthesis for my combined interests in art + Nepal + psychology. I am happy.

And happy I am here and now, happy that the pressure is gone. Happy to know that there is nothing wrong with me, that there are others who tick just like I do. Happy to know I have the time and – most importantly – the permission from myself to follow my diverse interests in my own personal way and in my own time. No longer judging myself because my goal is not the ONE GREAT PASSION and specialization but instead making progress – with my new friends behind me – on my own personal path, playfully, joyfully AND with power!

Information about the author and her work with Nepalese art/literature and a budding Barbara-Sher-Network in Holland via

Are you a Scanner? Or maybe a Diver?

There's another Scanner retreat coming up in France in April (6 - 11) and I just visited the hotel and the medieval village where we'll be holding it. Oh boy that food is good. Never mind. Here's what the retreat's about and a powerful letter from someone who realized he might not be a Scanner after all. Because mistaken identity will mess up a beautiful plan your DNA has set up for you and leave you unhappy and unproductive whether you're multi-talented and love to do everything (a Scanner) or you're a specialist in Scanner disguise who has avoided going deeply into what you love (a Diver).

I knew I was a Scanner long before I came up with the name in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was. I love to do so many things that I spent years figuring out how to do them all (and earn a living at the same time). I developed so many systems to show different types of I had most of the steps right. But running 7 retreats and interviewing hundreds of Scanners for my book, Refuse To Choose, has taught me so much more.

The Scanner retreat has evolved so much. We still help each Scanner get what he or she needs -- a goal, a direction, a plan, and personal work on their own brand of resistance -- so the power of the retreat continues even after they've returned home. But nothing is more important to me than making sure every single Scanner leaves my retreat with all the right tools and skills so they can stay on course after the retreat ends. That takes time and careful work which is why I started doing 5-day retreats in the first place, and why I keep them very small.

But in the last three years I've added so many new elements that I should change the name to Scanner Workshop. Discoveries that will surprise you, new skills you never knew existed, pinpointing your dream -- all of this is a revelation for a Scanner. Of course, brainstorming a plan for your future with Scanners (and me :-) -- each of whom has knowledge in dozens of fields -- is its own kind of heaven.

I've started to talk about the inevitable ups and downs of going after any dream. and what the 'high' of excitement is really for, why we always crash (and should!), and how that's just the beginning. Once that light bulb goes on for you, going after a dream will never feel the same.

Some of you will learn even more. Depending on who wants and needs it, there's often a brief course in understanding your feelings and discovering how old the child inside you is who is afraid to dream.

And this time, depending on who attends the retreat, we may even help you figure out if you're really a thwarted Diver, like this wonderful person who just wrote me yesterday:

On Jan 9, 2010, at 4:49 PM, MM wrote:

Hello again Barbara,

You know when you read something that hits so close to home it just really shakes you up? Well, you seem to have done it again. I read something in "I Could Do Anything..." that stopped me in my tracks. I haven't been able to read beyond it because I keep reading it over and over and considering it from so many angles. I'm not sure I need to read any further.

Among many other significant points you raise in you section on Divers on page 116 you say, "Only sustained effort will develop the mastery that an unhappy diver really craves. Always feeling like amateurs, but sensing their considerable talent, these people are caught in a nightmare of self-evaluation: Am I a genius or am I a fool? That seesaw thinking is a painful mistake people make when they haven't worked enough."

I'm not embarrassed to say tears came to my eyes when I read that. It couldn't describe my feelings and my patterns any better. And you know what else? I've been thinking for a while now that I was a scanner but now I'm almost certain that I've been a diver all along and even used the scanner label to dodge the truth of what you said about divers. I used it as an excuse to not work harder. I am caught in a wicked circle of self-sabotage and self-evaluation and it has stolen years of valuable time. I'm going to take your 30-day commitment and turn it into a 30-year commitment.

Thanks so much - yet again - for your wisdom and insight.


If that rings any bells, I'd love to hear your comments and questions. I haven't talked much about Divers for awhile, but because of this letter, I'm going to be doing some search and rescue work for Divers as well as Scanners in the next retreat this coming April.

The April retreat is filling up faster than I expected. I don't send out newsletters that include marketing anymore, as you probably know: it's here on the blogs or maybe at or nowhere. But if you want to be there, you'd best head over and save your space.