Inventor of Success Teams
My Experiences with Barbara as her Friend and Long-Time Assistant.
My first awareness of Barbara Sher was in 1984, my senior year of college. I was a singer at that time, and instead of doing the usual senior recital, I wanted to produce a full opera with orchestra and costumes and sing the lead, an audacious goal to be sure. The college suggested that it might be too much of a challenge and mentioned that several previous students had tried but not succeeded in producing operas. In despair, I decided to cancel the plan. A friend immediately mailed me Barbara Sher’s first book, “Wishcraft”. I stayed up all night reading it, and the next day I knew I’d produce the opera. The book’s down-to-earth encouraging atmosphere and numerous exercises made it clear that ones goals and dreams are integral to their happiness and turned my despair around. I produced the opera, “Dido and Aeneas” with orchestra, choir and costumes, and financial assistance from the college. The local paper wrote about it. Were it not for “Wishcraft” this would not have happened, and this experience set the stage for my future.
I moved to New York right after college to pursue a singing career, but quickly grew discouraged by the competition and intense atmosphere. I mailed a letter to Barbara Sher asking if she was available for coaching appointments. I got a reply from her assistant suggesting I join a Success Team, which I did. For 8 weeks I met with 6 people and a trained facilitator, and by the end of the program I had found a voice teacher and joined a choir. The team gave me incredible support, encouragement and brainstorming sessions. As Barbara Sher wrote, “Isolation is the dream killer”. I’d been thinking I had to take the steps all alone towards being a singer, until I learned that the impact of a supportive group is priceless.
A bit later I fell into despair again, this time more personal. I reached out to Barbara again and began to see her for private sessions, which continued almost weekly for a few years. In the first session I sang an aria for her on the piano in her office. She had tears in her eyes, hugged me and helped me feel on a deeper level than ever before that I was seen and understood. We discovered many similarities in our family backgrounds. She felt like a surrogate mother to me combined with an understanding sister. We joked around a lot. Her wicked sense of humor was a delight.
At some point, I began teaching beginning level belly dancing classes (another long story) and Barbara attended the first one. At the end of the lesson, she mentioned to me that she needed a new assistant. She described the job and I said “YES”. I’d already been a fan of hers for a while, and her books along with the sessions had changed the course of my life. To be her assistant was a dream come true.
I ended up working for Barbara Sher as her personal and administrative assistant for 17 years out of her quirky and fabulous New York apartment. Sometimes when I arrived to work she’d say, “You look hungry” and she’d bring out a huge tray of food! We drank Pete’s coffee together almost every day. I frequently went home on the subway after work with bunches of pages to look over and edit for her, sections of her upcoming books. Barbara wrote that “Praise makes us brave” and so when I read her pages, I drew hearts next to everything I loved. Her “oxygen” at that time was junior mints and peppermint gum, which I brought every day to work. We set up her PBS tours, workshops around the country and numerous other things. Sometimes we’d celebrate new books or success events with champagne.
We both loved animals deeply. One day a mouse got into her kitchen trashcan and we went to great lengths to capture the cutie and take him/her to Central Park.
Barbara received fan letters every day and read every single one. Sometimes we’d read them out loud to each other. Even people’s desires that at first seemed zany were deeply respected by Barbara. She always found a way for each person to get the “touchstone” of their goal, which is what makes someone want something.
After a few years of working for Barbara, she encouraged me to become the New York City Success Team leader. Having been in a group, this was an exciting idea. The former leader had moved away and so Barbara trained me to run Success Teams, and later I was Director of the International Success Team Program for a while. I was super nervous about running teams at first, afraid I wouldn’t be able to live up to representing Barbara’s work, but the first team was thrilling and now I’ve been running them for over 20 years.
Barbara was a surrogate parent for literally millions of people. Her views were a refreshing change from many of the “self help” views floating around. She didn’t believe in the “just do it” approach, or “tough love”. She was against “self improvement”, saying that with support and structure, self-improvement was irrelevant, that each person was fine just as they were. She didn’t believe in spending lots of time trying to have a positive attitude or love oneself, saying that we are all regular human beings with ups and downs, and that if we wait to go after what we love until we’re perfectly grounded and love ourselves, we’ll be waiting forever.
I feel so lucky and happy to have had all those years with Barbara Sher. Reading the beautiful comments pouring into her Facebook groups reminds me of the profound work she did in supporting everyone’s dreams.
She believed that we must do what we love because what we love is what we’re gifted at, and we owe our gifts to the world.
A big shout out and so many virtual hugs to everyone else who loved her and who found in her someone who understood them for the first time. In a way, we are all sisters and brothers. We will carry her in our hearts.
Barbara Sher made the world a better place.
RIP, Barbara Sher.
Fondly, Andrea Reese
Photo by Mindy Stricke