Barbara Sher: Isolation is The Dream-Killer, Not Your Attitude (Transcript)

Barbara Sher

Full transcript of career/lifestyle coach Barbara Sher’s TEDx Talk: Isolation is The Dream-Killer, Not Your Attitude at TEDxPrague conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: isolation-is-the-dream-killer-not-your-attitude-by-barbara-sher-at-tedxprague


I’ve something very important to tell you today. I’m so glad I was invited to this particular TED meeting. I really am, because it’s all about dreams, and that’s what it’s all about, and no kidding, that’s all I do. I also drink water.

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 day care 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 day care 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 cleaned for very brief periods of time?”

I was going to do something; I don’t know what. I didn’t have particular talents, I wasn’t very good at things. But I figured, well, I just have a bad attitude, because that was about the 60s, and everybody learned about positive thinking, and “believing and you can achieve It,” and “create your own reality,” so I thought, “Hey, 36, maybe I’m really old and ugly and nobody will ever love me again, okay. But that’s not so old; I might live a while, I’m going to see if I can figure out what the hell my dream is and go get it!” So I went to everything.

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I stood in rooms where they all stand up and say, “I can do it! I can do it!” And I did that, but I still couldn’t do it. And they said, “Think positive”, they said, “Create your own reality”. I didn’t believe that, and you know what? I was raised in the ‘50s. In my day, if you said you could influence the universe to do what you wanted, or turn people’s sentences backwards, we called a doctor. I am not a “New Age” lady; I am an “Old Age” lady. And so I just gave up. I thought, “Well, look, I guess I’m going to be average; somebody’s got to do it.” And I tried to forget about it.

Now then something astonishing happened that didn’t just change my life; it has already, in the ensuing years, changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people. And that all started in my second job. I had a job in the evening where I ran an “encounter group”. And encounter groups were something that the psychiatrist had learned in the drug program where people attack you, until you cave in, and they scream at you, and yell at you, and you holler at them, and everybody feels better.

And 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. I had one on Tuesday night, and this one is going to go down in history.

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