In the spring of 1976, I was a 25-year-old Montessori pre-school teacher living in Missouri and looking for reinvention. My first love had moved out and broken my heart. I was drowning in self-doubt. When a friend mentioned that he’d once taken an Outward Bound survival course and it had changed his life, I was in.
After a few phone calls to O.B. headquarters in Hurricane Island, Maine I packed some clothes and drove my little Honda Civic across the country for a three-week-long June course on an open pulling boat off the foggy coast of Maine. I’d heard the stories of being dropped off alone on a tiny island for three days with only a tarp and some water. I knew about the required morning jumps from the edge of a 75-foot-cliff into the freezing Maine water where you could die of hypothermia in 20 minutes. I was terrified and elated.
I’d never done anything like this. I’d grown up in the 50s in the conservative south where girls behaved well and men created the rules. I’d found my posse of true friends when I’d dropped out of University of Missouri in 1970 to march against the Vietnam war and ultimately to launch a dream.
Mostly disowned by our conservative families because of our alternative beliefs, we worked menial jobs, opened “health-food restaurants,” bought land, grew our food, and lived organically before that was a thing. We discussed, debated and practiced new kinds of spiritual awareness such as meditation, metaphysics and living simply. I had completely loved that part of my journey.
But the “real” world beckoned as we each awoke to the realities of financial survival on untamed land in the center of Missouri. Most of us left the farm in pursuit of more meaningful careers and the training they required. I’d pursued and become a teacher.
I’d done okay as a Montessori preschool teacher, but it soon felt like it wasn’t enough, like I was starving for something more, never having taken my true path – whatever that was to be. And when my first love, Jeff, moved out, I became untethered, without boundaries, adrift. My soul was hungry for new direction; for rebirth. I felt I had nothing to lose.
From the first moment of arrival at Hurricane Island, we were treated like military grunts in basic training, given duffle bags to stuff our few pieces of clothing into, assigned to bunk beds, run through obstacle courses and taught basic nautical navigation with compass and sea charts.
We were required to run at least three miles around the island every morning at sunrise, culminating in the morning cliff jump. I’d never run before. I’d been a dancer. This was 1976 – long before the movie Rocky changed our culture, turning us into fist-pumping fitness addicts. I was winded and exhausted from the first step of every early morning run.
I’ll never forget my initiation into cliff jumping, as dozens of cold and terrified people just like me lined up to take our turns running and jumping off a cliff that clearly lead to a hideous death far below (either smashed against the rocky shore if we did not leap far enough or drowning in the tumbling waves of the deep blue sea). I was trembling and nauseous with fear as I got closer to the front of the line. But my wise instructor whispered: “Don’t think. Just run and jump. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
In that moment, my life truly did begin to change. I took a deep breath, opened my heart and ran for it. I was suddenly soaring over the water screaming, laughing, then underwater fighting for the surface. When I immerged, I heard cheers and felt the most immense joy I’d ever known. Pure elation. I’d done a terrifying and impossible thing and loved it.
For the next three weeks, the hardest weeks of my life thus far, I found myself overcoming fear a thousand times a day. I’d been randomly assigned to a “mobile course” – meaning that after our initial basic training on Hurricane Island, 12 of us lived together on a wooden open pulling boat with two sails and 24 heavy oars – enough for everyone to row endlessly on the windless foggy sea.
Hypothermia was a constant threat as we slept in sleeping bags thrown on top of the oars laid crosswise across the boat. We sailed or rowed from island to island – sailing through storms that left us puking and rowing through windless days for back-breaking hours. When we arrived on an island, we hauled our gear to the beach and instantly went for long runs together.
Our instructors read to us every day and night; inspiring stories of famous adventurers who’d trekked into the unknown to discover new lands or climbed unclimbed peaks in impossible conditions. The message was simple: Human potential is immeasurable and its imagined limits are always being stretched. Step up to your untapped potential. Break through limitations. Fear is simply energy. Use it to move forward.
My instructor was bad-ass and wise all at once. When I lagged behind on a morning run, he would jog beside me whispering about finding my inner strength and not being wimpy. When we rowed around an island to discover a towering 100-foot rock cliff rising straight up from the open sea, he taught us to rock climb. I felt strong and smart on my first-ever climb, with the sea to my back and the promise of heaven above, I stretched and reached and pushed like a dancer on a vertical stage. When I reached the top, my instructor told me that I was a graceful and talented natural climber, and that I was stronger than I knew. I drank his words like water.
When I began that Outward Bound course, I believed my first love, Jeff, had left me because I wasn’t good enough – deeply flawed, too insecure. I was wrapped in self-doubt from childhood, raised by a mother who never knew how to love me, and shamed in a family where my kind of sensitivity, intuition and spiritual awareness was discarded. I was the oldest, and my role was to be perfect and to raise the younger siblings – which I did until the age of 18. That was my job – especially as my mother surrendered to miscarriages and depression. I swore I’d never be like her. But leaving home at 18, I didn’t know a single good thing about myself except that I could write.
Alone for three days on that tiny freezing island off the Maine coast, nestled under a flimsy tarp strung between evergreens, as storm after storm washed through, I was terrified at night by the howling wind and pounding waves, the deep black sky, the sense of utter isolation from the world. Left with nothing but my fear and my tears, I began to remember who I was. I found my radiant indestructible soul. I was reborn into someone strong and good. Fear was now my ally. Fear and doubt became my fuel for reinvention.
After that course was over, I returned to Missouri, became an avid rock climber, and worked my way through college to get a degree in psychology and to impossibly became a Colorado Outward Bound mountaineering instructor two years later – which led me on the journey to be who I am today.
When we bravely say yes to life, open our hearts, and jump into the deep blue sea of fear, we emerge stronger than we ever believed we could be, we awaken to our true selves. We shift from ego lens to divine lens, and everything changes for the better.
From my book: Your Divine Lens
Here’s an article I wrote about finding your meaningful work more than ten years ago. Still true…
Peter was a 40-year-old computer programmer who hated his job and had a passion for race-car driving. He spent so much time at the race track that his marriage was in trouble. His doctor prescribed anti-depressants and sent him to me for career counseling. Peter’s story was unforgettable.
One night when Peter was 13, his 16-year-old sister woke him up. “Mom and dad have gone out. Get in the back seat of the car and shut up,” she whispered. “We’re going for a ride.”
Peter followed her into the family car and fell asleep in the back seat. He woke up hours later in the darkness, in a ditch, unable to find his sister. She was pinned under the car and died instantly. That moment changed his life forever. His parents divorced, his father became an alcoholic, and “no one ever spoke about the accident. In fact, no one ever spoke at all,” he remembered. Peter became an outcast in high school and learned to bottle up his feelings. “Have a stiff upper lip and carry on,” was his father’s only advice.
As my client, he explored this memory and realized that each time he raced a car at 80 miles an hour around a race track he was healing a childhood wound. He was reliving and re-programming the event that had destroyed his childhood. He was taking control of his greatest pain – the loss of his sister and family. He also recognized that teaching someone else how to navigate a speeding car was a profoundly healing experience for him.
By facing his pain, Peter gave himself permission to pursue a career as a race car driving instructor and a race car service and repair shop owner. By honestly sharing his insights with his wife and daughter, he rallied their support for his new direction. He found renewed intimacy in his marriage, and gave himself permission to pursue work that he loved.
This brings me to the most powerful truth I know about meaningful work: Your pain is your greatest ally for finding work you love. Consider the possibility that you chose (consciously or unconsciously) every job you’ve had in your lifetime because it was healing you.
Hundreds of my clients have proven this to be true. From observing their experiences and studying the biographies of successful people, I am 100% SURE that our pain guides us to our true work; and that our true work heals our greatest pain.
How? Our work heals us by letting us offer to the world exactly what we need to heal ourselves. By facing our pain, we turn it into energy. It becomes our ally and moves us forward. Ask yourself what pain needs healing now? Let that answer guide you to work you love.
Here’s the secret: The more pain you feel, the more energy you have to launch your new career. See the pain as fuel – not as something that stops you from moving forward.
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” Carl Jung
In my 20s, I enjoyed a career as a mountaineering instructor for Colorado Outward Bound School. I loved empowering people and inspiring them to overcome their fears. Throughout my own childhood (as a woman growing up in the south in the 50s), I felt afraid and unempowered. This work of empowering others felt very meaningful to me; it was healing my childhood wounds. And I was having great fun!
I was married to a fellow mountaineer whom I adored, and our happy life was filled with climbing adventures and mountaineering trips.
My husband had stomach problems but was told by a couple doctors that it was nothing more than a nervous stomach or the beginnings of an ulcer. By the time we got a proper diagnosis of colon cancer, the doctors gave Paul two weeks to live. (This was in the late 70s before colonoscopies were used routinely.)
Paul died one year later. From that moment on, I couldn’t climb or teach mountaineering anymore. My life changed, and my work changed. I went back to school to study journalism and spent the next 15 years working as a newspaper reporter (health writer), magazine editor (writing about natural health), and a VP of Content for natural health websites. I was passionate about writing stories that helped people prevent disease and live healthy lives. I was healing my own pain with each story.
As my awareness evolved through spiritual work, I became passionate about helping everyone see their greatness, their indestructible soul, and the mission they came to accomplish. I allowed my intuition to flow through untethered and used it to help others. I learned to focus on the client’s luminous spirit, the great potential they came to fulfill in this lifetime, and the beauty of their pain story – so perfectly designed to help them evolve. This is the work I do today.
When you’re unhappy in your career, it’s time to face your greatest ally – your pain. The pain you’re feeling deep inside of you is like a beacon calling for your attention. It’s telling you what you need to know so your life can move forward.
Your pain needs to be recognized, listened to, and turned into fuel to move your life forward. How do you turn your pain into fuel? First by recognizing what your greatest pain is, and then by recognizing how to heal that pain through your work. Your career then becomes a powerful platform for healing you and healing others. Remember, the more pain you have, the more fuel you have. Consider your pain to be your greatest blessing and move forward.
Last night I spent two hours having a “what happens when we die” conversation with a friend I’ve known since the 80s. She’s dying from stage 4 cancer. It was diagnosed in December. She said her friends don’t talk to her about spirituality and crossing over. She’s been an atheist much of her life – although she’s done amazing work for the world in her career.
She had my book Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side – on her nightstand. She asked me to sit with her to talk about it. She said she’d spent her life not wanting to believe in that kind of “woo-woo” stuff. But now she was having experiences that she believed were some kind of inexplicable divine order and wanted to explore ideas she’d not been comfortable with before.
She cried for most of the two hours during our talk – releasing so much fear and grief she’s been holding on to. She’s devastatingly frail and in constant pain. She lives alone. Hospice visits twice a day. It was so hard to see her suffering and so afraid of death.
I taught her to meditate – as well as some other sacred techniques for releasing fear – like my Break Your Heart Wide Open meditation. I gave her a rosewood Mala – which she loved. She was so grateful I’d visited and will try to meditate now when’s she’s alone and afraid. She wants me to come back. And I will…
But it was so hard to be there. I’m so inadequate in those situations. The visit brought back so many memories of my husband Paul, best girlfriend Crissie, and my dad who all died too young – from cancer. Afterwards, my husband Gene and I talked about my visit. It helped so much to talk to him and feel his love and support. Our views on life and death are fully aligned and I’m so grateful for him.
But today I can’t get the images and smells of the visit out of my head. All I want to do is go shopping and buy some expensive Eileen Fisher clothes that I can’t afford. I know that’s just my grief acting up. It’s my old relentless question of why do good people often take the path of suffering before they die? That one painful question launched my spiritual exploration journey in the 80s. And it still fuels the work I do today.
And I realize that I’m so much better at helping grieving people – rather than the sick and dying. I can truly help with spiritual and emotional pain. But I can’t relieve physical pain and I can’t bear to see that kind of intense physical suffering – especially in young people who only months ago were vibrant and full of life.
I guess I’m still traumatized from taking care of my young husband Paul in my 20s as he died from colon cancer. It’s clear that I have some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome: it makes me want to run from the sight of physical suffering.
Last night I kept feeling like I might throw up when I first walked into her room and saw tubes everywhere, the oxygen tank, and the pain on her face as she struggled to sit up a little in her bed to greet me. I had to work so hard to focus on her spirit, her beautiful radiant undamaged soul, and not on her body. A big part of me just wanted to run out crying into the night, to stand under the stars, to look at beauty instead of pain.
But instead I took a deep breath, opened my heart and sat down beside her – with love as my intention. Our heart to heart conversation helped calm her – and I hope our future conversations will help her release fear and find an inner peace about crossing over.
I shared many stories with her of the departed coming back to show me that life continues and that death is not the end of anything. I’m so deeply grateful to those spirits – Paul, Crissie, my dad and so many many others who’ve made it so abundantly clear that we are all souls who come here for a brief physical experience to evolve consciousness – and that crossing over – taking the final breath – is simply an act of love – of returning to the divine realms from which we came.
I’m so grateful for every moment of this lifetime that has pushed me to recognize this truth and for all the sacred teachers I’ve had along the way. And last night, my dying friend loved listening to those stories of departed spirits showing up, and she wanted to hear them again and again. She cried and cried as she listened – as her heart broke wide open.
To all the nurses, hospice workers, healers and physicians who care for the dying – I honor you so much for what you do in the world. It’s the hardest and best job there is. Nothing else compares. I’m so inadequate in the face of other’s physical suffering. I have to fight the impulse to run and instead focus on their spirit – which is after all what my work is here.
I hope you’ll forgive me for writing this story about my friend. It is a very private thing, I know. And perhaps I shouldn’t share it. Yet the experience of seeing loved ones suffer is a shared experience amongst all of us. Writing this has helped me process – not the visit itself – but my visceral reaction to seeing my dying friend.
Writing has always helped me heal pain and step into wisdom – to see things more clearly. It’s why I write. And maybe now I can resist the pull of Eileen Fisher, of seeking superficial comfort in the face of pain, of longing for beauty instead of what is…
The viewing of your life through ego inevitably makes you doubt yourself. If your intention is to speak your soul’s truth and share your wisdom, you’ll often be misunderstood by others. Your ego will tell you this is because you’re a loser and you’re too different to fit into or succeed in this world.
But you’re not here to be like everyone else. Once you remember that you carry a light inside of yourself that cannot be diminished, you’ll no longer doubt yourself. Your uniqueness is your gift.
Your physical self is part of the reason you struggle so much. Your body is a great
weight that you carry in this dimension. Sometimes this heaviness is too much and pulls you away from higher self.
But your body is also a great gift that can be used to connect to the divine.
There are several small steps to help lift you into the higher frequencies. These include: physical movement, getting outside in nature, laughing with others, meditation to quiet the mind, crying to release the pain in your heart, and sending compassion to those who misunderstand you.
Once you remember that you’re here to enlighten others and be the teacher, you’ll stop being disappointed in those less evolved than you. By aligning with your higher self, you’ll see the pain that others carry and you’ll become the healer. No one can wound you when you stand in alignment with your soul.
When you allow yourself to be wounded, you sink into the mud of doubt and fear, which is not where you belong and not who you came here to be.
Those less evolved are drawn to you because you carry the light inside. It’s because of your open heart, your powerful soul’s wisdom, that others who need healing show up in your life. When you allow yourself to be wounded by them, you’re throwing your gifts away.
And when they don’t react immediately as you’d hoped and step into their divine light, you feel discouraged, or worse, you feel worthless. This only hurts you and pulls you away from your divinity.
Feeling worthless and discouraged is an enormous waste of time for you and for anyone. There is no soul here who is worthless. There is no soul who has any reason to feel discouraged. All is evolving as it should. You are evolving as you should…
From my book: Your Divine Lens http://www.SueFrederick.com
My husband Gene just drove us up to Four Mile Canyon to the little Chapel of the Pines where my first husband Paul and I were married in 1979. So many memories flooded me of that happy sunny September day filled with love and hope.
As we drove back down the canyon we saw the little cabin down the road beside the creek where Paul and I first lived and had our sweet wedding reception. Both places have survived flood and fire and are impossibly still standing.
Think Paul must have watched over them…
It brought back so many powerful sensory memories to be there. I sat on the chapel steps and cried for 20 minutes. I remembered how happy my dad was that day and how much he loved Paul, our wedding, and our cabin. Dad and Paul are both watching out for me now from the other side.
Sitting on those steps I felt my dad, Paul, Crissie and Marv all with me. In the hard years following that amazing wedding day in 1979, I lost all of them to cancer – except for Marv who died of a stroke at the age of 44. Yet I’m grateful for the heartbreak I experienced then which sent me on my spiritual journey.
Today I have my incredible husband Gene Malowany and our miraculous children Sarah and Kai – and my amazing career – none of which I would have without going through my journey.
Gene sat beside me today listening to my memories and soaking up the experience. He understands everything about my life and where it’s brought me. It was his idea to drive up there. I hadn’t been up that canyon since 1980. I was grumpy on the drive up finding a million reasons not to go – some part of me realizing what I’d remember as soon as I saw that sacred place.
Yet once I released the flood of emotion that rose up in me… I saw with great clarity the gift of my life story and the gift of loving so many amazing souls along the way.
Standing on the steps of the Chapel of the Pines in Four Mile Canyon Colorado where I married Paul Frederick in 1979.
Thank you divine order…