Barbara Sher at TEDxPrague in 2015 talking about the moment the art of “Wishcraft” was born.
Nearly twenty years ago, I wrote Barbara Sher a letter, as I’m sure untold thousands have over the years, to thank her for the day she changed my life. I didn’t expect a reply, but one arrived, and it was warm and wonderful and invited a continued conversation with a question tacked onto the end:
“P.S. What happened in that airport?”
It was that tiny moment of serendipity, that one little question, that in a beautiful way led to where we are today: “Adventures with the Estrogen Army,” baby!
But let me rewind and explain …
In my early twenties, on my very first business trip alone, I flew straight across the country to the Canadian West Coast. I was excited because I’d never been on a plane before, or stayed in a hotel by myself or traveled alone … at all.
(I was already showing signs of an Adventure Diva’s healthy respect for SHEnanigans on that first solo trip, all evidenced by the pumps in hand, dragging a colleague barefoot into the rapids where John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe filmed a movie in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Banff, Canada.)
Heading West, as I was running through the airport in Toronto to catch my connecting flight, I heard the siren call of the bookstore. I stopped and bought two books to take with me. One was called “Women Like Me,” and the other was Barbara Sher’s “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want.”
(I’ll let Barbara explain the premise of that and the beautiful place it came from in her talk, above. It resonates with a breathtaking JK Rowling kind of single-mum in the darkest place possible reinvention.)
On the plane ride west, I couldn’t put Wishcraft down. I read it in every spare moment I had, scribbling notes on napkins and scraps of paper each time some new inspiration was sparked in a restaurant, or meeting, or in my hotel room at night, and yes, even at 3am. (Thinking infections demand to be fed, am I right?)
To say that book changed my life would be an understatement. After reading it, I felt so empowered and so anxious to get on with my “real life” that I could hardly wait to get back home so I could begin putting the Wishcraft ideas to work.
Running away to join the circus
It wasn’t long after that I decided to take the leap and leave a very respectable, well-paid job on my way up the corporate ladder with one of the biggest banks in Canada. Forging out on my own, I started a business and networked like crazy. What started as a small computer training practice quickly grew into an international consulting business. I was helping multinational companies find ways of using emerging online applications to collaborate and solve problems when the internet as we now know it was brand new.
Within a few years, I was making obscene amounts of money as a consultant to some of the biggest companies in the world, and I was just plain miserable. At the end of the day, it was empty without having a greater sense of purpose for “changing the world.”
Serendipity came knocking when a colleague introduced me to a woman from Sierra Leone, West Africa. I’ll save the “what” and “why of it for another day. But what happened that summer completely changed the trajectory of my life. I could no longer go back to the corporate world I had known, and I was never, ever the same.
Giving up earning a living in exchange for having a life
When my colleague left to return home, I picked up my well-worn copy of Wishcraft once again to try to decide how to rebuild my life. I knew that what had really called me all those years was the sense of possibility I saw in computers, and how they could be used to heal communities and make lives better. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the beginning of my journey as a “Better World Scout” and accidental Adventure Diva.
With that book at my side, I told everyone and anyone who would listen what I wanted to do. I started an online mentoring program for kids at risk, and my beloved network of women friends helped me raise the funds to make things happen.
They sent me to Ottawa and then to Arizona to work with an NHL Hockey team who wanted to provide one of their junior players as a spokesperson and mentor.
(That humble young kid from Saskatchewan turned out to be Shane Doan, who not only went on to become team captain but also led the national Olympic team to a gold medal as their captain well.).
Then Hollywood called. Yes, really.
That wish to change the story for kids led to being given permission to use a tool developed by George Lucas’ team — the very first 3-D, immersive, online community technology — to launch an online mentoring program called “First Frontiers.”
Other Better World Scouts came onside, like Survivor Africa’s Ethan Zohn, who had invested his one-million dollar prize into launching an innovative program of his own designed to educate and protect kids from the ravages of AIDs in the place he had won.
First Frontiers went on to be lauded by the late Senator John McCain and Vice President Al Gore, garnering me an invitation to take a top seat in a groundbreaking United Nations program guiding one of the world’s first online safety initiatives for youth.
And that led to being invited to present the program at a conference hosted by Hollywood director, James L. Brooks and his wife Holly, alongside Hillary Rodham Clinton, Maria Shriver and actor Billy Zane (who then reached out to collaborate too.)
That’s just the highlight reel, and it all came from wishing out loud about ways to empower kids who were at risk.
So how did that lead me here?
A few years after the magic of that Wishcraft whirlwind began, I had to put it all on hold. My mom began a journey with breast cancer, one that ended in her death 6 years later. I felt like I had lost my north star, and it took me a long time to feel joy again. Coming out of that long, dark passage, I realized that one of the biggest gifts my mum had given me was her indomitable sense of adventure. She was the original Adventure Diva, and in an unexpected moment of joy, I penned a manifesto that began with these 5 words:
“Adventures with the Estrogen Army”
and continued like this:
“If I was going to fight affluence — flesh and words and schedules and sorrows — I would have to cultivate an underground railroad of allies to show me the way out. I gathered them up, these women, these sage and wisened conscripts, and went to war …”
It struck a chord with many women, and the letters started pouring in. Who was this “Estrogen Army” and when could we get started?
As I confessed in that first manifesto, I felt like I’d been let in the door of some secret club, one where women understood the power of age, not the burden of it.
So here we are, and we’re about to practice a little of that Wishcraft.
I hail back to the wisdom of Ms. Sher and the very same challenge she issued all those years ago, and yet again in the talk above.
If we REALLY want to know our superpower, our capacity for having epic adventures, even on a shoestring budget, it lies in the network of Fairy Godmothers we surround ourselves with, and a simple place to start: name your dream and say it out loud.
Then watch the magic happen.
Ready to get started? Follow me …
About Barbara Sher
Barbara Sher is a speaker, career/lifestyle coach, and best-selling author of seven books on goal achievement. Her books have sold millions of copies and been translated into many languages.
She has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, 60 Minutes, CNN, and Good Morning America and her public television specials air regularly in the United States.
Sher lectures at universities, Fortune 100 companies and professional conferences all over the world.