By Mary Lyn Miller
(Excerpted from Chicken
Soup for the Surviving Soul:
101 Stories of Courage & Inspiration from Those Who Have Survived
I know a lot about
passion because in the process of living, I lost it, but in the
process of dying, I found it again.
My life was about
three things: pleasing, proving and achieving. I thought that if
enough people liked me, I would feel better about being me. I wanted
desperately to please everyone . . . family, bosses, neighbors,
people I didn't like. It hardly mattered who they were; other people's
approval and validation were the source of my self-esteem. 'Looking
good' was my daily regime, and I was incredibly good at it. I continually
quested for greater and greater accomplishments because those proved
my value to the outside world.
This thinking affected
the entire fabric of my life. My work was a series of long hours,
proving my dedication and making sure I never offended anyone. I
made impossible promises that were hard to keep because I was afraid
to say no, which added untold amounts of stress. By constantly reacting
to outside circumstances rather than taking charge of my life, I
felt victimized and I lived in fear that 'they' - whoever 'they'
were -would suddenly discover I was incompetent. The fact that I
was the youngest woman in my company to hold an executive position
and became Director of Corporate Communications while still in my
mid-20s did not assuage my concern. Nothing soothed my self-doubt.
The only solution
I knew was to try harder, work longer, achieve more. I just knew
I'd be happy when I did the right thing. I left the corporate world
knowing that being independent would change everything. Ironically,
I became a career consultant and taught people how to look good
and be aware of what others expected of them. I knew all about that.
Of course, I was
still a people-pleaser and took lower fees because I feared no one
would use my services. Instead of being driven by the demands of
a boss, I was driven by the demands of my clients. I couldn't understand
why I was financially struggling and assumed the answer was to simply
make more money. So the cycle escalated as I decided to increase
my marketing and promotion efforts even more. When I burned out
and grew discontented with no improvement in my income, I decided
there was some- thing intrinsically wrong with me and embarked on
a campaign to fix it. I went to classes, lost weight and joined
personal-growth groups. I was still empty.
So it went ... my
life of pleasing, proving and achieving. What did it get me? Tired.
Broke. Emotionally depleted. And terribly afraid.
Then in 1986, the
awakening came. I discovered I had bladder cancer and the prognosis
looked bleak because my symptoms could be traced back for three
years. My doctor had the bedside manner of a blacksmith and was
not gently encouraging. In my first surgery, he removed the largest
tumor he had ever taken from a bladder and announced we would be
doing another surgery in 10 to 12 weeks "to see what was left."
This is a fun guy.
The cancer changed
my life forever. I made a decision to live, and that had a number
of implications. I gained immediate clarity about what was important
and began focusing on becoming well. I changed my diet, discovered
herbs, explored holistic healing and learned what it meant to take
care of myself.
Most important, I
began asking the question: Who am I and what am I doing here? Previously,
my concern was: What does everyone else want and how can I make
them like me? I shifted from being involved with the changing demands
of the outside world to focusing on what was in my heart. This was
not an easy process, since I had spent my whole life looking outside
for answers. I was so accustomed to ferreting out what other people
wanted from me, I had no idea who I was.
I realized that my
life totally lacked passion ... that zest for living, that sense
of joy, creativity and spontaneity that truly comprises life. Suddenly
faced with possible death, I knew I had never really lived. In fact,
there had been no 'life' in my life. As a result of this awareness,
passion became my reason for living. I committed myself to
it wholly and completely!
No, I had no idea
what it meant. I just knew that my daily purpose was to get
up and do something passionate each day. I walked on the
beach, discovered I love rollercoaster rides, took fun classes that wouldn't make me a "better" person and read books
I had wanted to read for years. I made a list of things I wanted
to do before I died (whenever that might be) and as I did them,
the list just grew. Enthusiasm, excitement and fulfillment
were ends in themselves. I wanted to fully experience and live every
moment I had left. I could wait no longer.
I felt more positive
and hopeful. It took less energy to produce better results. I allowed
myself to be uncertain about how my future was, going to unfold;
I just continued exploring and expressing my passion on a daily
basis. I now know the sheer force of this commitment produced miracles.
By now, my business
was shut down, I had no money coming in and no one was interested
in hiring a terminally ill patient. But some of my old clients began
calling and asking if I would do career coaching in my home. Heaven
knows, nothing else was happening, so I said yes, but my consulting
took a new turn. I talked about the cancer and my commitment to
living a passionate life; I thought they might want that, too. Indeed,
many wanted to hear more, and I began conducting groups.
By the end of the
first year working in my living room, I discovered I had seen more
people and made more money than I had any other year in my career.
After all those years of working and trying so hard, it was that
simple. What a revelation! I knew I had stumbled onto something
that could work for anyone who embraced it.
The other major miracle
is that I have been cancer-free since 1987. My doctor is stunned
by my recovery. When I have my annual checkups, he always comments
on how well I have healed. Apparently, there are not even any remaining
indications of the surgery.
Is this the result
of a commitment to passion? While I cannot prove it to you, I don't
doubt it. I believe passion is the strongest force in the universe
and that it is a magnet for all one's good - happiness, power, joy,
abundance and health. You know how exhilarating it can be to be
around a group of passionate people. It produces a euphoric energy.
Like running, it creates endorphins in the brain. Endorphins boost
and protect the immune system. Cancer is a disease of the immune
system, so why couldn't passion heal it?
For me, the process
of dying brought great relevance to living. Today I bring as much
life to living as possible. It has also become my livelihood. I
built an organization called The Life & Career Clinic, which
has helped well over a thousand people heal their relationship with
work through discovering their passions and purpose in life. Passion is not for the lucky or the talented;
it is the fire waiting to be ignited in every soul. Through cancer,
I received the gift of life. Now I get to give it away by speaking
and teaching, and do so with great gratitude and joy.