By Mary Lyn Miller
(Excerpted from Chicken
Soup for the Surviving Soul:
101 Stories of Courage
& Inspiration from Those Who Have Survived Cancer)
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
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
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
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.
MARY LYN MILLER
can be reached at:
Phone: (310) 378-4417
Fax: (310) 378-4417
More About The L&CC!
[ Passion for Change ] [ Making a Career of Jobs ] [ Baby Boomer Burnout ] [ Celebrating Victory Over Cancer ] [ Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul ]