Susan Jeffers: Author of ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Wednesday 07 November 2012
Susan Jeffers, who was styled the Queen of Self-Help, sold millions of books exhorting readers to strike out boldly to conquer their fears and improve their lives. A legion of mostly female fans have provided testimonials that her dozens of books led them to shake off their apprehensions, build up their self-worth and attempt to realise their real potential.
Her website may have pitched it slightly high in asserting that she had been ranked "alongside such influential gurus as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama." None the less, her publications clearly provided some degree of comfort and reassurance to many people with unhappy lives, who suffered from low self-esteem and feelings of being unfulfilled. She urged them to follow her example in building a successful life: "I wanted to be happy, so I learnt how."
First published in 1987, her work Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway became one of the biggest selling self-help books of all time, with nearly 2 million copies sold in the UK and Commonwealth. Since translated into more than 36 languages, it became available in more than 100 countries.
Jeffers insisted that she was not a religious person but that she was spiritual, declaring, "I have a vision of a light, an energy that we can tune into which can guide us. Our minds, when governed by the Lower Self, aren't capable of imagining the grand possibilities that are there for us. It is important that we learn to tune into a part of us that has much greater vision, the Higher Self."
The fact that her advice was aimed both at the dissatisfied and the lovelorn was evident in the titles of her books. These included Opening Our Hearts to Men, described as a book for every woman who wants to bring more love into her life, as well as Dare to Connect, Thoughts Of Power and Love, and End the Struggle and Dance With Life.
Susan Jeffers was born in New York in 1938, marrying at the age of 18 and having two children by her early twenties. "I was young and stupid," she later wrote. "I thought you got married and lived happily ever after." She gradually came to feel anger and resentment, she said, increasingly believing she was meant to be doing something in addition to raising a family. She shocked her mother and others by going to college at the age of 23, successively gaining a degree, a masters and a PhD. She then went to work at New York's Floating Hospital, which provides medical advice to the poor.
She divorced her husband of 16 years but still felt something was missing, writing: "I got tired of looking in the mirror and seeing my eyes red from crying. I realised there had to be a better way, so I decided to learn about relationships."
The result of her researches was Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway which, after many rejections from publishers and agents, appeared in 1987. She said of the book: "When you're feeling stressed or anxious or negative, just pull it out and read it – the insights are sure to help you feel calmer, more in control, and excited about life. It will remind you that you can handle it all!" Many years later she reported: "I get mail every single day from all over the world saying, 'Your book saved my life.' I have to tell you, I sit here in tears."
She wrote of the misfortunes in her own life which included a divorce and breast cancer which led to a mastectomy. These were actually enriching experiences, she wrote: "Bad things happen to us, but bad things are really a part of life. My divorce was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. I think of the breast cancer as one of the most enriching parts of my life. I learned from it. I grew from it. We can learn and grow from anything that happens to us in our lives. It's as though nothing is really bad."
She moved with her second husband, the leading English film and television producer Mark Shelmerdine, from England to the US. There the couple diversified into other ventures in the self-help area, launching a company to publish books by both Susan and others. Meanwhile, her online shopping store offered baseball caps, jewellery, bags, mugs and other merchandise bearing her sayings.
They also set up an international group of workshop instructors to conduct classes in 20 countries including Canada, Australia, Bahrain, Greece, Israel, Italy and Japan. She delivered inspirational speeches which commanded fees of up to $20,000.
An interviewer put it to her that "some people might think your happiness has more to do with the money your books have made than the fan mail you receive." She responded: "Real happiness has very little to do with money. My personal happiness is not about money at all. It comes from learning how to live a powerful and loving life."
Her husband said she died from metastatic cancer, which he described as devastating for families and care-givers due to the uncertainty it caused through a long period of illness.
Susan Jeffers, self-help author: born 3 March 1938; married firstly (marriage dissolved; two children), secondly Mark Shelmerdine (two stepchildren); died 27 October 2012.
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