From Disaster to Self-Discovery

CC-coach - Self-DiscoveryI read the letter in my faculty mailbox a second time. I could not believe it. St. Mary’s College was offering me a one-year renewal of my teaching position — a terminal contract. It was December 1977, just before Christmas break. Merry Christmas!

I was sure there was some mistake, certainly a misunderstanding. I had worked so hard, done everything they asked and more — committees, coaching the women’s cross-country team, a teaching improvement program, even a brand new sociology course on human sexuality.

My visit to the dean’s office a few days later confirmed the letter was no mistake. My teaching had been found wanting. Yes, I could try to improve my teaching, but, well, we’ll see . . .

I was devastated. Everything I knew about succeeding in life fell apart. Working hard and pleasing other had clearly not worked this time. I became depressed — a real depression, the kind where it’s hard to get up in the morning and the world seemed unbearably bleak. Living in Minnesota with its gray sky and relentless snow probably didn’t help. Then I got sick with a flu that lasted weeks — a horrible head-crushing flu. Become better teaching? What a joke! I saw my  students as my enemies evaluating my every move. I’m not sure how I survived it. At the end of the term I ran away — to Las Vegas and the new home of one of my thesis advisers and, unfortunately, to further folly. Saint Mary’s, however, was history. I never went back.

When a disaster strikes, like losing a job or a loved one or a cherished dream, it is easy to lose one’s way. Like a town after a bomb blast, the signposts are gone and all roads seem to lead to the same bottomless chasm. Yet, it is within this chaos and uncertainty that the impetus for transformational change is born.

It never occurred to me to consider the loss of my college teaching position as anything but my own failure. I never asked myself if the work suited me, or if this college was a good fit, or if I even liked living in Minnesota. I had been brought up to please others. This worked well at home and in school. It could not, however, work for a class of twenty. I discover first-hand that you can’t please ALL of the people ALL of the time. It was a hard lesson. In the end, however, I’m not convinced that my teaching was the problem. Things did not work out because St. Mary’s and I were simply a bad fit. If we had been a better fit, they would have helped me to improve.

Because I had no guidance, because I did not know how to access my internal compass, I lost my way. I took jobs, not because I loved the work or the people, but simply because I could do them, they held my interest and paid my bills. This strategy inevitably led to further disappointments and more running away.

Fortunately, at the height of another crisis — the breakup of my first marriage — I met a Sufi teacher. His work put me on a path of the heart. For the first time I began to make decisions based on what felt right inside. I let go of my eleven year marriage, left a job that no longer suited me and turned down another, all in the same year.

This journey of the heart is a process that is not mastered all at once. I have learned from many teachers, counselors, coaches and guides. My habit of pleasing others still crops up and I have to be careful lest I put my teacher on the receiving end. Fortunately, when I fall into that trap or other childhood programming, the universe is there to step in and wake me up. Disappointment, disillusionment and, if necessary, disaster signal that I am out of alignment and force me to change.

Gradually, I’m learning to be a little more proactive. It not necessary to wait until a crisis to check inside, Self-Discovery.

Michelle Peticolas
Grief and Loss Transformation Specialist
Secrets of Life and Death


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at


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