November 13, 2012 | Alumni
November 12, 2012
Susan Jeffers, a psychologist who wrote 18 self-help books, the first of which, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” became an international phenomenon, died on Oct. 27 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 74.
The cause was cancer, her husband, Mark Shelmerdine, said.
Ms. Jeffers’s thesis in most of her books was simple: If we wait to stop feeling scared before trying to do what frightens us, we could wait forever; pressing ahead is the only way to erase fear.
“Whatever happens to me, given any situation, I can handle it,” is one of her aphorisms in “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” published in 1987. Another is: “There’s no such thing as a bad decision. Each path is strewn with opportunities, despite the outcome.”
Translated into more than three dozen languages, the book has sold millions of copies worldwide.
In “Embracing Uncertainty” (2003), Ms. Jeffers wrote, “When we finally are able to let go of the need for control, for the first time we are truly in control.”
Her other titles include “The Little Book of Peace of Mind” (2001) and “The Little Book of Confidence” (1999).
In “I Can Handle It” (2002), written with Donna Gradstein, Ms. Jeffers offered stories of children dealing with difficulties like fear of the dark, the loss of a favorite toy and their parents’ divorce. In “I’m Okay, You’re a Brat!” (1999), she challenged the thinking in many books that she felt promoted overinvolvement in children’s lives.
A reviewer in The Philadelphia Inquirer praised Ms. Jeffers for assuring parents, “You’re O.K., even though you go to work (not necessarily because you have to but because you like to) and send your children to day care.”
It was an early bout with breast cancer and a difficult first marriage that led Ms. Jeffers to become a writer. “These were actually enriching experiences,” she wrote in “Feel the Fear.”
Susan Jane Gildenberg was born in Manhattan on March 3, 1938, one of two daughters of Jeanne and Leon Gildenberg. She was married by the time she was 18 and soon had two children. Believing that she was meant to do more than raise a family, she enrolled at Hunter College, from which she graduated in 1964. She went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in psychology from Columbia.
After her divorce in 1972 she changed her last name to Jeffers, said Mr. Shelmerdine, whom she would marry 13 years later. In addition to her husband, a British filmmaker whom she met in Los Angeles, she is survived by her children from her first marriage, a son, Gerry, and a daughter, Leslie Gershman; two stepchildren, Guy and Alice Shelmerdine; her sister, Marcia (who also took the last name Jeffers); and two grandchildren.
By the early 1980s, Ms. Jeffers was teaching a course on fear at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. “She had the seeds for ‘Feel the Fear,’ based on the course,” her husband said. The book catapulted her to a career not just in writing but also in life-affirmation workshops, speeches and appearances on television, including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Ms. Jeffers remained upbeat even in dealing with death. In “Embracing Uncertainty,” she wrote: “When I die, I would like it to be the best party I ever attended. I plan to be there in spirit and I expect to have a great time. I want to hear laughter, and compliments, and see color everywhere … absolutely no black allowed, and lots of balloons.”
Originally published by The New York Times