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Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives : How to Overcome Adversity and Achieve Positive Change in Your Life

ORDINARY WOMEN, EXTRAORDINARY LIVES is now in print again through The Authors Guild's BackinPrint Program.

"I first read this book at least 10-15 years ago and it has remained one of the most inspirational books I have ever read. Stories of women who reached the bottom of the barrel in life and who then made the decision with the help of others to turn their life around and help others to do the same."

--A reader from Columbus, Ohio

"The book details the lives of eight very different women, and chronicles their journeys from despair to hope and, finally, triumph." Constance Gorfinkle, The Patriot Ledger


Each woman in this book told her intimate story for two reasons. First, for herself, because sharing in this way is integral to her "survivor mission" And second, for you, because she believes her transformation can be a catalyst for you to claim longed-for changes in your life. They hope that their revelations will motivate you to move in new directions: to hold a mirror up to yourself, to evaluate disturbing situations, and to begin turning your dreams into reality, as they did.

Quite unexpectedly, writing this book became a journey through self-empowerment. I had a dream--to celebrate several remarkable women through the vehicle of their own stories while communicating to you how they had gone from victim to victor. At first my intention seemed simple enough. And before I began I had no idea how hard that would be or how much persistence it would take or that I would depend on the five stages of the very process I was writing about (Accepting, Networking, Choosing, Shifting, and Mentoring) to do it.

Early in the project I sat at my word processor with transcripts of the taped interviews trying out a variety of formats and styles. I soon saw the need for accepting that the book I had wanted to write for so long was going to be far more challenging than I had anticipated. But I felt that if I gave up, the women to be profiled would be disappointed and I didn't want to let them down. As important, I felt certain their common message would matter to thousands of other people.

I was still experimenting and struggling with how this book might work when I started networking. A group of writers, we'd met in a writing course at Radcliffe College, decided to meet regularly to give each other feedback on our current pursuits. Every two weeks, each month, for the past several years, we have sat around an oval dining room table in Cambridge, Massachusetts, talking about our work.

Encouragement from Barbara, Elizabeth, and Heidi made all the difference. Their interest in seeing what I had done in the intervening two weeks and my reluctance to drive two hours each way with no new manuscript pages to show them spurred me on. They didn't hesitate to say, "There should be more of you in there." "Take out some details." "This works better." Soon they were using the new terms, such as empowering example and self-value, naturally in conversations, as if these terms had always been in the language. I was thrilled. They began to talk about using the process themselves and shared their success.

As a result of this support I recognized that I was choosing to continue. I wrote and they read, sometimes the same story, several times, in several forms. If they got tired of it, they never let on.

I spent eight to ten hours a day writing in my office. One day my husband looked in the door and smiled. "Do you know how many books Stephen King wrote in the past three years? Write faster."

Then, miraculously, the manuscript seemed to take on a life of its own, to have its own energy. The chapters reordered themselves more than once. I just adjusted the table of contents and rearranged the chapters, lined up on my office countertop. The five stages of self-empowerment renamed themselves, and I agreed. One day I began typing an additional chapter about the process, not in my original plan. I went with it, trusting that all this would stop when the pieces came together. And one day they did. Everything seemed to be in place.

This was it! I was happy with the balance between the women's stories and the process. The process was easy to remember, follow, and use. Even though these revelations meant months of rewriting, I was eager to do it. I became aware of shifting, of my commitment to complete the book, of all wavering thoughts being gone. When comments from the group came back, written across various pages-"excellent," "you did it!" and "bravo"-I knew that their support had helped my dream come true.

Mentoring with the group, seemed rather indirect to me, but not to them. One woman said, "I don't know how you did it. I would have given up and gone onto something else long ago. But the way you've stuck with this, you're an example for all of us." That felt good, the long effort surely worthwhile.

Then it struck me as an irony that the very process--designed for you to empower yourself in whatever way you need--had enabled me to write this book. If it hadn't been for self-empowerment, Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives would not have been written. Emerson was right. "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can seriously help another without helping himself."

When you reach the final stage of self-empowerment I’d like to know how your triumph, change, or success translates into service–your own “survivor mission.” As Gail Sheehy writes in “The Victorious Personality” in The New York Times Magazine, “One may be born with a naturally resilient temperament, but one develops a victorious personality. Those who do often come to believe they are special, perhaps meant to serve a purpose beyond themselves.”