Subscribe: iTunes

Episode Five: How to Find Your Happy Even If You Hate Your Job with Shannon Kaiser

Have you ever had a job that destroyed our soul? I did, and so did my guest on this episode. But both of us found our way back to an enduring happiness. What it really boils down to is getting clear on your values.

So how are your values? Do you know what they are?

I have to say, until my daughter’s death in 2012, I was mighty foggy on my own.

Interviewing Shannon Kaiser reminded me of my own time in advertising, back when  I lost my soul. Day after day I did a soul-sucking job that chafed against my very purpose in life – or so my twenty-something brain believed. I’d been hired to write TV commercials and print ads for products like Colgate Toothpaste, Irish Spring Soap and Salem Cigarettes … and by the time it was over, I was a wreck.

But as I grew older, I began to see the purpose of that time in advertising. Not only had it yielded a good income and necessary benefits as I worked to define myself and the best way to use my talents, it actually taught me my values, as well … in an unexpected way.

In this episode, I start with a brief audio essay about those defining days in my life. Because our values really are our compass in the storm of life.

Then I chat with my guest in this episode, Shannon Kaiser, a happiness expert who shares about her experience defining her own values and using them to build a purpose-filled life. It’s a warm and informative talk, and I think you’ll like it!

Some of the things Shannon and I talked about include …

  • Why she wasn’t always happy … despite making lots of money and having a successful career
  • The first steps that helped her move out of clinical depression
  • How a visitation from her spiritual guides changed her life
  • How advertising – a career she hated – taught her about living her values
  • How to know when you’re not living your values
  • How to rediscover your values
  • Some useful tips for recovering our basic sense of self-worth
  • Why we resist our values … and why it can be hard to find them
  • Some helpful thoughts about forgiveness

I hope you enjoy our chat as much as I did.

For more information:


Won’t you please let us know in a review on iTunes how you liked this episode? Thanks so very much! 

Transcript of Interview with Shannon Kaiser

Suzanne: This is Before the Afterlife, all about healing, spiritual growth and how to be happy before you go. I’m your host, Suzanne Falter. We are coming to you from Oakland, California, and points beyond.

Suzanne: Long ago, back in the bad old days, I was an advertising copywriter. Really, I was in New York to be a Broadway star, but the world at large hadn’t discovered me yet, so I signed up to be a junior copywriter while I went to acting class after acting class.

Now, my job, at the time, in a really big agency, was to write magazine ads and billboards that sold cigarettes and Palmolive dishwashing liquid. In fact, I didn’t believe in smoking, and I hated the fact that our target audience for the cigarettes was teenagers, mainly because they would grow up to be the most dedicated users.

I was also embarrassed to be writing words for our dowdy spokeswoman, Madge the Manicurist. Now, if you’re of a certain age, I’m sure you remember Madge and her immortal words, “You’re soaking in it.” In fact, I knew Madge’s claim that the dishwashing liquid “softens your hands while you do dishes” was utter and complete bullshit. It was the water that actually softened your hands. But, I also needed to pay my rent, so I held my nose and I did my job, against all my inner guidance, and night after night, I went home and buried myself in all my other dreams, trying to forget that I did this job that chafed my soul.

I finally left advertising 18 years later, and because I had spent so many years dedicating myself to sleazy claims I didn’t believe in and products I couldn’t have cared less about, I’d soundly lost my values. It wasn’t until my daughter, Teal, died that I even realized, I had no idea what my values actually were. But, I credit all that time in advertising with this: It taught me about a different darker side of life where people don’t always tell the truth, and that taught me that somehow, some way, all I wanted to do was relevant work that really did tell the truth. In fact, today, truth and complete authenticity are my highest values, and that’s why I write the kind of essays that I do.

The bottom line is this. If you want to find your values, start with what chafes your soul and work back from there, because nothing is a better teacher than the rough edges of life. Your soul will always tell you what to do.

I asked happiness expert, Shannon Kaiser, to come on and discuss values with me, how to live them and how to find them, and to share her experience about becoming happy again after being diagnosed with clinical depression when she was an advertising creative. Listen as she shares some really empowering ideas about how anyone can find their way back to joy from the dark side of life.

Hi, everybody. I am so fortunate to be interviewing Shannon Kaiser of Thank you for joining us, Shannon.

Shannon: Thanks. It’s great to be here.

Suzanne: Your love, joy, and happiness you exude is highly recommended.

Shannon: That’s exciting. That’s great.

Suzanne: Yeah, you’ve got quite the buzz going about your ability to generate joy.

And I’d like to just start right in now. I understand you used to be in advertising. Me, too. We probably have similar battle scars.

Shannon: Yes, yes.

Suzanne: Tell us a little bit about how this happiness business began for you, and so forth.

Shannon: Yeah, well, I think it’s important to kind of know, I’m happy today, I’m living my purpose, but I haven’t always been. In my 20s, I kind of hit a quarter-life crisis, so to speak. I was climbing the corporate ladder, and it sure looked like I had it all together. I was dating a man who wanted to marry me, I was making tons of money, I was living in a beautiful loft, living in Chicago, working on these glamorous accounts, as you know, with advertising, but on the inside, it was a different story. I would cry myself to sleep every night, and I thought that was normal. I thought everyone cried, you know. It was just like, that’s what being human meant. But, the thing was, it got so bad that I had to excuse myself from meetings at work because the anxiety and the fear was so heavy.

And then, I went to my doctor and she diagnosed me with clinical depression, and that was really a turning point for me. That was a day where I had a wake-up call. Like, every other night before was crying on the bathroom floor, but for me, this night was different. I said, “I can’t keep being someone I’m not. It’s exhausting to go through these motions of life and try to do what society thinks I should do. I don’t even feel connected to my life!” And, in that moment, the air around me thinned out and this space between kind of my higher self, my presence, my higher God came in and said, “Shannon, follow your heart.”

And that was the moment where I didn’t even know what my heart wanted, but I knew that if I followed my heart, then everything would be okay. And that was in 2009, and today, I’m still committed to following my heart and helping others do the same, and it’s proved to be a very valuable way to find your happy.

Suzanne: Let me ask you a question. This experience of hearing your guides come in, how would you describe that? Like, what actually happened for you, if you can parse that out?

Shannon: Yes, absolutely. Well, for me, it was one of the most magical moments of my life because, up until that point, I was so consumed with self-hate and worry and fear, and it was the opposite. My whole body was flooded with a presence of peace, and I felt completely connected to the universe. I felt connected to life, and my future self, and my higher power, and I said, “Wow, these are my angels. This is my higher guide. This is my inner guide, my future self. All of it’s connected.”

And I knew that it was love. I felt so loved and cared for, unconditionally, in that moment, that I knew that the guidance I was receiving was the best and only way for me to move forward. If I didn’t listen to it, it could have been the end of my life.

Suzanne: Wow, that’s a great story. Thank you.

Shannon: Yeah, thank you.

Suzanne: You know, you did a really interesting little video clip on your Instagram account that I appreciated about living your values, and I wondered if you could talk about, vis-a-vis this conversation, being in advertising and feeling lost, and really having the wake-up call in 2009, where were your values then and what did you learn about values since then.

Shannon: I think that’s a beautiful question because I went to grad school to be in advertising. I thought that’s what I wanted to do with my life. You know, I went into advertising to make a difference. I thought I could help people’s lives be better. So, that was a core value of mine that I’m still able to execute in a better, more kind of fulfilling way now. But, what happened is, I realized, and now what I teach is, the fastest way to fulfillment is to live your values. I got to a point…

In advertising, as you know, we don’t always get to pick our clients. I was a creative, so art director, and I wanted to change the world and make people happier, but I was working on beer accounts and fast food, and things that I didn’t really believe in, you know. And then, the clients, they work you really hard. And, of course, there’s a time and place. I have a lot of friends still in the business, and I think it works for some people, but for me, my personal values, I would sit in this… You know, you work 16-, 18-hour days, and I was exhausted, and I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I’d look outside and I’d see the trees blowing or I’d see birds fly, and I just said, “I want to go play with the world. I need to be outside. I need freedom for me to be my best self, and I don’t have that sitting behind this desk, working, slaving.” Right?

So, I asked myself what I value, and I realized I value exploration, I value helping people, and I value expressing myself creatively. And that’s when I discovered that I want to be a writer, and I want to be a coach, and help people in that way. And so, when you live your values, you have to ask yourself, “What do I care about? What makes me, me? When do I feel like my best self?” And when I asked myself those, that’s how I was able to get clarity.

Suzanne: That’s a very good self question. I mean, I’m really interested in this question, living your values, and I’m really wanting to probe, what can we do to get a hold of our lives when we feel we’re lost? Like, how do we know we’re not living our values?

Shannon: And I think the biggest indicator is when we feel out of alignment with self. And what I mean by that is, you feel sad a lot of the times, you feel lonely, you feel depressed, you feel fear. And we don’t feel, the main question is, you may feel like something’s missing. And that’s how I lived most of my life up until I discovered this process. I always felt like, “Is this as good as it gets? Is this really what being alive and being human is? There’s got to be more than this. There’s got to be.” And that kind of inner dialogue is the indicator that there is more for you.

Another way we can discover our values is actually by returning to when we were children, and what’s interesting enough is, there’s clues that are given to us in our life. When you think about a time when you were a child, and you were actually living in the moment fully and you were at pure bliss, what were you doing, who were you with? Like, for me, on recess, I would go sit out in nature with my journal and draw and write, and the other students would laugh at me and make fun of me, but I was a writer. I would write, out in the world, and that’s what I do now.

And so, you know, society told me, “You can’t do that.” People made fun of me, so I shied away from it. But, when you were a kid, you had signatures of who you really are, so return to what you loved.

Suzanne: Okay, I get that, and somehow, I mean, I think we come in, and tell me if you disagree, I think we come in with a really established set of values that are kind of given to us at birth.

Shannon: I think so, and I think society, or family sometimes, puts values, but we, as a person, yes, we come in 100% with who we are, what we want to learn in our lifetime, what we want to discover. I think, absolutely, I agree with that.

Suzanne: I love that. I love that because, when you know you’ve got a blueprint, you can relax. You just have to tune in, but that ‘just have to tune in’ seems to be the hard part. Can you talk about why we resist our values?

Shannon: Yeah, and I can also talk about why it’s the hard part. We signed up for this, right. We said, “Yes, I will come forth. I will be human. I will step into this grand adventure of life, and I know that there will be obstacles, but on the other side is joy, bliss, and happiness, and I choose that.”

And so, the resistance is part of being on planet Earth, the resistance is part of the fear that we collectively pick up from others, and it’s also the resistance we feel within our own psyche and our own soul’s growth, as far as, what is the biggest fear that you are working on, who’s listening. My biggest fear was understanding that I matter and my dreams matter. And then, I had to step away from what wasn’t working. We all have different stages of our lives, different fears that come up, and as we keep working through them, it’s like Pema Chödrön said, you know, the lesson keeps repeating itself over and over until you learn it.

And so, it’s not so much about saying, “Oh, why am I off track? Why is this so hard?” It’s really about surrendering and saying, “This is the adventure I signed up for. I am living life.” So, instead of looking at the setbacks, it’s hard, and the failures, and the diseases, and the divorces, and this cache of things, recognize that this is part of living and we can really tune in to the growth that is available to us in each experience.

Suzanne: Amen! Amen. Exactly.

Hey, would you mind talking a little bit about forgiveness, vis-a-vis this idea of living our values and living our purpose?

Shannon: Yeah. I think forgiveness is a lifelong process for many of us, but it’s the most important thing for us to really cleanse and clear our self to help us be in true peace and true happiness. So, a lot of times, we hear the word ‘forgiveness’ and resistance comes up in itself. “Oh, I have someone to forgive, but I’m not ready.”

Really, what forgiveness is, and I work with my life coaching clients in this capacity, as well, through personal healing, and forgiveness isn’t so much about saying what this person did to me is right or wrong, righting the wrongs that have happened to us, it’s really, forgiveness is about freeing yourself, cutting the cord and the tie that blocks you from moving into your best self. And so, we owe it to ourselves to forgive, and sometimes, to forgive is really, really hard, so I actually say, “Can you replace the word with appreciation?”

So, sometimes, like if there’s someone who really hurt you, or a job or a situation, you know, a boss is kind of frustrating you and you don’t want to forgive them, say, “How can I appreciate them?” And this might be challenging at first, but it’s a way to move forward. And what I mean by this is, you can learn from the person who has harmed you, or the situation, and when we can appreciate it, we can start to see the lessons and the blessings that are in the lesson, and when we go to this place, we’re able to move forward into actual forgiveness. So, it’s an opening. It’s being willing to forgive. It’s saying, “Okay, what lessons did I learn through this catastrophic event?”

Suzanne: I love that, and I think, I mean, that’s certainly the core of my work, is to help people get inside and not be afraid of the really dark pieces of our lives, you know?

Shannon: Yeah.

Suzanne: Can you talk about challenges you’ve had that have been really useful and instructive, as you’re saying?

Shannon: Absolutely. Well, of course, there’s the big, I call it, bathroom breakdown, right, the challenges of learning how to be true to myself, but more recently, when I’ve started to talk about it in events and writing about it in my books is, four years ago, I was in a relationship with a romantic partner and we thought maybe we were going to get married, and there was a lot of toxic energy there because we were both kind of growing into who we really wanted to be, but there was love there. And so, a big challenge was, the more I discovered my true self and the more I realized that this is my life purpose, the more books I wrote, it caused a lot of stress on the relationship. And this person started to… We drifted apart.

And what I see a lot with people in the world, when we start to become who we really are, we either have people who support us, or people who can’t understand our happiness, or can’t understand our position, and so, they either lash out with fear, anger, or jealousy. And so, it’s up to us to really align with our true self because you owe it to yourself to be happy.

And so, I had a choice. At one point, we were talking about marriage, but I could have stayed in a relationship that was holding me back from being who I really am and could become, and I chose to let go. And so, being truly fulfilled, it is a process of letting go of what’s no longer serving you, as often as possible, and we grow. People come into our lives and they help us grow, and we get what we need. Same with jobs, same with situations. And so, today, in reflection, I’m surrounded by beautiful people who lift me up, in relationships that are so fulfilling. They see and believe in me, as I do for them.

So, we owe it to ourselves to, one, get a support system, but two, don’t be afraid to let go of what is really holding you back. Your future self will thank you.

Suzanne: Well, you did a blog post, I think, about removing the mental blocks that prevent happiness.

Shannon: Yes. My whole last book is on that, yeah.

Suzanne: Right. So, okay, forgiveness, for sure, the idea that we’re walking around carrying resentment, I can relate to that. There have been people I’ve never been able to forgive, you know. I mean, I may not be alone in that. I think that there are probably other people in the world who also are like, “You mean I have to forgive her? I have to forgive him? No way in hell!” So, what do you say about that?

Shannon: Yeah, well, I think a keyword you said is “have”, and I believe that when we say, “I have to do this,” it adds an extra pressure, and then we feel like we’re off track, and we’re the one’s wrong, and we’re guilty. And I think forgiveness, like everything else, is a healing process, and when we can stop focusing on the anger, instead turn our attention to the healing, then we return to self. And so, a lot of times, when the person comes up… I didn’t talk about this relationship for four years, right. I was so angry at this person, and I was so angry at what had happened, but I have forgiven and I have truly healed in this situation, and now I can use it as an inspiration to help others who may be feeling stuck in a relationship or some situation.

So, recognize that your forgiveness is part of your own healing’s journey, and then, at some point, you get to a point where you realize, “You know what? My fulfillment is more important than my anger.” And, I will say that, a lot of the times, we hold on to the anger, especially in romantic relationships, because that’s the only thing we have left of the person, because there was love there. And so, you feel like you have to forgive, right. Don’t. Let’s take off the pressure by “have to forgive”, and just say, “You know what? It’s not time to forgive because I still am holding on to this person, because in my heart, I’m healing.”

Suzanne: So, we’ll know when it is time, presumably?

Shannon: Absolutely. Absolutely. And instead of saying, “When is it time? When is it time?” just keep focusing on the healing, keep focusing on the spiritual growth, keep focusing on the interviews, the blogs, the books that you read, because it is all connected.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Shannon: Yeah.

Suzanne: So now, Shannon, how do we remove these mental blocks? What are these other mental blocks that prevent happiness?

Shannon: That’s a great question. In my book, “Adventures for Your Soul”, I actually identify the top blocks, the 21 barriers that block us from being happy, and then I take people through a joy route, which is a process to remove them. And one of the ones, the top ones, of course there’s so many, but it all comes back down to limiting beliefs, and these are beliefs that we believe that are limiting us from moving forward. And so, a belief could be that, “I’m unworthy of love.” A belief could be, “I’m not good enough.” Or a belief could be, “I don’t deserve it.”

And so, I think the real first thing we want to do is become aware of where our thoughts are going. We may say we want a soulmate, or we may say that we want to be happier, or we want that dream clarity, the job, the travel, but we end up focusing so much on what’s not working, and we focus so much on how that dream guy’s not here, or the dream relationship, or our kids aren’t happy, right. We focus on what’s not working, even though we think we know what we want.

And so, when I work with people and what I suggest we do, is really start to pay attention to our thoughts and where are they going. Are they more negative or more focused on what isn’t working? And then, you condition yourself. You can. And this is how I healed myself from depression without a prescription. This is how I healed myself from drug addiction and all of the toxic stuff that I was in, by retraining my brain and focusing on positive thoughts. And it’s not ‘woo-woo’, as far as like Pollyanna, it’s grounded in science, and it really is, we get what we focus on. And so, I started to only focus on what I wanted, which was being happy, being healthy, being fulfilled, helping others, and that guided us forward.

Suzanne: When you say, you focused on it, what did that look like? Can you describe that process a little bit?

Shannon: Absolutely. It’s a layered process. There’s lots of ways. So, one is becoming aware of the negative thought that is playing in your mind, catching it. What I say is, “See it, stop it, shift it.” So, you see this thought coming in, like, let’s say, an example, “I really want to find a soulmate.” And this is just something you’re thinking about, but then your inner voice, your limiting belief is, “Oh, but all the good people are taken,” or, “No one looks at me.” Right?

Suzanne: Right.

Shannon: And then you say, “Wait a second, is that true?” “Yes, I believe it’s true.” And say, “But could this be a limiting thought?” And you see it, so you’re observing it, kind of out-of-body observing it. And then, you shift it and say, “Well, what would be…” You stop it, first. See it, stop it. So, I stop this thought and I’m going to shift it to a more positive thought. Maybe the more positive one is, “I’m working on myself to become the best partner for my future partner.” Or, you shift it to something more positive of, “You know, instead of thinking they’re all taken, maybe the right person is available at the right time.”

And so, you start to retrain your brain, and then, you have a mantra. I’m a big believer in the power of mantras, which are daily affirmations. And you create this mantra that you start to replay. And so, in my healing, I put the mantras on sticky notes. I started to repeat them daily. I would drive and I would say my mantra. A big mantra for me in shifting careers was, “You can’t make money doing what you love.” So, I changed that limiting belief, because, you know, people say writers starve, “I’m never going to be happy.” I changed it to, “I make a fabulous living doing what I love,” and I repeated that daily, and of course, that is my livelihood today.

Suzanne: Great! I mean, these are actionable steps that we can all take. We can all get our hands on a Post-it. We can all repeat a mantra while we’re driving. I love that. I love that because I have experienced the very same thing, and what I also know is, sometimes, it’s hard to hear the negative voices in your head because they’re like wallpaper. They’ve been there for so long.

Shannon: Yes. I love that you called it wallpaper because, a lot of the times, we believe that they are real. We think they’re a part of us. And so, it is about beginning to observe in a way where you’re not attached to the thought, and as we start to open up to this practice and this kind of process, we start to realize that not everything… I think it’s a famous quote, I forgot who said it, but, not everything you say to yourself, at night especially, is true. I think it was like Wayne Dyer or someone, right?

And that’s the thing. It’s like, “Hey! Guess what? It’s not all true!” Most of it’s your fear.

Suzanne: Yeah, and not only is it not true, it’s part of an illusion that becomes our entire life. Our entire life turns into an illusion. Do you know what I’m saying?

Shannon: Yes.

Suzanne: And you kind of wake up one day and you go, “Whoa! None of this is actually true. I think I’m pursuing a career I love, but in fact, I hate it. And I think I’m in this solid relationship, but in fact, I don’t even want to sleep with this person.”

Shannon: Yes, yes. And I think this is what happened for me when I was in advertising, of course, and it’s when we forget to check in with ourselves, when we go on autopilot. And that is why my inner voice said, “Shannon, follow your heart.” And that is why everything that I do today comes back to us trusting and believing in our self, because when we do that, we don’t get into these autopilot positions where the illusion has taken over, and we’re actually creating our life. Yeah.

Suzanne: Shannon, give us a little advice about what to do when we beat ourselves up after we’ve made a mistake or we’ve had a failure. You know how the mind goes into the downward spiral of shame, what do you say about that?

Shannon: Well, I wrote a whole book on it. It’s actually coming out in August. My next book is called “The Self Love Experiment” because I realized that, for over three decades, I hated myself. I couldn’t even look in the mirror, and I was beating myself up in a downward spiral daily, no matter what I did. So, I definitely know that this is part of what a lot of people feel, and I overcame it by, one, of course, really, as I shared, getting in touch with who and what you really want.

And so, what I mean by this is, the more we focus on our dreams. This is a radical way to end the downward spiral. It’s also an advanced way. I’ll also give you some more tangible tools that you can do right away. But, the more I realized I wasn’t living my dreams, and that’s why I was so mad at myself and beating myself up, I felt guilty, but I didn’t know, and so, I started to ask myself, “Who are you? What do you really want? And what can you do to get there?” And the more true I was to myself, the less that inner critic had room to play.

And so, here’s some more tangible tips for this. It started, baby steps. I decided my biggest barrier was self love. I didn’t love my body. I always had this issue, feeling like I was ugly. And it started by me being in the process of committing to becoming my own friend. I said, “Okay, I’ve got to do this. If I want to really be happy, I’m teaching other people to be happy, but I don’t even love myself, I need to stop this inner chaos, so my mission is to be my own best friend.” And so, I approached it, as I talk about in the book, of course, “The Self Love Experiment”, one day at a time, and certain things you can do.

Talk kind to yourself in the mirror. Say nice things to you. Self care is very important, and I don’t mean just drinking green juice and yoga. Self care is about doing what feels good for you in each moment. Some days we push ourselves too hard to go to the gym, or we get mad at ourselves for not going to the gym. And so, really, it all comes back down to compassion, self compassion, and being where you are as you are, instead of where you think you need to be.

Suzanne: I love that. I think, you know, self care is kind of the crux of everything, ultimately. You know, when you lose everything, self care is kind of all you’ve got left. And I’m so glad you made the distinction between green juice and yoga, and the active thoughts that shape our day-to-day experience, which is the real self care. That’s great.

Shannon: Absolutely, yeah. And I think a lot of people hear ‘self care’, and then we’re like, “Oh, I’m not doing enough,” but we are, as long as we’re checking in with ourselves.

Suzanne: Does it take a long time to retrain your mind? It seems to me that it does.

Shannon: Well, I think it’s a process and everyone’s soul’s growth is on a different level. And Mastin Kipp, the founder of Daily Love, says that, basically, it’s a direct reflection to how stubborn you are, right. And so, I think if we’re really stubborn, and not in a joking way, my rock bottom happened at the absolute last straw that I had. I could have gotten the lessons a lot sooner. I could have fallen in love with my life sooner. So, really, there’s no time. It’s just part of living and being aware.

Suzanne: Yeah, I would totally agree with that.

Shannon: Yeah.

Suzanne: Well, tell me where people can find out more about you, and I know you have a very cool freebie offer, this “Manifest Your Ideal Life”. Is there anything about that you want to share with folks?

Shannon: I will. A big part of my healing, actually, and part of how I was able to step away from all of the negative stuff that was happening, was visualizing my future self, and visualizing myself happy and healthy. So, I put this into an audio meditation that you can grab for free on my website, And it’s a very uplifting meditation. You can download it. And then, that enters you. You get access to my weekly email, where I send free tips. If you liked today’s presentation and talk and interview, I share more guidance weekly on that platform, as well.

Suzanne: Okay. It’s called, and of course, we’ll have these resource links in the show notes, if you drop by the website and hit the show notes under the podcast link.

So, wow, what a wonderful conversation. Is there anything else you would like our listeners to know about being happy?

Shannon: Well, I would think, yeah, everyone who’s listening, it’s really about fulfillment, and you owe it to yourself to trust yourself and believe in yourself because life is worth living. So, instead of trying so hard to find the purpose, just live life more on purpose.

Suzanne: That’s excellent. Shannon Kaiser, thank you very much.

Shannon: Thank you.