090. Shaking Your Belief System to Grow with Susan Clarke

The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

The quest to find a solution to a terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of 24 is how Susan Clarke’s entrepreneurial path took root to grow.  At the point of no possible positive outcomes, Susan stepped off the beaten path and took on the task of finding health through having difficult conversations, facing buried secrets and scars from the past, and finally choosing connection over validation.

Since her cancer journey, Susan has focused her life on living fully in each moment and creating fulfilling relationships.  With her partner, CrisMarie Campbell, she started thrive!.  They are the authors of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage and The Beauty of Conflict for Couples. They also have a podcast with the same name: The Beauty of Conflict for dealing with conflict at work and at home. 

Her passion comes in working with leaders, teams, couples and individuals to help them value differences, bring more of themselves to everything they do, and engage in the power of people working collectively together. 

Key Points from the Episode with Susan Clarke:

  • Susan and her partner CrisMarie Campbell help leaders and teams deal with conflict as a means for creativity, communication and achievement. They also do similar work with couples in a non-business setting.
  • We started the interview mid-conversation, talking about my interview with CrisMarie, who was on the show in November 2018 in Episode 77.
  • Susan is a Cancer survivor who was given a six month prognosis that she has outlived multiple times over now.
  • The moment she got that news was a pivotal shift for her to see herself not as a follower anymore, but as a leader.
  • She picked up a book by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross called On Death & Dying, and reached out to her about how to figure out how learn how to die.
  • What Susan found is that she’s no different from anyone else when it comes to date – we all are going to die, but Susan was just given a date so she’s focused on it.
  • This was when Susan realized no one has the answers for her, and she has to lead herself.
  • She had to look more fully at her life, which wasn’t just about the Cancer.
  • It’s not about blaming the Cancer, but looking at what it’s here to teach her.
  • What Susan realized is that she actually had nothing to lose, so even if her life became a living hell, which it sort of was anyway, what difference does it make?
  • She actually had four difference Cancers over seven years.
  • You can get in this place where it’s almost easier to die than to live.
  • This wasn’t the first thing Susan had faced, with other things from her past that started to unfold and surface.
  • Susan’s doctors were asking her questions she wasn’t able to answer, and in the quest to find those answers, she unearthed trauma from abuse in her past.
  • As a young adult, Susan was a teacher, and had gotten into running pretty intensely, with two 10-mile runs a day, and she started losing weight.
  • When she went to see a doctor about it, they said she had a classic eating disorder, which they fixated on, and sent her to a psychologist, who started asking her deeper questions.
  • She started asking her family some of these questions, which got them upset.
  • What came out is that Susan was abused by a charismatic member of her town’s society, and the response to this coming out was not good, with people threatening Susan, ostracizing her, and worse.
  • In this period, they still didn’t find the Cancer, but couldn’t stop the weight loss and other health issues, so she was sent to the Mayo Clinic, who found Stage IV Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
  • As her treatment went forward along with the self-work, Susan relationship with her family was severed.
  • She also moved to the West Coast, and then started to have other Cancers, including Ovarian (resulting in having to have her ovaries removed), a brain-stem tumor and an optic nerve tumor, both of which required radiation.
  • While you’re never technically in remission with Lymphoma, Susan did get a clean bill of health in 1989, and has remained Cancer-free since then.
  • On the abuse case, authorities back home were trying to put a case together as they had found other victims willing to speak.
  • In the end, that fell apart as the other victims and witnesses backed out or were too deep in the throes of mental issues from the abuse to stand up in trial, so the abuser remained free.
  • What Susan was able to do, though, was learn empathy for her family, who went through something very hard themselves, even though it wasn’t the same as what Susan went through.
  • She let go of comparing hardships or expecting, and just saw their pain in and of itself, and that allowed room to reconnect.
  • She can believe in herself, and still hear the stories of others and have empathy without losing herself.
  • This is what relationships are really and ultimately about.
  • If we cannot work so hard on not making “them” wrong, we can get ourself back.
  • We get to chose being right or relational. You don’t get to be both.
  • After teaching, Susan went to The Haven in Western Canada, where she worked on her health and recovery.
  • There, they did a lot of group work, realizing that people often got better in the waiting rooms than in the 1-on-1 appointments.
  • Most people have their belief systems rattled at some point. Susan had her belief system shaken to the core, which can be a good place to be in if you want to grow.
  • Essentially, she didn’t get to have her beliefs, and could instead build them.
  • We talked about the way health situations like this where our bodies themselves are growing the thing that’s threatening our life can create trust issues with ourselves.
  • What Susan has done around this is recognizing that her body is giving her information. That info can be scary, but it’s still information.
  • It’s up to her to decide what to do with that info, and recognize it’s a conversation, and this is how your body does it.
  • We got into talking about horses, which are the fastest animals to go back to a feral or wild state after being domesticated.
  • Their ability to connect with our true nature is part of why they’re used in therapy and have been shown to have such strong impact on helping people deal with difficulties.
  • Something Susan has learned about blaming someone else is that it’s often a sign that you’re uncomfortable about something in you.
  • People think about choices as one we should make and one we shouldn’t. Susan doesn’t see it this way. It’s really about curiosity.
  • Can I be curious about what I’m facing rather than making it about one thing or the other.
  • With Cancer, it wasn’t about living or dying, it was about being curious about it and learning from it.


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