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Vickroy: Tinley Park woman knows a few things about overcoming hardship

ShannMurphy is starting life coach practice.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Media

Shannon Murphy is starting a life coach practice. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 31, 2013 6:26AM



You might expect someone who has endured as much hardship as Shannon Murphy to turn out somewhat jaded, soured on life, at the very least cynical about that whole “pursuit of happiness” thing.

But sometimes capsized lives have a way of righting themselves.

In Murphy’s case, she took plenty of struggle, uncertainty and fear and ripped it to shreds — mixing the components with equal parts understanding, compassion and empathy. The result has been not only a chemical reaction in her psyche but a promising new career.

Soon to graduate from Lewis University with a master’s degree in psychology, the 24-year-old Tinley Park resident is hanging up her own shingle. Her life-coach business is called Stepping Forward, Inc., and it’s a subject she knows a bit about.

“I’m now at a great place, but it was not easy to get here. It was a struggle to keep believing, to learn to trust people,” she said.

Life coaching is a field that has been gaining momentum in the past decade, Murphy said. Unlike therapy, which can carry a stigma even in this day and age, life coaching provides that added push to get people over obstacles that impede their success or keep them from feeling fulfilled.

Life coaching can help someone untangle a complicated relationship or set clearer career goals. It’s almost always focused on the future, she said. Therapy tends to analyze the past, to see how things got so messed up in the first place.

“Therapy focuses on mental health issues. Depression or sadness, for example,” Murphy said. “Life coaching helps people who are stuck in a rut and can’t seem to figure out why.”

Everyone, she said, needs help now and then.

“It isn’t necessarily a struggle with mental health issues. Maybe you’re having difficulty getting along with a sibling or a coworker,” she said. “Life coaching can help with that.”

Living with loss

Murphy grew up in Evergreen Park and lost her mother to breast cancer when she was 7. She doesn’t remember much from the days before her mom was diagnosed, but she clearly remembers the painful way that her mom’s life ended.

“People tell me I was attached to her hip,” she said.

One good thing — her mom left Murphy and her older sister a cassette tape. On it, she tells her daughters to “do all that is positive.”

“That helped me a lot,” Murphy said, especially in the difficult years that followed, during which she struggled to deal with an alcoholic and drug-addicted father who was unstable, unreliable and a gambler.

Her father passed away two years ago, succumbing to his lifelong struggles, she said.

“He never admitted any wrongdoing,” Murphy said. “That messed me up more than my mom dying at an early age. There was a greater struggle for closure with his death.”

She found comfort and support with her sister and her friends.

“I was fortunate to have very good friends and that they had very good families,” she said.

But even on that front, she endured heartbreaking loss. During her sophomore year at Evergreen Park High School, she lost a good friend to a drug overdose. No one knows for sure if it was intentional or accidental, she said.

Once again, Murphy credited other friends and their families with getting her through the tragedy. She kept busy with sports and leadership clubs at school.

After graduation, Murphy enrolled at DePaul.

Though it seemed she had had more than her share of bad luck, fate dealt her another blow in 2009 when her longtime and best friend, Army Specialist Jared Stanker, was killed while serving in Afghanistan.

She was on the train back from DePaul when a friend called her with the sad news. She went straight to be with his family in Evergreen Park.

“Jared had been my best friend since seventh grade. We went to the prom together. We did everything together,” Murphy said.

“When someone your own age dies, it really hits you hard.”

Keeping it together

When she looks back now, she believes the series of losses only made her stronger, more mature and certainly more compassionate.

“I’ve been through so much negativity but have come out on top,” she said.

Now, she wants to help others overcome hurdles to happiness as well. Sessions cost about $75 each, and she can meet with clients via Skype if that is more convenient.

She has three things that she tells people: 1. At the end of the day, life is simple. 2. Despite what happens to you, you have control over your emotions and reactions. 3. Be consistently happy is a choice. I choose to be happy. That choice fills me with love and gratitude.

“I really do believe that I am meant to do great things for other people because I know the pain they have been through,” Murphy said. “I understand.”

For more information on Stepping Forward, visit steppingforwardinc.com or call (708) 715-3209.



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