She’s a Woman on Fire! Meet Sherrerd Hartness

Welcome back to our ongoing series to introduce you to each other.  She’s a Woman on Fire! member and we want you to know her.  Please say hello to… 

Sherrerd Hartness is a Woman on Fire-

Sherrerd Hartness

Greenville, S.C.

WOF member: #00257

Member since:  December 20, 2013

Please tell us about YOU, your family and your work. What you are “on fire” about? 

I am the mother of two fantastic sons who are now grown up and out on their own. Since 1988, I have worked for myself in interior design. Juggling children and trying to work whenever I could took a lot of time and energy. Now I am ready to grow my business, invest in myself and conquer my fears.

I am on fire about expanding my business. In addition to that, I have a coffee table book I want to create. Part of the proceeds will benefit Habitat for Humanity, so stay tuned!

Also, my friend and Woman on Fire Nancy Neal’s husband, Tom, has asked me to raise $300,000 for a documentary he is co-producing on James Jamerson, the legendary bass player who was on more recordings than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys combined. I bet all of you can hum the bass line to “My Girl” right now! I have never done anything like this before, but the more I learn, the more fired up I am. Bring it on!

How did you originally connect to Women on Fire?

Last summer, I had the most fantastic intern, Emily Neal, who is the daughter of Nancy Neal, and granddaughter of Marge Snyder, a co-author in Women on Fire, Volume 2. Emily had interned during the summer of 2012 for Women on Fire, and she kept talking about Debbie Phillips and Meredith Schoenberger when she was working for me.

I went on Amazon and bought Women on Fire, Volume 1, and then signed up for the newsletter. A few months later, I became a member. When I read about the retreat, I thought, “I may not know anyone, but I’m going to attend. I’m sure I will find some people I like.” And, boy did I! Now I would use the words like and love!

What’s your favorite component of the Women on Fire membership?

What do I like best about Women on Fire? My answer is EVERYTHING! The support is pretty mind-blowing!

What is your favorite part of the day?

I love to start my day early, at 6:00 to 6:30 a.m., with a cup of coffee and quiet time in my reading room. My black-and-white kitty, Mowgli, usually spends this time with me, which I think is super sweet.

I light a candle and often put on headphones and listen to a guided imagery or a meditation. Sometimes, I use a Hemi-Sync CD. The Uplift Meditation by John Selby is also a favorite of mine. I have been saying the beautiful prayer that Kristine Carlson shared during her interview with Debbie Phillips: “Divine love, play me as an instrument in your finely tuned orchestra of life.”

I also love late afternoon and dusk when the world is slowing down again.

What was the last book you read that you would recommend to other Women on Fire?

Incognito by Andrea Raynor and First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (I am about halfway through). I am also wild about all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.

What is the one thing you’re most proud of?

I am most proud of my two wonderful, kind and fun sons. I am also proud of myself.

It has taken me more than 50 years to realize and own that most people who have experienced what I have in my life — the murder of my sister; the loss of my older brother to AIDS; the dysfunctional, cruel and neglectful home life I grew up in; and an abusive marriage — would end up bitter and angry. I still believe in my fellow human beings, and even though there have been decades filled with dark days, I remain optimistic most of the time.

The counselor who encouraged me to stand up for myself during my divorce told me that I am a Miracle. A psychologist who helped me deal with the heartbreaking events in my family told me the same thing. And the staff psychiatrist at the hospital where I took my mother before she died told me, “It is amazing you are the person you are.” My friends have been telling me this for a long time. And finally, I am starting to realize the truth in these words.

Share a special Women-on-Fire moment or experience.

The retreat in Naples, Fla., as well as phone conversations with my new friends were special. I’m excited that Woman on Fire Andrea Raynor spoke at my 113-year-old book club. I’m sure this list will grow and grow!

Name another Women on Fire who has inspired you and tell why?

That’s easy—EVERYBODY! When I think about Debbie’s dream to form Women on Fire, and that it has become a reality, it really knocks my socks off!

What’s your big dream?

My big dream has two parts: On the business side, I want to expand and do more vacation homes and sell my upcoming coffee table book. Personally, I want to meet a wonderful, genuine, kind, brilliant and fun man who will see me for who I am and not be afraid of the hard things that have happened in my life.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced? How did you overcome it?

Most of my life has been extreme with challenges, and it has been very fear-based. The biggest challenges have been the murder of my little sister, the death of my brother, a household where we were scared to do anything wrong when we were growing up, and an abusive and destructive marriage.

How did I overcome all this? Believe me, there have been plenty of times when I wanted to just give up —to go to sleep and not wake up. My journey has been lots of little steps forward and sometimes many steps backward, and then finally getting stronger and learning, little by little, to stand up for myself.

Since the Women on Fire retreat, I am telling my story, a little at a time. I believe and know that things are now changing in me and for me.

If you had the opportunity to teach a child one strategy that would help to guide her life, what would that be?

I am going to quote Woman on Fire Terri Cole here because her answer resonated so much with me: “Be mindful that, most of the time, fear is just a feeling. Use fear to inform your decisions rather than to dominate them.” I sure wish I had learned this in grammar school.

If you had an unexpected free day, how would you spend it?

I would go on a long trail ride on a really nice horse. I grew up riding and still love it! Sitting outside and reading would be pretty sweet too!

What is your favorite city in the world?

New York!

What is something that we might be surprised to learn about you?

I took off my junior year of college and traveled as a cast member in the Up With People show. My cast traveled more than 90,000 miles that year and toured the western United States and Florida, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Mexico.

I lived with more than 80 host families and stayed in houses ranging from a shack with a dirt floor in Panama City to the home of the CEO of a large international company. I stayed in an orphanage on an Indian Reservation in British Columbia and a house on the plains of Wyoming where the wind whipped through the cracks in the exterior boards.

My cast mates were from many U.S. states and about 16 foreign countries. What an education and what an organization!

I love to throw a football, and I have a pretty good spiral! Usually, you can find a football in the trunk of my car in case one of my friends’ sons will throw with me. Once I got a porter from a hotel in Charleston to throw with me out in the street. It was a blast!

Name the women who have influenced your life and what you’ve learned from each.

My godmother, Rick Ravenel, in Charleston, S.C., and Susan Boyd, my second mother, in Columbia, S.C., have shown me unconditional love and support. They are AWESOME. I wish you all could know them.

Who cheers you on?

My Women on Fire sisters cheer me on, as well as the women I mentioned above. My wonderful counselor, Marla Libby, has been invaluable, for sure! I call counseling “Life 101,” and I think everyone should be required to take it!

What is your go-to self-care strategy?

It is a composite of various things: long walks, swimming laps, eating lots of fresh veggies and fruits, quiet time to go within, and sleep. Being with friends for something fun is important to me too, and I am working on incorporating more fun into my life.

When you reflect on your life so far, what are the first words that comes to your mind?

Fear be gone! My time is NOW!

More about Sherrerd Hartness…

Sherrerd, who has a B.A. in studio art from Converse College, established Sherrerd Hartness Interiors in Greenville, S.C., in 1988. She creates beautiful and livable spaces using inspiration from nature, and strives in every design to protect the world by focusing on both home and environment.

Sherrerd has begun to share the story of her sister’s murder in 1977, including the additional trauma of the high-profile execution of the murderers. She believes that there is more to a person’s life than the way they died and seeks to celebrate her sister’s life. She also hopes that, by sharing her experiences, she can support and encourage others who might feel lost and overcome by their circumstances.

She has spent much the last few years caring for the needs of her elderly parents. She volunteers with the Junior League of Greenville, S.C..

You are welcome to say hello to her at Visit her website,, which was designed by Woman on Fire Emily Neal.

She’s a Woman on Fire! features are compiled by senior writer Becky Adams. 

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Is It Luck?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!

This special March holiday always reminds me of lucky charms, leprechauns and four-leaf clovers — and, of course, the luck o’ the Irish.

But with all due respect to my Irish heritage, I don’t believe luck rules my life at all.

You wouldn’t know that though from the number of “magical” lucky objects I keep!

When I was a little girl, I would lie on the ground for hours searching for four-leaf clovers. Thinking that if I found one, my life would be forever “lucky.” (I never found one, but I never stopped believing that some day I would!)

Even today, I carry a lucky charm in my wallet — a facsimile of a $1,000,000 bill; it was the single thing I asked for from my Dad’s wallet after he died.

The imitation bill is the most precious item in my purse. It keeps me close to my Dad and reminds me of the possibility I might see a $1,000,000 windfall some day!

But I don’t believe my wishes and dreams, successes and achievements — or yours — are simply random.  That they are only luck.

No, I believe the positive, uplifting, I-can-do-anything feeling that I get from walking around with that $1,000,000 bill in my pocket is what will make my dreams come true.

Yesterday a friend was talking to me about his friend who won the lottery — twice!  He kept referring to it as “dumb luck.”  I don’t think so.

I believe, and studies show, that people make their own good or bad fortunes.  Those who carry lucky charms and expect good things to happen are actually “luckier.”  They set themselves up to receive their dreams.

How are you setting up yourself to believe what you want is possible? Do you believe you are in charge of your own good fortune? I’d love to hear.

And, I would love to share with you a handful of women in our community whose dreams and goals are coming true — and I am sure each would tell you there is no such thing as “dumb luck” in making it happen!

They are all on their paths to fulfill their purposes, dreams and goals, as I know you are, too.

I know you will enjoy learning about them:

Trudy Dujardin of Norwalk, CT and her team at Dujardin Design recently completed a full-scale renovation on one of Nantucket Island’s beloved hideaways, the Union Street Inn.  The inn is consistently rated as the “best boutique hotel on the Cape and Islands.” (You will hear from Trudy in May when she is featured on our membership CD talking about creating your own healthy, sacred space!)

Our Women on Fire intern, Emily Neal of Greenville, SC and a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, continues her semester abroad and her travels through Europe. Her latest blog post on Paris particularly touched our hearts and we thought it would speak to yours as well.

Jenifer Madson of Erie, CO enjoyed a super successful re-release of her book, published by Conari Press, called  “Living the Promises.”  It’s a must-read, daily inspiration book to add to your list!

We also congratulate Beth Kloesener of Saginaw, MI on her exciting new role as the Director of  Career Services for Northwood University. She has been working on landing this position for the past year and couldn’t be more excited to live her true purpose, which is to help students find theirs.

Kris Carlson of San Francisco, has been invited to speak at the TEDx Greenbrook School event on April 11. Kris, with her late husband Richard Carlson, is the genius and an author behind the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” book series.We couldn’t be more excited for her huge opportunity and we look forward to getting to watch the talk on video.

Have a wonderful week ahead and I’ll see many of you at the teas this week in New York City and Columbus, Ohio!

Believing in you and all that you bring to the world ~

The discoveries of a young Woman on Fire


As a woman, I grew up being encouraged to “blend in.” Into one another, into the background, into myself.

Since childhood, I’ve walked the fine line that exists between having confidence in my own success, yet being modest enough to hide my achievements. It’s exhausting, and even that’s an understatement.

Meredith Schoenberger speaking during the recent Women on Fire event in Chicago with Debbie Phillips (Photos by Heather Stone)

And, then I attended the Women on Fire Retreat, 33 floors above ground in the W Hotel’s Altitude Room overlooking Chicago, in the warm embrace of the WOF community, and for the first time that line to share my light disappeared.

That weekend in Chicago was a life-changing experience that overwhelms me with love when I think about it.

I’ve never been in such a supportive and accepting environment before.

I walked into this situation knowing maybe a couple of people, and I walked out with a whole lady gang, who are rooting for me to overcome and succeed.

It has left me close to speechless (a rare occurrence, my friends and family would tell you!), and every time I let my mind return to the memories of the retreat, I can’t help but smile.

Being only 23, and having the privilege of sharing an entire weekend with the largest collection of successful women I’ve ever encountered at one time, has me convinced that I’m doing something right.

I couldn’t tell you what that “something” is just yet, but I can tell you that I’m not as worried as I once was about trying to figure it out.

I was one of the youngest women to attend the WOF Retreat and I know that my age had an impact on the types of questions I asked and answers I sought.

I’m at a point in my life where the abundance of choices seems superficial; the competition amongst women feels toxic; and more than 90% of the time I feel completely lost, but am too anxious to admit it.

In my experience, women my age often seem more concerned about last night’s episode of Honey Boo-Boo and what “so and so” wore to her wedding than talking about their proudest moments and what their goals are for the coming year.

Very often, I’ve felt out of place when surrounded by my peers, and have been put-down one too many times for trying to offer encouragement and give unconditional love.

But at the WOF Retreat, I felt that I belonged.  I told Debbie that I knew I was meant to be there in that moment.

The Retreat, with women of all ages, was the first opportunity I’ve had where I was encouraged to celebrate myself in the company of other woman.

It was the first time that I felt I could be proud of who I am and how far I had come without the backlash of judgment or jealousy.

It also gave me permission to gush over the accomplishments of other women, and express the unconditional support that had been silenced in the past.

The Retreat provided women with the tools, the space and the love that it takes to tap into your most authentic self. And once you tap into who that woman is, you become one step closer to leading the life you have always wanted to live.

So, from this day forward, I’m taking a vow to no longer blend-in to the box labeled “female.”

I’m going to fight for my big dreams; I’m going to push forward in my next steps; and you better believe that I will always credit the WOF community for helping me to realize that I should.

The youngest attendees at the Women on Fire Retreat: Emily Neal, Elle Celeste and Meredith Schoenberger with Debbie Phillips (who is not so young!)

A Cleveland, Ohio native, Meredith Schoenberger majored in creative writing at Miami University.  She currently works as a talent coordinator for a music management company, and lives in Los Angeles.

Although not fully convinced that the West Coast is best, she has her sights set on New York City in the near future. She’s passionate about helping young women prepare for the real world and is currently on her way to making that dream happen.


Hi, wonderful woman! I hope you enjoyed a relaxing weekend.

My sister Lori (you may remember her; she was one of 20 co-authors in the Women on Fire book) is visiting me from Orlando. So I’m taking a few days of vacation to be with her.
Can you guess what we were doing when my husband caught us here by surprise?

We’re having fun doing the things sisters do when they’ve been apart and can finally catch up — staying up late, sitting around the table yakking, preparing dinner together.

Yup, Lori and I were shucking corn!

Can you figure out which of us is the little sister and family jokester?! (Photos by Rob Berkley)

Lori has already inspired me to do something neither of us has done for 10 years — we’re going horseback riding this week!

Making plans to go trail riding on Martha’s Vineyard (on a BIG horse!) took me right back to when I was a little girl — and life was always so much easier when I had my sisters to be brave with.

It might be scary to jump into the deep end of the pool alone. But holding hands with sisters and leaping in together transforms fear into courage.

And, that’s how I feel about all of you connecting with each other as Women on Fire.  We are all holding hands, diving in and going for it!

And, speaking of going for it, I am inviting you to share what you are up to in next week’s SPARK!

I’d love to hear about you and to share with everyone else here so we can all cheer each other on.  So if you have news to share about your dream and/or an update on your life (new job, new house, exciting plans, etc.) please email it to me at with the subject line: SPARK news.

Simply tell us your name, city and your news!

I can’t wait to share you with everyone. And, before I go, I have something to share with you.

Emily Neal of Greenville, SC has been our intern this summer. What a joy and delight to have her talent and fresh perspective on everything.  In addition to her many skills, I discovered she also is a very good writer.  I was touched by a blogpost she wrote that I think you might enjoy, too.

Check out Emily’s post here.

If you like, feel free to cheer on this young college student and Woman on Fire at

See you next week … and be sure to send me word on what’s up for you in your life!

And, if I have the nerve, I’ll post photos of our horse-back riding adventure 😉  Eeeeek!

Perfect Parking Spots

Guest post by EMILY NEAL

Sometimes life gets so chaotic that it’s hard to find a moment’s peace.

Yet, opportunities to slow down and relax often present themselves in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. With a little concentration and awareness, you can almost always find your moment of peace.

Recently, Debbie and I were making a few quick errands in Oak Bluffs. While Debbie drove around and calmly continued talking to me I began worrying that maybe these errands wouldn’t be quite so quick as we drove through throngs of jaywalkers with no parking space in sight.

I hoped and prayed someone would pull out and give us their spot. I’m known among my friends to have very good luck with parking spots, but Debbie’s luck is uncanny. In fact, it’s miraculous.

Just as I was preparing myself for a good hike to the store, a spot opened up. Not only was this spot right in front of the store, but when we looked up, there was a sign that read “Phillips.”
Debbie pulled right into a perfect parking space at Phillips Hardware in Oak Bluffs!

Debbie smiled and said, “Thank you, Dad.” She then told me that since his death she has always been blessed with the miracle and gift of the perfect parking spot.

Though our loved ones may leave us, often they do not leave us empty-handed. They frequently pass down little miracles of peace to help us through our grief.

Woman on Fire Debi Lilly suddenly lost her father-in-law last August while alone in Paris with her children. To honor him and connect with family back home, they walked to every church in Paris to light a candle for Grandpa Carl.

Now, whenever church bells ring, her children look up and say “Grandpa Carl.” Debi often goes out of her way to find the comforting chimes of church bells.

Debi Lilly’s children Lilly and Parker in a Parisian cathedral. 

Wendi Knox experienced a miracle similar to mine after her father’s death. She said  “the first morning after he passed away, a beautiful little hummingbird fluttered onto my mother’s cement patio. There were no flowers around. Just me.”

Since then, she has encountered hummingbirds at some of her most important moments this past year without him. While meditating before a speech in front of 400 women, two hummingbirds flew by, certainly a sign of father’s love and encouragement.

Wendi has found solace in visiting a small hummingbird sanctuary consisting of one huge red bottlebrush tree with dozens of hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower. She has deemed her small place of refuge as “The Hummingbird Hotel.”

While Debbie, Debi, and Wendi were lucky enough to be given these little reminders, I have not been left with any. I have had to find my own way to relax. You, too, can find an escape from your chaotic life simply by going to your own “peaceful, happy place.” Whether you have faced a terrible loss or not, Wendi offers 5 TIPS for finding your inner peace.

  1.  Check in with your feelings.  Give yourself permission to feel.
  2.  Where’s your happy place? Close your eyes and imagine a place of pure joy.
  3.  How to “get there.” Picture yourself in that place with all the colors, textures, sounds, and smells of the place.
  4.  A trip to remember. When things go wrong, take yourself to your happy place.
  5.  Collect some souvenirs. Keep things around to remind yourself of your place. For example, if your place is the beach, keep a seashell on your desk.

Just as Wendi’s Dad left her with the gift of hummingbirds to inspire her sense of peace, Debbie’s dad left her the perfect spot and Debi the sound of church bells. They were left with these little miracles to remind us to slow down and live the life they are in.  Still, you can find peace no matter where you are in life. All it takes is to find your little place of happiness.

Happiness can be found anywhere, whether it is by walking to “The Hummingbird Hotel” or feeling the success of the perfect spot.

Personally, I close my eyes and picture myself lying on a sandy beach and reading the book that has been waiting for me on my nightstand. I slowly breathe in the salty air and imagine the crashing of ocean waves.

Reading at the beach during my summer internship on Martha’s Vineyard

Your place may be entirely different or very similar. It doesn’t matter as long as it makes you happy. And do you want to know the best part? There’s no limit on your happy places! You can have one or one hundred, as long as you find peace.

I’d love to hear how you find peace and happiness. Do you have a “happy place” similar to Wendi’s? Or, an audible reminder like Debi’s? Or something else that reminds you to slow down?



Emily Neal is an intern at Women on Fire®. A native of Greenville, SC, she will be a sophomore this fall at Vanderbilt University majoring in communications. Her favorite part of her job is meeting all the other Women on Fire and hearing their stories.