After ‘facing ghosts,’ this Durham woman is teaching others to be shatterproof

By Natalia Bartkowiak

In a small, rented house in Durham, Shawna Barito has been hard at work for the last seven months, putting together a program she’s spent most of her life developing. It’s undeniable that Barito has been through a lot. She’s faced trauma, poverty, cancer and the health issues of her two children. But after all that, Barito finally knows what she wants to do in life: be a life coach.

Barito continuously claims that unlike all the other career aspirations in her life, this one finally feels right. That notion seems to be plastered all over her home office. On her desk there is a picture frame with photos of her son and daughter. The photos face at her at all times, as if to remind her why she’s on this path. A large whiteboard details pricing information and a rebranding plan. Inspirational handwritten messages are taped on a wall: “Be Visible, Give Value, Make Offers,” “Speak your truth. Speak your value. Show your passion. Live you.

‘I wanted to leave a legacy’

The Shatterproof program was originally built for Chancler, Barito’s son and eldest child, who is now 24. When he was 3 years old, Chancler was diagnosed with autism. His doctors weren’t sure if he was going to be low-functioning or high-functioning.

“I decided that I was going to have a hand in helping him be the best ‘him’ he could,” Barito said. “I started educating myself on figuring out how to help him navigate while being super different.”

Barito wanted Chancler to be able to own his choices. She wanted him to be in control of his life and own what direction he was going to go from there. And it worked; Chancler grew up to be a respectable young man with a job, a girlfriend and a great future. As she observed his evolution, she came to a realization.

“Women in my employment situation had some of the same struggles: they were different and they didn’t know how to stand up for themselves, and they didn’t know how to own their choices,” Barito said. “I realized that I could teach them the same skills that I was teaching my son.”

About a year ago, Barito began turning what she had taught her son into a life coaching program.

“After surviving cancer, I wasn’t going to go back to corporate America. I wanted to do more, I wanted to leave a legacy,” Barito said. “I decided I wanted to start my own coaching business to help show women how to have unbreakable self-confidence, which is what the Shatterproof program is all about.”

Becoming Shatterproof

The Shatterproof program consists of five disciplines, Barito explained: embracing one’s evolution, owning what is one’s to own, being in integrity with oneself, honoring one’s virtues and values, and practicing self-compassion.

“The more I talk to people, the more I realize that the program is super easy to learn,” Barito said. “The program is so easy to adapt and use, that my own husband – who doesn’t do counseling – was able to start picking it up and using it.”

“So that’s a long story short on this program,” Barito said and laughed, realizing that she had been talking for fifteen minutes.

In the other room, her daughter, Ciarra, who had been sitting on the couch, also laughed. Ciarra has heard the summary of her mother’s coaching program many times. Too many, she claims.

“She’s told me about the program so many times, I know the whole thing by heart,” Ciarra said. “She’s so excited about it. I’ve never seen her so invested in something before.”

Barito and her family aren’t the most well-off people. They rent a house and essentially live paycheck to paycheck.

“To be honest,” Barito said, “we could totally be okay if I went back to project management work.”

However, she knows that it wouldn’t be right. Going back to project management would send her tumbling back to square one. She’s decided to live her program every day, so she can keep improving it and show that it actually works.

“I’d rather have a quality life than have the same stress level and the same broken home as before,” Barito said, “Family, love – I don’t want to sound like ‘love, light and laugh’ and all that other stuff – it’s serious, it’s super important. It’s the quality of your life over the quantity of things that is more important – that’s what I’ve learned the most.”

‘I was facing ghosts’

Of course, Barito’s life wasn’t always like this. Before cancer, before she was forced to apply the program to herself, she was a completely different person.

“I was a very cold, very driven, very narrow-minded individual before I was diagnosed with cancer,” Barito said. “I didn’t focus on my family; I put everybody on the backburner. I blamed a lot of people outside of myself, I was never at fault. Ever. I wasn’t a nice person. At all.”

When asked what she had been facing at the time that made her feel like she had to be like that, Barito’s eyes became unfocused. Up until that point, her blue eyes were piercing, making her seem intimidating, confident. Now, she was only half there. Her voice became smaller. Her response was short, but she knew it by heart.

“Ghosts,” Barito said. “I was facing ghosts. I felt like I had to be this cold, hard, calculating person and I realized, when I almost lost everything, including my life… that was wrong. You don’t have to be a monster to have a great life, because it’s all about perspective. It’s all about what’s important to you.”

Everything changed when a six-letter word came crashing into Barito’s life. Her entire world came to a screeching halt as she heard it. Cancer.

“When I was first diagnosed, it rocked my world, and not in a good way,” Barito said.

With that remark, she laughed. Unlike her previous laughter, it was almost humorless. It wasn’t clear if this was the kind of laughter others should join in.

“I lost who I was,” Barito said. “Which is the best thing that ever happened to me, but I literally lost who I was. I had wrapped myself up so tightly in what my career was and what direction I was going to go that when I realized I could no longer do that, then who was I? That was the hardest part for me: getting out of the victim mindset of ‘why me, why did I have cancer.’”

Barito slowly realized that the question wasn’t “why.” It was “what.” What now? So Barito did exactly what she had been teaching her friends and family to do: Apply the program.

“That’s been the last two and a half years. It’s been about taking myself apart, dismantling my entire (life): how I think, how I show up in life, how I feel. And there’ve been a lot of moments of, ‘wow, I really was an asshole.’”

She laughed a little, and the tension in the room lifted. She paused for a moment and her eyes darkened a bit.

“If I didn’t have this program I don’t know where I would’ve been because I certainly wouldn’t be where I am right now.” Barito said.

Barito is writing a book, The Art of Being Shatterproof, which will detail her program and how it works. She plans to have the book completed and published by 2020.

“I’m really excited about this. I fought this for a long time, but I realized that this is what I’m being called to do,” Barito said.

It’s clear that an empire is being born in that Durham home office. Barito is ready for the world, and the world should get ready for her.

Edited by Rachel Jones