What makes Oprah Winfrey, the incredible person that she is? For those of you not in the know – Oprah Winfrey- known as the most influential woman in the world is an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist. Chairwoman and CEO of both Harpo Productions and The Oprah Winfrey Network, Oprah’s life story has been one of hardship, sheer determination and courage.
Here are 15 lessons that we could learn and emulate from her, as we go through her rags to riches life-story.
“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”
Born to a house-maid, and brought up in abject poverty, molested as a child, subjected to rape and pregnant at 14, Oprah’s childhood reads like a horror story. Coming from such a background, Oprah fought back with determination, learning to read at age three and discovering that there was a whole world out there which could be so much better than what she lived in.
“The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.”
By the age of 19, Oprah had already won a beauty pageant, landed a job in radio and was co-anchoring the local evening news. Her intensely emotional and extempore speech deliveries and extra-ordinary ability to communicate made a huge impact and soon saw her interviewing scores of people on several major broadcast channels.
“With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.”
Oprah thirsted for change. She studied communication and upgraded her knowledge in literature, self-improvement, mindfulness, and spirituality, bringing to her shows, a sense of freshness, novelty and insolence. She strongly believed in the theory that every action had an equal and opposite reaction and strived to use television to bring about only a positive impact in people, and change the world.
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives”.
Oprah would often empathize and cry along with her guests on her talk-shows (The Oprah Winfrey Show) as she made them confess secrets on national television, which led to the huge popularity of her shows. What she lacked in toughness, she made-up in terms of humour and empathy, bringing about her own sense of style and originality.
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new centre of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand”.
Her shows slowly diversified to cover varied topics like heart disease, geopolitics, spirituality, and meditation. She invited popular celebrities like Michael Jackson and Obama as guests on her shows and people started considering it to be an honour to be on her shows. She was a huge sensation- she had her pulse on the audience- being witty, loud, aggressive, out- spoken and tender all at once!
“Every time you suppress some part of yourself or allow others to play you small, you are in essence ignoring the owner’s manual your creator gave you and destroying your design.”
Oprah worked in a world pre-dominated by white males. She used every failure as a stepping-stone to success, undeterred by harassment and sexism, which she too had to face in her life at some point or the other. She never felt the need to follow norms or be in agreement to everything to please anybody.
“You have the choice this very moment — the only moment you have for certain. I hope you aren’t so wrapped up in nonessential stuff that you forget to really enjoy yourself — because this moment is about to be over.”
In the three decades of her show, Oprah always exhorted women to let go of their past and to get moving to make the change they wanted in their lives – to fully live in the present. Having seen the worst of life, she was always optimistic and refused to be cowed down by obstacles.
“Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others”.
Being a black female of abundant proportions, Oprah struggled with weight issues. In a world that worshipped thin and white, she remained undaunted, and made people accept her body with her fashionable wardrobe, with confident body language and sultry sensuality.
“If there are a lot of negative people in your life, don’t look at them, look at the energy you are creating to attract them “
Oprah had to face a lot of insinuations and rumours in her lifetime. Her mantra was simple – she believed in responding, not reacting to negativity. She felt there was enough negativity in the world, to waste precious time reacting to negative people. A case in point was her sombre response to a hate tweet by Donald Trump.
“Nothing makes me happier than to see other people in their purest moments of joy. Sometimes, honest to goodness, I’m just sitting around thinking, “What could I do to make somebody feel really good today?”
One of the things that really stands out about Oprah was her constant endeavour to make others happy. Having struggled to find happiness in her childhood, she felt she needed approval from everybody and one of the ways to find it was to make others feel good.
“I don’t think you ever stop giving. I really don’t. I think it’s an on-going process. And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.”
Philanthropy comes so naturally to Oprah that she is ranked among the top 50 most generous Americans. Winning praise from Nelson Mandela for being a benefactor for the young children affected by AIDS and poverty in South Africa, she also appealed to her viewers to donate for various educational and social causes. Dedicating her life to others’ causes was almost a way of life for Oprah and she made pleas to people to make the world, a place with equal opportunities, compassion and humanity.
“The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.”
As with any great leader, Oprah always saw opportunity in taking risks. She believed that life’s greatest risk was not daring to take a risk. She motivated people to examine failures closely, learn and bounce back from them.
“I am a woman in process. I’m just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience, and learn from it. Life is never dull.”
If there is one thing to learn from Oprah, it is how to live life with optimism. She has displayed this quality in every step of her life, rising from every challenge and looking forward to a new sunrise every time. In one instance, when she was on the verge of suicide, she held back thinking that things might get better and she may lose out on better things in life!!
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness”.
When Oprah founded her own company, Harpo productions, it enabled her to take complete ownership of every aspect of her show. It also enabled her to diversify into a lot of other fields without any outside investment. In the process, though some of her decisions were bad, she never failed to own up to her mistakes, accepted them and made amends to rectify them. By her own admission, she had an uncanny ability to follow her instincts and always emerge victorious!
“What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfils you, the rest will come.”
Oprah never believed that luck would simply happen. Considering the billions of dollars that she has made; it is apparent that she has really worked hard for it. She is constantly working, analysing, improvising and diligently persevering to use her talent to be of the best service to life and mankind.
Do share your views on her journey, as well as other influential people who inspire you!