Oprah Winfrey is easily one of the most well-known, respected and admired people of our day – globally. Most would see that as a totally unexpected status for a girl born to an unmarried teenage mother in Kosciusko, Mississippi in 1954. Yet it’s true – and has been for decades.
Oprah’s early childhood was spent living with her grandmother in abject poverty. At six years of age, she would move to Milwaukee to live with her mother for a period of time before moving to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father. Oprah’s father was much stricter than she had been used to. Importantly, he stressed the importance of getting a good education. That she did.
She became an honors student at East Nashville High School. She did especially well in speech and drama – taking second place in a national dramatic interpretation contest. Oprah also won an oratory contest and with it, secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied communication.
She worked at a local black radio station before being hired as the first African-American female newscaster at a Nashville television station. From there, she took a job as a television news anchor in Baltimore, but quickly moved to co-host a morning talk show. After several successful years, Oprah knew it was time for her to make a move. Although there were signs she should make a change – notably a difference in pay between she and her male co-host – she knew it at a deeper level – a spiritual level.
Determined to move forward – without a shred of fear – she sent a casting tape to WLS television in Chicago, the lowest rated station in the market. The executive producer, Dennis Swanson, saw the tape, flew her in for a live audition, and was totally blown away by her performance. He hired her on the spot in spite of questions from his management, and Oprah herself, wondering if he was certain he wanted to hire a black woman for the station’s morning talk show. Swanson had no doubt at all. It was 1984. Within six months, the show became the highest rated in the Chicago market and its name was changed from AM Chicago to The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oprah’s dramatic talents and love of acting opened another door for her – a film career. Notably, she earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple.
In 1986, the show would go national in the face of some very daunting competition. At the time, the television talk show category was dominated by Phil Donahue, a liberal, white, Catholic. He had created a format of walking through the audience with a microphone, talking about a variety of topics, many controversial.
For her part, Oprah had two critical elements working in her favor. First, she was represented by King Distribution, the largest distributor of television programming at the time. Stations took The Oprah Winfrey Show or faced losing the current top-rated programs which King controlled. Broad distribution came quickly.
More importantly, Oprah had Oprah working in her favor. Her unique approach of being transparent, approachable, and relevant connected easily with the daytime audience, especially women. That style was made very apparent on her first show when she said: “There has been so much hoopla about this premiere show that it’s enough to give a girl hives,” she says. “I’ve got ’em right now, under my armpits.” That type of insight had not been seen before.
In its earliest years, the show’s themes and guests often leaned towards a tabloid feel. Oprah, and the show, would evolve and grow through the years. In the 1990’s, Oprah told her production team that every story they pitched had to have a clear intention – a thread which Oprah herself could connect with and believe in. Oprah began to focus on encouraging her audience to embrace their own ‘secular’ spirit, elevate their happiness, and pursue self-improvement. The show’s mission statement changed to reflect this new approach, becoming: “to use television to transform people’s lives, to make viewers see themselves differently and to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment into every home.”
That intentional move to purpose and positivity resonated with the public and The Oprah Winfrey Show grew even more popular. Oprah’s Book Club was created and soon, featured book after featured book became an instant best seller. Oprah’s influence grew exponentially. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran for twenty-five years, becoming the highest rated daytime show of all time.
Today, Oprah is estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.9 billion. She has created a television network – OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), and a magazine – ‘O’. Importantly, Oprah is a philanthropic force. She has supported education, and empowerment of women, children, and families on a global basis through her private charity, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
It would literally take an entire book to fully delve into Oprah’s life – her challenges, accomplishments, insights, wisdom, beliefs, and encouragement. Since that’s not my purpose, I suggest two books written by Oprah which may more completely shed light on her story – What I Know For Sure and The Wisdom of Sundays.
For my purpose, I’ll identify some of Oprah’s traits and talents which we can incorporate into our lives to better our chances for success and happiness:
Embrace your passion, discover your purpose – Regular readers know that passion, purpose, and persistence are at the very core of my definition of a ‘fearless brand’. Oprah is a truly a fearless brand – which, of course, is why she’s featured here. ?
Oprah puts it this way…
“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”
Be Intentional – Oprah has been intentional for most of her life. When she speaks of intention, she means having a clear and positive purpose – one that is in sync with one’s principles and character. In other words, be authentic in everything, every action. Being authentic pays tremendous dividends – yes, including financially.
Oprah puts it this way…
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.”
Don’t let your past define your future – Oprah certainly has had more than her share of hardships and challenges in her past. She is a brilliant example of what one can achieve if they keep looking forward, letting go of their past. If it’s in the past – leave it there. Learn the lesson. Let go. Move forward. Define your own future.
Oprah puts it this way…
“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Choose love over fear – Oprah and her production team operated on the belief that there are only two emotions – love and fear. They had total commitment to living in love – without fear. Seems to have worked pretty well I’d say.
Oprah puts it this way…
“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.”
Let’s face it – very few of us will come close to achieving the fame, success, wealth, respect, and admiration that Oprah has. I know that I won’t. You don’t have to watch her show, her network, read her magazine, or even agree with her views to learn from her. However, each of us can move closer to the success and happiness that we strive to achieve by integrating Oprah’s success ‘secrets’ into our lives and actions.