Few women are more inspirational than the inimitable Oprah Winfrey: a poor girl who came from nothing rose from the trenches to become one of the most powerful influencers and icons of the 21st century. How could we not admire her?
Here are just a few things I have learned from Oprah’s boss career that everyone else can, too.
With popular Phil Donahue and Sally Jessy Raphael on afternoon TV screens or iconic Merv Griffin leaving his long-time post, Oprah Winfrey could have modeled any number of successful hosts when she began her career. But on that September 1986 afternoon, she did anything but. She clearly showed the exuberant glee she felt from having her own show, thus setting the stage [pun intended!] for “doing it her way.”
One of Oprah’s greatest strengths is that she never wavered from being her authentic self. In doing so, she not only challenged the norm, but drew us to her program and her guests. Being ourselves is what makes us unique and is most often the source of our greatest achievements. Just be you.
One of my favorite Oprah quotes is: “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail.” Oprah never purported that she was immune from failure. Some of her greatest triumphs emerged from the lessons she learned when things didn’t work out. Who can forget the wagon load of fat, or taking on big beef? Every time you’ve lost a job or failed on a project, remember: failure leads to breakthrough. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and deal with it, just like Oprah.
Even though she grew up poor, black and in abject poverty, Oprah didn’t let her circumstances cloud her belief that she could be anything she wanted. This lesson is especially personal for me. I grew up in a small rural farm community, but my dad insisted that his little girl could grow up to be anything she wanted to be. Oprah wanted to be more than that poor little girl – more, even, than one of the most acclaimed talk show hosts. She envisioned changing the trajectory of the world with her special brand of passion. Her once-unfathomable vision became a reality.
From her early days, Oprah found ways to share her success with those around her. Who among us didn’t want to be one of the lucky audience members for the “favorite things” show? Big or small, she has found meaningful and personal ways to impact our world for the better. As she so wisely states, “What I know for sure is that what you give comes back to you.” So, so true.
It would be hard to think of Oprah without Gayle. Their camping antics and mutual admiration of each other – as well as their clear joy at spending time together – should serve as a reminder of how important it is to hold close those who “knew us when.” Oprah and Gayle’s friendship has never wavered in their 40-plus year relationship. As Oprah so eloquently says, “Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher.”
A part of me still mourns the loss of her show. Even as a working woman, I’d record every episode and watch each night on my treadmill. Like many fans, I was devastated when I heard she was walking away from her talk show. However, Oprah assured us that change was coming, and it would be good – perhaps even better than what we’d come to be so familiar with. I must say, she was right. I have truly enjoyed the Master Class series and Super Soul Sunday program on her OWN channel. She has fostered deep and meaningful conversations and lessons abound, and she has found new ways to connect with us. Every time I hit a road block, I remember that change needs to happen for something great to come into our lives.
Of all the lessons to be learned from Oprah, perhaps the greatest is that this life is a gift. We only go around one time, so it’s up to us to make it a life worth living.
Tiffany Couch is the CEO and founder of Acuity Forensics, a forensic accounting and fraud investigation firm that helps unravel complex financial crimes.