The impact Oprah Winfrey has made on me is kind of surprising to me because she is so popular and familiar and frequently quoted and referred to, why would I consider her one of my favorite teachers?
Part of me thinks, isn’t she just part of our culture.. Don’t I just assume that we, as a society, have decided to love and revere and respect her, so do I need to call out the specific lessons I’ve learned from her. And you know what.. I do!
Because I do love and revere and respect her. And I have learned so many specific lessons from her.
And she has so many qualities that I want to develop in myself. And when I listen to her, I realize I have SO much in common with her and she introduces me to so many great ideas and she’s had an important influence on so many of my other favorite teachers and expanders that I wouldn’t want to miss dedicating a post to her, even though she is world-famous and everyone already knows everything about her.
What I specifically love about Oprah Winfrey
If you haven’t thought about or considered Oprah as a teacher or resource for yourself, maybe you’ll give her another listen! I want to tell you why I became a superfan even though I don’t read her magazine and or watch the OWN network. I was introduced to her probably the same way all of us were, through her television show.
I remember watching Oprah in the afternoon when I got home from school – sometimes, not all the time and I don’t remember too many specific episodes or lessons learned from her shows – but I do specifically remember thinking that she was brave and authentic (but I probably didn’t use those words at that time).
One Specific Example
The one specific example that made me think she was brave.. And probably solidified her place in my brain as someone who I would want to pay attention to even though I was just a kid – was when she recounted the story that she had had a hair treatment that had burned off all of her hair, so she was basically bald, and she still had her show, so she still had to show up on TV every day- basically bald.
This incident both frightened and intrigued me as a child. I probably couldn’t think of anything more horrifying than having to show up to work – let alone a job on TV – with no hair. And this was before Sinead O’Connor and before Brittany and the bald girlfriend on Friends and all the other women who demonstrate to us that it’s fine to be bald. So, as a child, I remember thinking “I could never!” and yet, she did..
A Few Important Lessons
As she talked about her experience later – and even showed a clip from that bald time in her life – and her willingness to show up on TV, basically bald, and her ease in describing it later planted the seed of a few important lessons for me:
-Maybe things that I think matter, don’t really matter
-Maybe this horrible situation isn’t as bad as it seems
-Maybe I can recover from any embarrassing or uncomfortable situation
Sing your OWN Theme Song
I also remember one year, when her new season started she debuted her own new theme song – that she had recorded herself! And I remember thinking – wow, I guess when you have your own thing, you can just do whatever you want, including recording your own song- even if you’re not a singer.
It’s like permission, gall, audacity, nerve, daring, and creativity and fun, all rolled into one idea! My hope is I remember that permission and daring for myself whenever I get an idea that I want to do something.. Even if I’m not “supposed to do it.”
What I know for Sure or What I know Right Now
Those were a few small examples from when she had her show on TV all those years ago – and I liked her, and was a casual fan. I really fell in love with Oprah, for real, when I listened to her book “What I know for Sure”
This was at a time in my life when I was still working a corporate job and I relied on audio books and podcasts to help me enjoy my daily commutes- and then early one spring, I decided that instead of going to Starbucks every day for lunch, I’d rather take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk during my lunch break before it got too hot.
So, I listened to Oprah every day while I walked around Tempe Town Lake and I loved hearing her voice in my ears, and her ideas, and her stories and.. Like I said, I fell in love and became a huge fan!
Recently, I decided to relisten to the book and even just hearing the introduction brought back all those daily walks around the lake hearing Oprah talking to me in my head in my ear buds and loving what she was saying and laughing along with her and her stories and feeling so connected to her, surprisingly because, what do I have in common with Oprah Winfrey? But… The truth is… So much as it turns out.
Her column in her magazine (which I don’t read yet) is called what I know for sure. I am thinking of my podcast and writing not so much as what I know for sure… But what I know right now. Since I’m sure, I’m still learning and transforming and maybe something I think seems pretty sure now, will be different for me in the future.
A Template for my Life
Oprah has a list of words at the beginning of the book that she loves including joy, resilience, connection, gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity and power… As soon as I heard that list of words, I thought I want those words to be a template for my life.
You know what word I would assume would be there, on Oprah’s list- that wasn’t? Generosity.
When I think about Oprah, one of her qualities that I love and want to develop in myself is her generosity. We all know the expression “You get a car.” and that is a form of generosity I like, but she’s also generous with herself, by being open, and vulnerable.
And, she famously shares her favorite things with all of us which I love! That’s how we learned about Sarah Blakely and Spanx!
What delighted me about re-listening to Oprah‘s book
Four or maybe five years later… so many of the concepts that she brought up have been concepts that have been showing up for me over the past few years and I didn’t even remember. So when I re-listened to the book it sounded so familiar, and validating, and normal. And it made me wonder subliminally, did I follow Oprah‘s advice and suggestions over the past couple of years not even realizing that she was the source?
Or is this information just available to me now through so many different sources because it’s what I’m finally ready to learn and experiment with on myself and so I am finding other teachers who teach the same lessons and share the same concepts?
How many times have you raised your voice in anger?
One thing she shared that I found so interesting was that she said she only raised her voice in anger four times in her life.
And when I heard that I thought I wonder how many times I have raised my voice and anger in my life? Probably not many because I’m just not that dramatic of a person, I don’t think… But I know it’s got to have been more than four.
So then my mind was just wondering and I couldn’t even pay attention to the rest of the chapter because I thought how could it have only been four times for her? And I realized she had said that she grew up as an only child with any other children living miles away from her and probably many of the times that I raised my voice in anger was as a child towards my sisters or maybe even my parents if I was being especially bratty.
As an adult I know I have raised my voice in anger – one specific time- towards a renter who was just getting on my nerves. She even said “don’t yell at me.” And I responded “this is the only way I can think you will hear me!” That was not a good rental relationship.
Other than that, I’m sure I have raised my voice in anger at my husband over the years that we’ve been together but only very very rarely and I can’t even remember a specific example of when I did or what it would have been about. Anyone else? Have I ever raised my voice in anger towards anyone else? For sure other drivers in traffic. I don’t think that counts because they can’t hear me and it’s not really personal.
Intentional and Thoughtful
Hearing that Oprah can specifically remember the only 4 occasions when she raised her voice in anger gives me the idea that she must be very intentional and thoughtful about how she wants to react and show up in any given situation.
And even though I may not show up as angry or react by raising my voice- I know sometimes I show up or react in a way I don’t really want to- so Oprah’s example for me is that I can be more intentional and thoughtful.
Other things I love
In between my first and second listening of her book, I also listened to her book “The Wisdom of Sundays” which I also loved and can also recommend and I started listening to her podcast Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations.
I love how she interviews people. I love hearing her own personal stories and questions and I found so many of her guests so interesting.
She reminded me of how much I love Byron Katie when I heard their interview on the podcast. And later in the day that I listened to that episode, I was able to bring up Katie’s work, because I had just heard it that morning on my drive and I know that conversation made an impact on the friend I was talking with. So if you haven’t checked out Byron Katie lately, or ever, it’s worth your time to give her book a listen too. Her work is SO GOOD!
The Gift of Fear
Another one of the most impactful episodes I heard that I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends about was called Best Lifesaving Lessons where she talked about fear with Gavin DeBecker. Gavin DeBecker is a protection expert and described how our bodies (and our intuition) can give us so many signals that something isn’t right or that we need to get out of a situation. They also discussed the “rule” about never allowing yourself to be taken to a 2nd location and how sharing that advice on her show had actually helped women later when they found themselves in an abduction situation. Even though the episode is about fear, and scary people and stories- I’ve recommended it to so many people and I think it’s so important to be able to recognize the gift of fear (which I would have never considered a gift before hearing the episode).
More reasons to love Oprah
She’s been an inspiration or introduction for some of my other favorite teachers. On an earlier First Friday, I mentioned Brooke Castillo– she learned about life coaching by seeing Martha Beck on Oprah’s show.. So, since I learned about life coaching and self coaching from Brooke, and she learned about it from Martha- by being introduced on Oprah- I actually have Oprah to thank for my career and the passion I have for coaching.
Another one of my favorite teachers, Jess LIvely, was also strongly influenced by watching Oprah and wanted to have her own TV show- like Oprah- and she did actually achieve that goal a few years ago.. But on the way to reaching that goal she created her podcast, the Lively Show, which has introduced me to so many important concepts in my life, including inner voice work- which was how I connected with Nicole Perkins.
Fan Letter, Love Note and Thank You Card
And as I’ve done with all of my previous teachers, since this is a fan letter, a love note and a thank you card to Oprah.
Oprah, Thank you so much for your work, for showing up in the world, for taking chances, for putting yourself out there. For being so interested in people and being such an interesting person yourself.
Thank you for loving poetry and gardening and your best friend Gayle. Thank you for thinking about what delights you- your favorite things (and people) and sharing all of it with the world. Thank you for being authentic and generous and curious.
Thank you for participating in such a range of projects including your show, your podcast, your books, your acting career, and everything else you do including lending your voice as a radio announcer on The Handmaids Tale show and doing a guest spot on the comedy show Thirty Rock with Tina Fey.
Thank you for rejoicing in your own aging! And this week, as I celebrate getting older, I want to borrow a page from your book and feel generous about sharing the things that delight me! Thanks Oprah!
And now, I’m so curious to know what you think. If you’re an Oprah fan.. What are your favorite things about her? If you’ve ever thought “No thanks, she’s not for me” (or even just never thought about her at all before) – does this post cause you to reconsider?