To me it seems Oprah Winfrey is everywhere. On a recent flight I happened to pick up a random magazine and realized Oprah even publishes her own magazine.
There is absolutely no doubt about Oprah Winfrey's fame, financial status, or impact on the world. My cynical side always associated her personal success with heavy marketing and excessive branding efforts, but whether or not I agree with every marketing tactic, it is impossible to dispute that she has achieved status as a role model to millions. She has taught any of us who were willing learn: "zero to hero" means that, regardless of where or how you begin in life, you can make a difference in the world.
It would be impossible to dispute the odds that were stacked against this young unknown African American child born in Mississippi in the 1950s. Although Oprah Winfrey came into people's living rooms daily for two-and-a-half decades, she did not start out there. Her own history, and rise to world-renown influence, is quite a story.
Zero, or the starting point for Oprah Winfrey, refers to her youth and childhood as an abused young girl growing-up in the racially torn Deep South. Oprah was born into a series of circumstances which caused her to begin life with what some would categorize as indisputable disadvantages.
Despite the lack of funds that were available to her family living on their farm in Mississippi, despite the fact that Oprah was not protected from sexual abuse at the age of nine, and despite the fact that she may have been seen by some as "less than" for being born with dark skin in 1954, Oprah new that she was destined for greatness. She believed that she could have an impact on the world, and she was willing to work hard in order to do that.
Broadcasting and Communications took her from radio programs to small unknown television shows that seemed to be short on content structure. Oprah knew that she would need to design a format for herself that would keep the audience coming back. In the meantime, authenticity was the key.
Chicago called in the 1980s. Oprah was in her 30s, and ready for the change and challenge. Initially, she still struggled in attempting to find a format. Very quickly, however, Oprah discovered that competing with other "talk shows" that focused on exploitation rather than heart was not the way she wanted to win an audience.
In fact, one of the most powerful ways in which Oprah did choose to differentiate herself was to share some of the most painful and violating experiences that anyone could endure. She shared and recounted these experiences publicly, on an open platform. By doing this, not only did she endear herself to a loyal and growing audience, she developed a safety zone through which communication regarding previously taboo subjects could be vented and purged.
In effect, Oprah created a healing zone for millions of viewers and fans. People began to find themselves gravitating toward the Oprah show as a counseling session of sorts. Eventually, she introduced Dr. Phil as a means to provide an entirely credible and universally recognized authority who would take on the deeper problems of the masses, particularly as an outlet for those without available resources to enlist their own therapist.
Oprah, the Hero
These pivotal turning points began the monumental growth phase of Oprah's journey forward. This growth phase saw the transition from her local Chicago-based show to a daily program with first National, and then International, reach and appeal. Oprah not only became a brand, and a household name; she became a phenomenon.
Key aspects of the Oprah Winfrey show and legacy, including the Angel Network and the Oprah Book Club, have become anchors of philanthropic movements and standard gauges for quality in literature. These, however, were not anchors that were implemented overnight. In fact, Oprah was in her mid-thirties as the show in Chicago presented itself in her life, and it took time to sprout wings. More than another decade would pass before the Angel Network came into being. Like Rome, after all, the Oprah Winfrey Empire was not built in a day. Neither were her school buildings in Africa.
Oprah has said repeatedly over the past twenty-five years that there are many key things to which she attributes her success. Of course, she has been willing to work hard. She builds teams of people who share her vision and goals, and these people understand how to implement these goals effectively. Also, she carefully monitors all of the finances and financial decisions related to each portion of her enterprises
Lessons We Can Learn From Oprah's Journey
"I don't think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good."
Among the many lessons to be gleaned from Oprah Winfrey's profound success story, one relates to the prophetic vision of men like Martin Luther King, Jr.: the power of belief can subsequently create manifestations of greatness.
Oprah Winfrey, in her very heart and soul, knew the level to which she had the capacity to contribute to society. She saw her task positively, as an obligation as much as a possibility.
From among all of the notable accomplishments and accolades to date, what is consistent and over-arching is her effort to uplift people's spirit. In the midst of the abundance of low-class reality programs that blatantly exploit negative and crass attention-seeking behavior, Oprah has created an entire network that intends to showcase people and events that can uplift and educate.
Whatever you think of Oprah, she has earned her way, step-by-step, and she continues to do things her way. If each of us can be as committed to a personal mission as she is, I believe our life will be well spent.
Live your dreams
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.