Can you believe that I got to see Oprah last week?! Oprah Freakin' Winfrey, live and in person, just me and eighteen thousand of my closest friends. There I was, third row, stage right, so close I could count the diamonds in her stunning bracelet. And, girl, I have no idea how she walked in those shoes!
I had a number of takeaways from her show - many of which I will milk in the weeks to come :) - but the one I am leading off with is the woman herself. What an incredible story is her life.
I have written before about the voices, those, uh, unhelpful ones in your head telling you're not good enough or that you're stupid or, my favourite, asking, "What is wrong with you?”. Well, Oprah has had a good, guiding voice in her head since she was four. Her grandmother was hanging out the laundry one morning and said to the wee child, "Some day you'll be a maid just like me and Momma."
Little Voice in Oprah's head declared, "Hell, naw! I will not!" I might be paraphrasing, but you get the point. The girl was driven. But the little voice - the Universe, the Holy Spirit, whatever your beliefs - wasn't always guiding her.
The product of a brief relationship, Oprah was born to a teenage mother. She was raised by her maternal grandmother in rural Mississippi for the first six years of her life before being sent to Milwaukee to live with a mother she didn't know. Sexually abused and an outcast within her own family, Oprah was forever getting in and out of trouble. She went to spend a couple of years with her father in Nashville then went back to Milwaukee where things didn't get better. She was sent back to her father, pregnant and looking down the barrel of a miserable, sadly predictable life. The baby was born prematurely and died, which she and her father took as a sign to turn her life around. She was firmly back at school, on the honour roll, no less, and then off to university.
“I started acting out my need for attention, my need to be loved,” Oprah told the Washington Post about her childhood with her mom. “My mother didn’t have the time. She worked every day as a maid. … I was smart and my mother, because she didn’t have the time for me, I think, tried to stifle it.” When her father took her in, she said, “it changed the course of my life. He saved me. He simply knew what he wanted and expected. He would take nothing less.”
Her mother was not to be heard from again until Oprah became, well, OPRAH. The legacy coach in me just wants to unite Little Oprah with the woman she was going to become and to help them find compassion and healing with their mother, but our Oprah managed to do it without my help (prob'ly had a team team of coaches) and, in so doing, became mother to many. Twenty-five years. The show began in 1986. I was nineteen years-old and not particularly looking for a mother-figure, but I sit here now wishing she could be my best friend. I'll have to settle for following her lead and spreading some light where I can.
In its original incarnation, the Oprah Winfrey Show was criticised by some for its sensationalist format. At some point in the 90s Oprah had Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, on her show and she had her own come to Jesus moment. Gary, who was an onstage guest of Oprah's last week, was speaking to a couple who had had twin sons, one of whom died in infancy (I believe). Any accomplishment of the surviving twin was brutally painful for his mother who could only see what she had lost. As you can imagine, that would be very damaging to the living twin. "I do something good, and I hurt Mummy." Gary shifted the mother's way of thinking.
"Try not to look at (I think his name was) Ryan as just your son; he was a small soul who came to you to learn something, to teach you something, and he did that. He came here and did what he needed to do, and then he was off onto his next mission, his next adventure." From that day forward, the mother could think of Ryan without despair, and the brother was free to live his best life. And, more importantly for us, Oprah's show changed, as did the woman herself.
She had built the show. She had built her brand. She had built her platform. She had built her bank account! And good for her. She knew she would need every bit of that influence to wake up the world, her ultimate goal. She came to understand that that was what she had been working so hard toward, that which Little Voice needed from her. Tabloid talk show gave way to meaningful conversations. Her producers were not allowed to pitch anything unless it spoke to them on a deeper level. Or was Brad Pitt. Oprah's nobody's fool.
The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school for girls, grades 8-12, opened in Henley on Klip, Gauteng Province, South Africa in 2007. According to the website, "We support the development of a new generation of women leaders who, by virtue of their education and service, will lead the charge to transform themselves, their communities, and the larger world around them. This goal adheres to the Academy’s principles of Ubuntu, which encompass the ideals of humanity, compassion and service to others. The spirit of Ubuntu permeates the Academy and is central to the way in which students think, speak, act and interact with others."
They call her Mom O and she calls them her girls.
Childless, Oprah Gail Winfrey continues to leave her legacy in the world. She teaches us resilience, the importance of forgiveness, compassion, and connection.
Before she exited the stage, though, Oprah reminded us all that, while education is important (and in some circumstances, almost unheard of for young women), the greater priority is healing.
For them. For all of us.
When does the idea of legacy pop up in a person's life? Put another way, who are the people whom I serve? I get the greatest results working with people who are facing the transition of someone arriving in or leaving this world.
The next generation is on its way! I know you want to do your best by them.
Leave the world better.