I had mixed feelings when I headed out last Friday night to attend Oprah Winfrey’s two-day event called “Live the Life You Want.” First, I respect Oprah for creating her own success and for using her TV talk show to empower women to read books, examine their spirituality, and give back. But I also wondered what I personally might gain from a weekend event at a sports/rockstar arena crammed with 17,000 people, surrounded by a tent city of corporate sponsors giving away free samples of anti-wrinkle cream.
Bottom line: I’m very glad I went. Many of her messages resonated with me, and – yes! – Oprah has much life wisdom to share. More important, as one of her own life’s goals, she is choosing to share with others what she has learned. She wants to “live her best life and help others to do so.”
The arena was packed, floor to rafters, with enthusiastic people. By chatting with others, my girlfriend Rita and I found that women had flown to Seattle from San Diego, Kansas, and Canada to touch Oprah’s magic. More than 90 percent of the viewers were women, with a smattering of brave men. Most were white, but there were also a significant number of black women. Several women told me their 20-something daughters were not interested, but, in our 60s, we were on the older end of the spectrum. Most in the audience were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. The high-decibel, heart-thumping rock music and the expectation that we stand and dance to it were clearly aimed at a younger demographic! Older Oprah fans probably prefer to watch her on TV in the quiet of their homes, without worrying about traffic or parking.
Early in her opening talk on Friday night, Oprah said that, as a very little girl in Mississippi, she was told she would make a good preacher. And she does! The inspiring tones and the empowering message of generations of black preachers rang through. She told us that “spirituality/faith/beliefs” is the most important ingredient in the life she wants, and she talked a lot about “listening for the voice” and “finding your calling.” She tried to use the words “higher being” rather than “God,” but she did say, “There will come a time when you will be about your Father’s business.”
To me, the most inspiring part of the weekend was Oprah’s opening talk on Friday, when she examined her own life for lessons learned. Among them:
- No matter how humble your origins, you matter. As a girl, Oprah was taught that she was “a child of God” and she believed it.
- Speak up for yourself. When she entered kindergarten, she recited for the teacher the “big words” she knew. She was immediately promoted to first grade.
- Take charge of your life. At eight, she memorized the poem “Invictus,” including the famous lines, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
- Even if you’ve made mistakes, embrace a second chance. She messed up her life as a young teenager, but her mother sent her live with her father, who gave her a second chance.
- You are the co-creator of your life. After winning “Miss Fire Prevention,” she was offered a part-time job at a radio station at age sixteen. She took it.
- Recognize when it’s time to move on. She moved to Baltimore, and then Chicago, and more recently she ended her TV show and took on new challenges.
- Learn how to be yourself and stay true to who you really are. The Baltimore TV station sent her to New York for a makeover and a French stylist made a wreck of her hair. She switched to an Afro.
- Follow your own inner voice. After interviewing a skinhead for her TV show, she decided to change the emphasis of the show and interview only people she found inspiring. She stopped letting TV use her and began to use TV. “When you can’t decide, get still and silent till you do.”
- If you want something badly, work hard to achieve it, but there may come a time when you need to surrender and accept whatever happens. She badly wanted to act in the movie “The Color Purple” and was convinced she would not get the part; she told of how she made a decision to stop obsessing about it and accept the outcome. Of course, she got the part.
- When troubles are getting you down, be grateful for how fortunate you are. Headlines about “Oprah’s struggling network” had turned her thoughts negative; she turned her attitude around by focusing on how amazing it is that she has her own TV network.
By attending the event, I witnessed for myself what makes Oprah Winfrey successful: she has a charming, magnetic personality, with directness and honesty and humor and willingness to show vulnerability and share even the worst moments of her life. Despite all her money and power and celebrity, she makes us feel she understands us. Now that’s magic!
Much of her message was aimed at women who are dissatisfied with their life and need motivation and direction. But she did go beyond that, for those of us who are already leading the lives we want.
As you gain control of your life, Oprah said, find ways to serve others and give back. She supports a school for girls in South Africa, and she seems to have fashioned this eight-city tour not just to make money but to help even more American women improve their lives. Oprah also now hosts a weekly interview show called “Super Soul Sunday” – at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings – appealing to those many women who have given up on traditional religion but are look for a deeper spiritual life.
After 25 years with a wildly successful TV talk show, she has gone on to higher things – and truly intends to make a difference in as many lives as possible. Yep, I’d say that’s wisdom.