Oprah Winfrey spoke at the Smith College commencement in May 2017. I’ve not watched much Oprah, but have been impressed by her reach and success. So, I found it notable that she attributed a key turning point in her success, when she re-framed her work from “being used by tv” to creating a platform to “be of service to its viewers”.
Oprah also had a sponsored “academy daughter” (Mpungose) and she commented: “She came here praying that she’d measure up. She leaves confident and assured, with her heart on fire to serve a cause greater than her own. When you educate a girl, you are not just educating her, you are educating her to create opportunities for others.”
Some quotes below, and a video of her speech:
“This understanding that there is an alignment between who you are and what you do is the real, true empowerment”
“I would no longer be used by television; I would use television to create a platform that could be of service to its viewers.”
“Shift the paradigm to service and the rewards will come”
When 19 – I was happy to have a job… I was on TV… it wasn’t until I was 30 did I realize I didn’t want to just be on tv… I was interviewing the Ku Klux Klan
(you can learn from anything)
I thought I was using them…. but I found out they were using me as a recruitment platform… I made a decision I would no longer be used by television… I would figure out a way for television to be used by me… turn it into a platform that could be of service to viewers – in that moment – my life changed… to inform, to inspire, to entertain… the notion of intention, knowing why - could also change the paradigm for every show
I will only do shows which align with my truth…
I will not fake it.
Authentic empowerment… the real true empowerment – the only empowerment is when you use who you are, what you’ve been to serve the calling you have…
When figured that out, the show took off…
Fulfilment is the major definition of success for me.
Oprah also has a strand to her personal practice of being grateful. This chimes with a decent amount of research into this. Oprah believes gratitude → success; not success then gratitude. This is similar to some of the happiness thinking that positivity / happiness → success; not success then happiness.
This gratitude practice also seems to have really helped Sheryl Sandberg through the death of her partner a few years ago. More on this anon.
If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try: Ursula K Le Guin on literature as an operating manual for life; Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; Charlie Munger on always inverting; JK Rowling on the benefits of failure. There is also Anne Lamott on writing and truth as paradox.