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Few people in history have achieved the same level of proficiency as Oprah Winfrey. Best known for her multi-award-winning talk show on the day, Oprah also founded her own television network (OWN), received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, was nominated for an Oscar, and became the first black billionaire in the United States.
While Oprah is known for encouraging others to live their best lives, there are some valuable lessons we can learn from Oprah's own life story.
1. Your past doesn't define you
Oprah's success contrasts sharply with her upbringing. Oprah was born to an unmarried teenage mother and spent the first few years of her life in extreme poverty on her maternal grandmother's farm. She left the farm when she was six to join her mother, Vernita, in Milwaukee. Unfortunately there was no improvement in living conditions there; While her mother was at work, Oprah was repeatedly harassed by male relatives and a family friend.
This abuse set Oprah on a dangerous path that led to promiscuity and ultimately pregnancy at the age of 14. After her son died shortly after birth, Oprah moved to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father, Vernon.
The move to Tennessee proved to be a turning point in Oprah's life. Guided by her father's strict rules and insisting that she work hard to reach her full potential, Oprah turned her life around. She became an honorary student, received awards for oratory and dramatic recitation, and won the Miss Black Tennessee title at age 17.
Oprah didn't let her previous experiences define her. Instead of basing her identity on a past life of poverty, abuse and promiscuity, Oprah focused on her potential and embarked on a new path – one that led to success.
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2. Education is the key to progress
Oprah has stated that her father's love of learning was key to changing her life. She believes that improving someone's circumstances alone will not lead to a better life. The only way a person can really grow is by changing the way they think.
Oprah learned this lesson after a failed attempt to help poor families in the Chicago area. As Oprah describes in an article for O Magazine, “… I got the wrong idea about moving families out of the projects into new homes. Trying to show people how to build a successful life has been overwhelming – assuming they understood what it means to go to work, be on time, and make sure their kids go to school and do their homework do. I failed with this idea, but I learned something invaluable: To make meaningful changes, you have to change the way people think. "
Regardless of your circumstances, you should never stop learning. The only way to improve your life is to first change your mind about what is happening through education.
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3. Don't be afraid to try something new
Much of Oprah's success comes from taking risks and being willing to break new ground. She began her broadcasting career on a radio station in the Nashville area soon after she won the Miss Black Tennessee title. She continued working there for several years until she was offered a job as a news anchor for a local television station.
This was just the first of many opportunities Oprah took advantage of. Other people in a similar situation may let the fear of failure deter them from taking risks. But instead of being complacent, Oprah kept learning and growing.
This willingness to take risks and break new ground has continued throughout her career. Even after the amazing success of the Oprah Winfrey Show, she refused to rest on her laurels. Instead, she started a television station and published her own magazine to prove again that success comes from enforcing fear and risk failure by trying something new.
4. Be authentic and intentional
When the Oprah Winfrey Show started, like most other talk shows during the day, it focused on sensational topics. After Oprah recorded a show in which a woman on the air found out that her husband had been unfaithful, she made a conscious decision to change the format of the show to suit her values.
In an article for O Magazine, Oprah stated, “At that moment I decided I would never again be part of a show that humiliates, embarrasses, or diminishes another person. I have replaced the news philosophy, "When it bleeds, it leads" with an intention that still guides me – to use the medium of television for your greater good. "
From that point on, the Oprah Winfrey Show shifted its focus away from important issues towards self-improvement, spirituality and healthy living. This was new territory for a daytime talk show.
Regardless of the risk, Oprah let her principles take the lead. She explains, “When the lightbulb came on for me that day, my calling was to create shows that encourage and inspire as much as they entertain – television that gives guests their dignity and helps us all live in our lives to see another way. "
The change in format proved beneficial; This added to the show's even greater recognition and popularity, and demonstrated that you don't have to compromise your values to be successful. On the contrary, deliberate, authentic decisions can often lead to greater success.
Related: 5 Essential Business Lessons You Can Learn From Billionaire Oprah Winfrey
5. Find success and meaning through service
Oprah did not achieve the height of success by continuously tracking it. Instead, her primary goal was to fulfill her calling as a teacher and to serve others.
In an article for O Magazine, Oprah stated, “I know for a fact that if you want to be successful, you cannot make success your goal. The key is not to worry about success, but to work towards being meaningful – and success will of course follow. How can you serve your path to greatness? As you shift your focus from success to service, your job as a teacher, clerk, doctor, or dotcomer will immediately become more meaningful. "
Our culture tends to believe that success must be persistently pursued at all costs. Oprah's life shows that you can create a meaningful existence and become successful simply by serving others.