Why should I care about Oprah?

Introducing someone by their credentials, association or their net worth is not uncommon. But rarely are you able highlight one’s accomplishments through the number of lives they’ve impacted.

If you owned a TV 25 years ago, you likely heard the name Oprah Winfrey. (Oh! Or unless you were that saleswoman at a Tom Ford store in in Switzerland of course). “How Oprah has changed the way we live” was an article CNN published on the media mogul and philanthropist. Recognized for shaping our culture for the better, Oprah played a significant part in influencing many aspects of our lives such as knowledge-sharing through book clubs, encouraging candid discussions around taboo topics including sexual abuse, weight challenges and enhancing race relations where only friction used to exist.

Through it all, Oprah has trusted her intuition in every vital decision she has ever made. “You have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way can illuminate the world.” With the right combination of gut, belief and strength, Oprah created her “biggest adventure” by working hard to build and live the life of her dreams, every day.

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So what did she build?

The Oprah Winfrey Show

When the show launched, it reached 10 million people across 192 cities. Within five months it became the third-highest rated talk show, grossing $125 million within its first year. During its 25 year reign, The Oprah Winfrey Show broke record after television record and made Oprah one of the most influential people in America.

Harpo Productions

Shortly after, Oprah formed Harpo Productions (her name spelled backwards) and took over ownership and the production of The Oprah Winfrey Show from ABC. The move made Oprah the third woman in history to own and produce her own show and media production company.

The Oprah Winfrey Network

Oprah believed that “everything you’ve ever done prepares you for all that you can do and be.” In 2011, she retired from the The Oprah Winfrey Show to start a new chapter. “I’ve been blessed to build over 25 years and use it to keep building, reaching, and teaching.” Oprah decided to focus her energy on her own network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which was a joint venture with Discovery Communications. Debuted in on January 1, 2011, OWN featured a lineup of original series and specials that focused on entertaining, informing and inspiring viewers to live their best lives.

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Back up, it’s too good to be true. How did she build it?

Tackling mishaps and roadblocks with courage, Oprah rarely shies away from taking full responsibility for her actions. In fact, the consistency in her attitude and approach is what makes her a highly respectable public figure.

WJZ-TV (ABC Affiliate)

Oprah landed her first on a prime time spot at the young age of 19 as co-anchor for the evening news ABC affiliate WJZ-TV in Baltimore. She was dropped after just a few months when she failed to meet the public’s expectations and had personality clashes with the co-anchor. Oprah has called her early years at WJZ the “first and worst failure of her TV career.” When many would have quit, she used those lessons to steer her in the right direction.

People are Talking

Oprah discovered that while she was unable to stay emotionally detached when covering new stories as a co-anchor, she did enjoy covering human interest stories and thrived on being able to build a deep connection with those she interviewed. Instead of continuing on in news, she took the opportunity to co-host a new talk show called People are Talking. While many would have viewed the move as a demotion, none of this deterred Oprah. She trusted her gut. She knew was heading down the right path and she was right. Oprah showed how she could resonate with and engage viewers and People are Talking continued for five years.

The Oprah Winfrey Show

Her biggest break was when producer Quincy Jones offered her a role in The Color Purple where her acting won her nominations for an Academy Award. Riding this high, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” made its national debut in 1986. The Show was the number one talk show for 24 consecutive years and even after production, it still stands as one of the longest-running daytime television talk shows in history.

However, the show was not without controversy:

  • In a response to mad cow disease, Oprah stated that the disease fears had “stopped me cold from eating another burger!” Texas ranchers considered that defamation and sued her for libel.
  • Guests witnessed the discussing the sexual act of “rimming, with no apparent notice, igniting complaints from parents whose children watched the show in an early-evening slot.
  • Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was declined an invite to the Show until after the election.
  • Aired a segment sponsored by the McDonald’s Corporation which featured stereotypes on how Australians liked to hang out at “hip McCafés”. In the same episode, McDonald’s products were handed out to the studio audience.

The Oprah Winfrey Network

With low ratings and unable to meet even modest targets before its debut, OWN has struggled to find an audience; coming in at an average of 505,000 viewers in its first week in 2011. Shortly after, the channel announced that it would undergo a major overhaul, laying off dozens of staff, including the Chief Executive Officer. In roughly two years past launch, it was reported the channel had absorbed $330 million in losses.

In true Oprah spirit, she stayed focused, pivoted and replenished the channel with creative, meaningful, and mindful programming. Gradually turning the ratings around, she tells the world “What I know for sure: fear comes from uncertainty. Once you clarify your purpose for doing something, the way to do it becomes clear.”

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Mind over matter: honouring your inner voice

Trusting your gut in overcoming roadblocks is one of the most helpful tips Oprah has taught us. But implementing it makes it one of the more challenging things to do. A Fast Company article defines “gut” as:

“It’s this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive. It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.”

Keeping in mind that she is responsible for herself, and that it was up to her to make good, Oprah honours her inner conscience and intuition; allowing her internal spark light the way in all of the initiatives she has ever taken on.

In closing, Oprah’s recipe for success is simple: follow your instincts, that’s where true wisdom manifests itself.

We often make a snap judgement based on intuition, rather than deliberating with available information. What influences the decisions you make in life? Do you rely on your gut and if so, where has that led you? I’d love to hear!

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