Long before there were social media influencers, there was Oprah... and she influenced much more than what brand of moisturizer we purchased.
She reached multiple generations of women (and men) from numerous backgrounds, and helped us believe that we too could be influencers in our own way by making the world a little bit better each day. She inspired us to be better, while reminding us that we were already enough.
So on her 65th birthday, we wanted to take some time to thank her for all she's done for millions of women, by listing just 10 of the many reasons we're grateful for her.
1. For reminding us that even the most accomplished people once doubted their abilities.
During an interview with Larry King, Oprah shared that when filming began for The Color Purple, she still wasn't sure if she could act. But that didn't stop her from trying.
She actually took acting books with her to set. It wasn't until this famous monologue that she knew she could. And she's since delivered stunning performances in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Butler, and Selma (just to name a few).
2. For teaching us how to pay it forward.
Oprah at an orphanage in South Africa
In 2003, Oprah shared a memory of her favorite childhood Christmas with her audience. Her mom had told her they weren't going to have Christmas because they couldn't afford it. Oprah says this is when she stopped believing in Santa Claus, "'Cause now he ain't coming cause we're poor?"
She was worried what would happen when the other kids asked her what she got for Christmas, and she'd have to say, "nothing." But the day was saved when three nuns showed up at her house on Christmas morning with food and presents. "That was the best Christmas of my life, because somebody remembered, and I wasn't going to have to be the kid that said I got nothing."
That same year, she went to South Africa to personally give Christmas gifts to no less than 2,000 children a day, because she wanted to give them the same feeling the nuns gave her, that "somebody remembered you."
3. For showing us that "failure" often has a silver lining.
Oprah credits being demoted as a news anchor in Baltimore with opening the door for her to pursue her true passion - helping people. In her words, "I was not a good television reporter. I was too emotional." Her demotion allowed her to start using this "weakness" as what is now seen as one of her greatest strengths - empathy.
4. For teaching us that, “There is no real doing in the world, without being first.”
It's easy to get caught up in the rat race, be it in career or another aspect of our lives. But Oprah's always been a calming voice, reminding us to look internally - to be present - before we turn our sights outward. From that, the "doing" comes naturally. "[If you want to change the world], you can only do that if you know yourself."
5. For leading by example and inspiring all of us to overcome the adversity in our lives. (And reminding us that luck and timing matter, too.)
Oprah was born in Mississippi the same year the famous Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education established that, "separate but equal is inherently unequal."
Born in a place and at a time when the deck was naturally stacked against her, Oprah actually considers herself lucky for being born "at the right time," and for leaving Mississippi before having to spend any time in a segregated school there. Otherwise, she's not sure if she'd be where she is today.
By any measure, Oprah defied the odds for a young black girl growing up in poverty in the U.S. in the 50s and 60s, but that doesn't even begin to account for the trying moments Oprah encountered and overcame to be who she is now.
When she was 14, she became pregnant after being abused and hid the pregnancy for seven months. Her mother actually took her to a detention home, but it was full, so she went and lived with her father instead. Oprah sees this a saving grace, because it prevented her from being stigmatized as a "bad girl."
The child ultimately passed away shortly after birth, and Oprah seized on that as a second chance to make her life what she wanted it to be.
Through her own actions, Oprah has taught us not to underestimate the role of luck, timing, and resilience in shaping our destiny.
6. For achieving so many firsts and making it easier for others to follow in her footsteps.
President Obama awarding Oprah with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
From talk show host to movie star to philanthropist to chairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions and The Oprah Winfrey Network, it's hard to think of anything she can't do. The first black woman billionaire, and recipient of way too many awards to list here, Oprah's achievements are not just her own.
They are victories for women, people of color, and anyone who has felt the disadvantages of a deck stacked against them. As she's reached new levels of success in business, film, media, and more, she's not just broken down barriers - she's paved the way for others to follow her. At the very least, she's been a face millions of children can look up to and be inspired by. A face they can see themselves in.
7. For reminding us that nobody has it "together" in their mid twenties. And that's okay.
Talking with a young guest on her show, Oprah reminisced about how she felt when she was 25 - "I was a wreck." She didn't feel fulfilled by her career and wasn't sure where she was headed... but that's okay, she said. "This is what the 20s are for, for figuring this stuff out."
So to my fellow twenty-somethings, don't fret - not even Oprah was impervious to a mid-20s existential crisis. And look how well things turned out for her!
8. For teaching us that listening matters and that we are enough.
On her last show, she famously said, "You alone are enough...I've talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?'"
If we take this to be true, then each of us has the power to remind others of their worth simply by listening to them. And we affirm our own when we remember that we deserve to be heard.
9. For reminding us that there will be times when we don't know what to do, and that's okay.
In a recent interview with People, Oprah confided that when her mother was on her deathbed, she wasn't sure how to say goodbye. After 30+ years helping others find words to express themselves, she couldn't find her own.
"Isn't this strange," she said, "I'm Oprah Winfrey, reading a hospice care book on what to say at the end." She eventually realized that she had to find the answer on her own - that it wouldn't be in a book. But we can all learn from her vulnerability and humility - sometimes, no matter how much of an expert we think we are, we will be faced with a challenge and find ourselves at a loss for words. And that's okay - we just have to keep searching.
10. For teaching us all to appreciate the little things.
As rich and famous as she is, Oprah still knows the value of gratitude.
In her words, "If you concentrate on what you have, you will always end up having more. If you focus on what you don't have, you will never, ever, ever have enough."
She started a gratitude journal and wrote down 5 things each night that she was grateful for without fail for a decade. It's amazing how your mindset starts to shift when you begin each day actively looking for the good things you want to write down that night.
- 1. For reminding us that even the most accomplished people once doubted their abilities.
- 2. For teaching us how to pay it forward.
- 3. For showing us that "failure" often has a silver lining.
- 4. For teaching us that, “There is no real doing in the world, without being first.”
- 5. For leading by example and inspiring all of us to overcome the adversity in our lives. (And reminding us that luck and timing matter, too.)
- 6. For achieving so many firsts and making it easier for others to follow in her footsteps.
- 7. For reminding us that nobody has it "together" in their mid twenties. And that's okay.
- 8. For teaching us that listening matters and that we are enough.
- 9. For reminding us that there will be times when we don't know what to do, and that's okay.
- 10. For teaching us all to appreciate the little things.