How Oprah Winfrey Overcame Adversity and Set the Stage for Success
The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.Oprah Winfrey
You’re no doubt aware of the incredible level of success that Oprah Winfrey has achieved. Beyond wealth and accolades, Oprah has shattered ceilings and inspired millions of people around the world.
And yet, many have no idea the depths of poverty she rose from.
In the You Got This – Overcoming Solopreneur Fears series, we’re going to explore how many of the most famous entrepreneurs and solopreneurs got their start in life and in business. We’ll learn what fears and obstacles they overcame to achieve success, and look for lessons that we can take from their experiences!
Solopreneur Inspiration: Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born in in 1954 in rural Mississippi, and could hardly have entered the world in poorer conditions.1
She spent her formative years going back and forth between her mother, her grandmother, her father, and back, always struggling with her circumstances.
Being a poor, black girl in America in the 1960s was hardly a recipe for mind-blowing success.
Yet, succeed she did.
From an early age, Oprah showed tremendous strength of personality. Her grandmother often recalled how naturally Oprah took to the stage and performed – whether she was actually on a stage or not.
It was this rich personality that led her to join and excel at television broadcasting.
A Television Pioneer
In 1971, while she was still in high school, Oprah’s style and emotional delivery won her the attention of and a position with a radio station in Nashville. After transitioning to TV in Nashville and later Baltimore, she eventually moved to Chicago in 1983 to host the low-rated morning show, AM Chicago.
Within months, Oprah Winfrey overtook Phil Donahue as the top rated talk show in Chicago. After a few years, the show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and went on to air for 25 years.
Oprah’s unique style resulted in an entirely new form of communication on television – that of a more intimate confessional, despite being on national tv. Her total empathy with guests – often to the point of tears – created an environment where they felt more willing to share personal stories.
She popularized and revolutionized what’s referred to as “tabloid talk shows.” Newsday‘s Les Payne wrote, “Oprah Winfrey is sharper than Donahue, wittier, more genuine, and far better attuned to her audience, if not the world.”
Don’t Believe What You’re Told
How did she do all of that, and more?
By not believing what she was told.
While being poor, black, and female in rural Mississippi may have been facts of her early life, Oprah did not believe that those labels were the sum total of her existence.
She did not believe that she was limited by those labels.
She did not believe the people in her life who were telling her that she would never amount to anything because of those labels.
Oprah could have easily let those whispers become the story that she told herself, but she chose differently. She faced her fears and challenges and believed in herself.
Our stories… they’re powerful, aren’t they?
What stories are you telling yourself, right now?
Are you listening to people around you who say that you can’t do it? You can’t possibly build a business online. There’s no way you can make enough money doing that. That’s impossible.
Or, are you listening to the kind of person who supports and encourages you?
Oprah’s grandmother is a great example of such a person. She saw early on that Oprah had a passion and skill for public speaking and encouraged it.
But more importantly than that, Oprah’s grandmother supported that young woman so thoroughly that she helped cultivate a positive sense of self-worth.
She believed in Oprah, which allowed Oprah to believe in herself.
Overcome Fears & Self Doubt
While we may not share Oprah’s original challenges, we can all relate to the fear of not being good enough.
Whether it’s starting a new business, publishing a new blog post, or standing up in front of a crowd of people, we can give into the fear that we won’t be accepted, we’ll be humiliated, and we’ll fail.
We can tell ourselves that it’s a terrible idea, it will never work, and that we need to save ourselves from the pain and embarrassment the idea represents.
Or, we can tell ourselves that’s just a story, and it doesn’t have to be our story.
We can, and should, resist those fears and self-doubts.
Here’s some great advice on Oprah’s show about pushing past fear to find your purpose:
One of the reasons we look to famous solopreneurs and entrepreneurs (other than the simple fact that their stories are easily accessible) is to look at people who came from the same places we came from, had the same fears that we’ve had, and yet were able to overcome and succeed.
It’s inspiring and reassuring to learn their stories and to use that knowledge to solidify the story we want to believe for and of ourselves.
Everyday People Doing Extraordinary Things…
Travis Wilkerson grew up American poor, in a house without running water or a bathroom. He was taught that all rich people are evil and greedy.
In his early twenties he met his first mentor who showed him how to raise himself out of poverty through investing… without doing evil.
Travis was hooked. He was so excited, he talked about it all day… to his wife. She, unfortunately, did not share his love for investing. She did, though, make one suggestion that changed Travis’s life forever.
Now let’s hear the rest of the story from Travis himself…
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