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Lesson #2: Rise Above Your Obstacles
“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity,” says Oprah. “Don't fight them. Just find a different way to stand.”
Oprah is a woman of extremes; she is extremely successful, extremely powerful and extremely passionate about what she does. But, her success has come at the end of a long road of other extremes: obstacles. From sexual molestation to drug abuse to racism, Oprah has endured an inordinate amount of both personal and professional challenges on her path to becoming the richest woman in America.
Born as a poor, black, and out of wedlock child, Oprah already had the odds stacked against her. Raped at the age of nine and sexually harassed by family members for the next four years, Oprah turned to a life of rebellion and drugs. It was not until she went to live with her father, who imposed strict discipline on the young Oprah and encouraged her education that she began to turn her life around. With a renewed focus on school and the encouragement of her father, she overcame the mental trauma of harassment and went on to win a scholarship at a reputable university.
Reflecting on her youth, Oprah says, “You can take from every experience what it has to offer you. And you cannot be defeated if you just keep taking one breath followed by another.”
She has extended this philosophy into the professional realm as well. Faced with both racial and gender discrimination in the world of American broadcasting in the 1980s, Oprah was even more determined to succeed. Ironically, Oprah also experienced racism from African Americans, who believed she was only hired as a ‘token’ minority due to quotas that were imposed following the riots of the 1970s. To this, Oprah responded, “Yeah, but I'm a paid token.”
Despite the blows she was routinely dealt, Oprah never stopped fighting to achieve her goals. She became the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WTVF-TV.
Initially unsuccessful as a news anchor and thrown off the air due to her tendency to get emotional, the event made Oprah realize her passion for television. “I came off the air and said to myself, ‘this is what I should be doing. It's like breathing.’” Fueled with this newly ignited desire, she re-invented herself as a talk show host and used her ability to relate to people to propel her into becoming the most successful female television talk show host of all time.
“We are each responsible for our own life – no other person is or even can be,” says Oprah. That is why it is crucial not to let challenges, be they your own characteristics, events, people, or other uncontrollable factors, act as barriers between you and your goals.
“Energy is the essence of life,” she says. “Every day you decide how you’re going to use it by knowing what you want and what it takes to reach that goal, and by maintaining focus.” Overcoming the obstacles present in your life is precisely what will give you the confidence to achieve your goals.
Having triumphed over those hurdles she faced on her meteoric rise up, Oprah continuously faces new challenges with the increasing scope and success of her media empire. The difference now is that she is better equipped to deal with the challenges. “You are built not to shrink down to less but to blossom into more,” she says. “The right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it.”
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