BY ROSHAWNNA NOVELLUS
Oprah Winfrey has achieved an unprecedented level of success in business. Not only has her work as a media proprietor and talk show host propelled her to a net worth of more than $3 billion, but she is currently cited as one of the greatest philanthropists and most influential people in the world. President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and both Duke and Harvard Universities have awarded her honorary doctoral degrees — a long way away from her impoverished youth in rural Mississippi and inner-city Milwaukee.
As entrepreneurs, there is undoubtedly a wealth of information to be learned from her. Here are five valuable takeaways from Oprah’s life and success:
Your uniqueness is something competitors can’t imitate. Oprah didn’t dominate as a talk show host by imitating Phil Donahue — she did so by doing it her way.
“Listen to your gut.”
In business, success has many different paths. By copying where others are excelling, you’re bringing little value to the market and providing no reason for people to choose to do business with you as opposed to someone else.
Additionally, focusing too much on the competition takes time and energy away from you. Oprah is quoted as saying: “You can’t control the other guy. You only have control over yourself.” Oprah has competed with more than 100 talk shows from “The Ricki Lake Show” to “Geraldo” to “Sally Jessy Raphael.” She persevered and outperformed all these shows because she focused on providing quality content that she and her viewers wanted to see — and less so on ratings and competition.
Believe in yourself and invest in yourself
Oprah didn’t become a communications mogul who inspires millions by taking the easy route or following a traditional career path. Oprah intentionally and strategically made decisions that would have the greatest benefits for her in the long term.
“The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”
In 1986, Oprah’s talk show went national. At this time she was faced with a choice: owning the show herself or drawing a salary. On the advice of her attorney she chose the former and acquired “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from Cap Cities/ABC and founded Harpo Productions, Inc. She now states that this was one of the best decisions of her life — if someone else owned her show, it would have limited her creative freedom and, ultimately, her success. As you probably know, Harpo Productions now includes film, radio, retail, a magazine and a cable network.
Make a plan that you feel passionate about and strive toward it. Don’t make choices that give you the immediate reward. Aggressively pursue the path that will lead you to your ultimate end goal.
Do something you love and do your best work always
There’s no doubt that when you’re doing something you love, you’re going to do a better job. Oprah discusses how passion is energy and the strength you receive from something you feel strongly about will propel to do much better work than something you have lukewarm feelings about.
“You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it.”
Another Oprah quote: “When you do your best, people notice.” Whether you’re a chef or a businessperson, if you put out incredible work, others will be drawn to you. The world is filled with mediocrity and the majority works just hard enough to get their paycheck and get by. If you provide excellence consistently, you will be rewarded.
Don’t believe in failure
What many would consider as a failure, Oprah would consider as a new perspective, lesson or stepping stone on the path to success. For many of us, the fear of failure can be absolutely paralyzing, and therefore this frame of mind can’t be undervalued. Mistakes and setbacks are what shape us into great success. Succumbing to thinking you’ve failed is the only real failure.
Oprah has had a number of obstacles and embarrassing moments. When she was co-anchor of the evening news in Baltimore, she was left bald by a botched hair treatment that ruined her hair. As appearance is essential to someone on TV, she was devastated, but that didn’t stop her. She laughs about the situation now saying: “You learn a lot about yourself when you’re bald.”
Position yourself for luck
Too often, we think that people achieve success by being born into the right family, living in the right city or other random factors that we have no control over. The reality is that luck isn’t as arbitrary as many people think.
Oprah believes “luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.”
If you are well-prepared, you open yourself up to the opportunities that will cross your path. Every entrepreneur hopes to get a huge spike in traffic or land a high-roller client, but if they spend their only time hoping, those favorable circumstances are unlikely to arrive. Here are three questions to get in the correct mindset: What opportunity would I most like to receive in my life? If this opportunity came today, am I completely prepared to make the most of it? What can I do to be more prepared?
Oprah’s success as a talk show host and businesswoman wasn’t left to chance. She has continuously offered something unique and valuable to millions of people. She has worked passionately on something she loved, kept creative control in her hands, and delivered a product that was true to herself. Because of her persevering uniqueness, she opened herself up to the opportunities that made her the wealthy and influential woman she is today.