Oprah Winfrey’s life story is a great example of a woman who has risen from poverty and overcome extreme adversity to become one of the richest and most powerful American women in the world and the first ever African-American female billionaire.
An inspiration to so many, this media executive, actress, talk show host, television producer and philanthropist has been ‘ranked the greatest black philanthropist in American history’, plus one of the most powerful and influential women in the world.
However, Oprah’s life and journey to stardom was far from an easy one. Oprah is an example of how often the strongest people go through the most difficult times, yet it’s how they deal with it that makes them who they are.
“An Extraordinary person who lived through hell”
David Letterman described Oprah as “An extraordinary person who lived through hell,” yet despite the struggle, abuse and pain, she prevailed, standing strong and brave. What’s more, Oprah isn’t afraid to own who she is and share what she’s been through in order to become who she is today. She speaks her truth and empowers countless other people to do the same. This is why her story inspires millions across the world and makes her so relatable.
Oprah is a real-life example of what can be overcome in order to become what you know you are capable of being: A true inspiration.
A difficult start to life
Oprah was born in 1954 into rural poverty in Mississippi. Her teenage, single mother left Oprah shortly after her birth looking for work as a house maid. Oprah lived with her grandmother for the first six years of her life, who she says was very strict. It has been reported that during this time, she was so poor that she did not have shoes and often wore dresses made of potato sacks.
According to the Irish Examiner, when she appeared at Ball State University, Indiana, Oprah shared how her grandma used to beat her so hard she would bleed:
“She whipped me so badly that I had welts on my back and the welts would bleed. And then when I put on my Sunday dress, I was bleeding from the welts. And then she was very upset with me because I got blood on the dress. So then I got another whipping for getting blood on the dress…. Anybody who has been verbally abused or physically abused will spend a great deal of their life rebuilding their esteem,” Winfrey said.
Despite this, Oprah looks for the positive aspects in her life and shared how, thanks to this start in life, she learnt to read before she was three and loved to recite and give speeches at Church.
An upheaval to everything she had ever known
When she was six, little Oprah was sent north to live with her mother and half brothers in a poor and dangerous Milwaukee ghetto, which was a very different lifestyle to what she was used to on the rural farm. Her mother was busy and often not around, so Oprah was often left alone with other family members. According to reports the household was busy and little Oprah was even made to sleep on the porch.
Oprah bravely spoke out about the child sexual abuse she endured for years. “I was raped at nine years old by a cousin, then again by another family member, and another family member.” She openly shared her experience to help other women who had been through similar experiences, to know that they are not alone and that it is ok to talk about it to process it.
Life changed when life was lost
Oprah moved to live with her father at 14, but was hiding a big secret – she was pregnant. She said that she tried to hide the pregnancy as she felt “pain and shame.” Sadly her baby was born prematurely and died shortly after birth. Oprah saw this painful time as a reminder of how precious life is and vowed to do all she could with her life.
Turning things around
“My father turned my life around by insisting that I be more than I was,” she said in an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine in 1991. “His love of learning showed me the way… Books showed me there were possibilities in life… Reading gave me hope. For me it was the open door.”
Winfrey has said that her strict father saved her life, providing her with guidance, structure, rules, and books. He required his daughter to complete weekly book reports, and she had to learn five new vocabulary words each day, otherwise she went without dinner.
Oprah became an excellent student and flourished at school. She was elected to be the school president and an active part of the drama club, debate club, public speaking classes and the student council.
Oprah won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University as a result of a speaking contest and was even invited to a White House Conference on Youth.
During her freshman year at Tennessee State, Winfrey as crowned Miss Black Nashville and Miss Tennessee. The Nashville Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate offered her a job, which Winfrey turned down twice.
However, her speech teacher encouraged her to go for it saying that job offers from CBS were “the reason people go to college.” By 19 Oprah dropped out of her degree to become the youngest and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV.
Achieving phenomenal success despite circumstances
Oprah has worked hard to achieve phenomenal success despite her circumstances. She is an amazing example of how mindset and motivation can help you overcome anything. As Celebrity therapist Marisa Peer shares, we cannot change what happens to us, but we can change the meaning we attach to it. It is the stories we tell ourselves and the movies we play out in our mind that influences our sense of self, worth and the world around us.
“The mind has the most powerful potential on the planet” says Marisa Peer. In her Rules of the Mind article, Marisa explains that “every thought you think causes a physical reaction and an emotional response within you. First, you make your beliefs and then your beliefs make you.”
Looking for the positives
During her appearance at Ball State University, Oprah managed to convey a positive attitude to her experiences and was even thankful, she said, for everything that happened.
“I would take nothing from my journey… Everybody’s looking for the same thing, that sense of ‘was I okay?’ That means, do you hear me and is what I’m saying important to you.’ Everyone is looking for that validation. I know what it feels like to not be wanted… you can use it as a stepping stone to build great empathy for people.”
Real life stories of inspiration and transformation
If you relate to anything covered in this story and would like some useful tools and techniques to implement in your life, please read: Real Life Stories: Overcoming PTSD.
This article on Stress Management is also a useful resource. Marisa shares how “Any traumatic experience can form deep-rooted beliefs that affect our behaviour on a subconscious level. Rapid Transformational Therapy helps people understand and transform the underlying issues, freeing people from any limiting beliefs, reprogramming the mind for success. Learning stress management techniques can benefit all areas of your life.”
Rapid Transformational Therapy is Marisa’s revolutionary approach to therapy. In this process, a client explores the role, purpose, function and intention of any issue to help them understand the underlying cause, begin to overcome it and set their mind up for success.
If you would like more information please visit Rapid Transformational Therapy where you can download lots more free resources, masterclasses, and relaxing transformative audios.
What’s your story?
Oprah concludes that “Everybody has a story and your story is equally as valuable and important as my story. My story just helped define and shape me, as does everybody’s story.”
If you have a story to share…
We love to hear your real-life stories of how RTT has impacted you or your clients’ lives. If you would like to share your experience with the wider community, so as many people can benefit as possible, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.