“Your true work on earth is your offering. It’s the way you express yourself in service to the world.” — Oprah Winfrey
Last week, Intuit Corporation staged a big event for thousands of small businesses in San Jose called “Intuit QuickBooks Connect.” Several weeks earlier, the Intuit team had locked down Oprah Winfrey as the main speaker. I know this because my wife, Heather McLellan, runs corporate communications for the Small Business Group at Intuit. That’s her on the left in the picture above.
Now, if you think booking Oprah is merely a matter of throwing gobs of cash in her direction, reconsider your perspective. Because when you have an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion, that tactic may not motivate you.
Speaking personally, when you’re worth that kind of money, were raised in abject poverty in an abusive household, embody the definition of self reliance, AND are a positive force, then I want to learn more from you. Let’s be clear. I’m not by nature any type of an Oprah fan. While I don’t have anything against her, I typically don’t follow her. But my wife urged me to watch the presentation. Although I didn’t get down to San Jose to watch Oprah ‘live,’ I am currently the only human being on the planet with a raw video copy of her presentation. No I cannot upload the video unless I want to risk being sued by Harpo Productions and Intuit Corporation. And yes, I was blown away as Heather told me I would be. Here are nine impactful principles I took away.
Ensure Consistency — After jokingly mocking the overuse of the term “brand,” Oprah made it clear the most important brand characteristic is consistency. A customer must feel like she can trust and depend on a brand over time. If you want to think about yourself as a personal brand, this is still very true. Showing up inconsistently will indicate to those around you they cannot count on you.
Follow Your Intuition — Oprah mentioned a few times in her life when she became extremely aware and tuned into herself. She used an appearance by a group of skinheads on her talk show decades ago as an example of one of these intuitive moments. After the show, she sensed she was being used for someone else’s agenda. Her decision from that moment on was to only showcase “positive stuff” on her program from that point forward. In Oprah’s words, “Once you make a decision, the energy of the universe rises up to meet you exactly where you are.” And this is apparently what happened in Oprah’s case, as the world eventually noticed she wasn’t delivering just another sensational afternoon talk show, and she subsequently crushed the ratings.
Focus On Intention — If you were to select the one principle Oprah emphasizes the most, “intention” is the big kahuna. I wrote about intention a few weeks ago and referred to it as the opportunity to make a more conscious choice about how we want to show up in the world. Oprah’s definition is more centered around why we want to DO something, as in always asking, “What is your intention AND MOTIVATION for doing this?”
Oprah emphasizes this principle is based on the third law of motion in physics, which states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” She says, “Everything you think and everything you do is energetically coming back to you.” It’s not that if you are cruel to an individual, that person will in turn be cruel right back to you. Rather, she asserts the energy behind that cruelty will come back to you in some way, shape and form at some time. As she was making her point, a video with a huge Newton’s Cradle loudly banged back and forth in the background. And her big question for all of us: “How clear are you about your intentions and how clear are you about expressing them?”
Recognize Your Energy — Oprah believes we are all energetic life forces. Our mission is the “what” and “why” that directs that force. Our “platform” is a vehicle for carrying this energy. Your platform may not include a TV show, book, or blog. But it always is based on YOU. Oprah says you are an energetic force and that “your business is an energetic force.” Here is where my mind started spinning and asking the following questions: Are you passionate about it or phoning it in? Are you helping people or scamming them? Are you iterating or stagnating? Are you positive or negative? This last question is based on the fact that when it comes to physical energy there is no such thing as neutral. Just look at both sides of a battery, bunky! According to Oprah, “It is required of you as a human on the planet getting along with other humans on the planet to be responsible for the energy you are putting into the world.”
Be Of Service — When you shift your paradigm to service, everything changes. Oprah drew the following series of juxtapositions, “Some florists sell flowers. Some sell beauty. Some sell flowers. Some sell celebration. Some sell flowers. Some sell creativity.” Oprah’s big question here, “How will you serve? How do you fulfill your highest expression of yourself and your business?”
Learn From Adversity — In Oprah’s opinion, there isn’t one negative experience in our life that isn’t there to give us information about how to move to the next level. The penultimate question she asks herself, and most recently in the early days of her OWN Network when it faltered, “What is this here to teach me? What am I blind to that I am not seeing, and how can I use this to move myself forward?”
Cultivate Awareness — Oprah counsels us to pay attention to the whispers in our life because if we don’t, they gradually escalate over time into full blown “disasters.” Another great quote, “Your life is speaking to you always in all ways.” And by shifting the way we think about things, those very things begin to change. So another great question is, “How can I see this differently?”
Change Your Narrative— Very often in times of adversity we need to change our narrative — the story we say to ourselves in our head. Here is what comes to mind as narratives I frequently hear. “I am fat. I am bad at math. I am bad at directions. I am a lousy presenter. I am bad at cooking.” Yadda yadda yadda. I am very sensitive to people who use the “I am bad at” form to express any negative sentiments about themselves, ever! It doesn’t help them in any way because it freezes them into a set of immobilizing thoughts simply summarized as, “There’s not much I can do about it.” And that is incredibly disempowering.
True confession: I used to play the “I’m bad at math” narrative cassette tape (note: I’m probably older than you, so yes, CASSETTE TAPE). And that served me poorly. All through high school I got Cs and Ds in my math courses and shied away from taking any math classes in college. Years later while getting my MBA part time at Boston University I signed up for two advanced Finance Courses, both of which were math intensive and required a working knowledge of pre-calculus. What did I do? First, I dropped the narrative because I wanted to take these courses. Second, I partnered up with an incredibly giving dude who worked in the Finance Department at Fidelity Investments and knew his stuff. We studied together for nearly 40 hours for each of four exams. I got an A- in one of the courses and a B+ in the other. Boom.
Oprah asks, “What story is it that you are telling TO yourself ABOUT yourself? And how effectively is that serving you?”
Live On Purpose — Oprah asserts that our work and our life are not separate. Our work is the vehicle for our life’s expression — our reason for being here. Oprah suggests we should not wait for our big a-ha moment, but instead should continually take action. In her words, “If you’re waiting for the moment, I’m telling you the moments are waiting for you.” Lest you think this is the silly talk of a multi-billionaire, there is a guy named Albert who has worked at my gym, The Bay Club in Redwood Shores, California, for well over a decade. He picks up, launders and folds towels, and cleans locker rooms and bathrooms. But that’s not Albert’s purpose. The way I see it, his role in life is to be consistently optimistic and spread joy because this is what he always does. I bumped into Albert and his wife in an area shopping mall last Saturday while physically assessing the 27 inch Mac Thunderbolt monitor I’ve been eyeing online for three-plus years. I encountered the exact same Albert with a big smile on his face and a quiet greeting.
And there you have it. My wife met Oprah briefly backstage and said the energy she radiates is almost indescribably strong and loving. Oprah definitely engages in life on a far different level than so many of us. I look forward to learning from her for many years to come.