Oprah Winfrey overcame an impoverished and violent childhood to become one of the most financially successful and personally beloved individuals of our time. Forbes has crowned her a most influential celebrity, a power woman and one of the world's most powerful people. TIME has placed her on its most influential people list, the TIME 100, every year since the list's inception. Forbes estimates her net worth at $2.7 billion.
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While few people will achieve such fame and wealth in their lifetimes, we can all adopt Oprah's attitudes and beliefs in pursuit of our own personal potential. Here are a few of the convictions that empower her and that can help you excel in your career, too. (For related reading, see 6 Ways Mentors Elevate Your Career.)
1. "When you do your best, people notice."
Oprah urges that you always do your best no matter what situation you're in. She says that if you're a fry cook, you can make yours the best french fries and people will be drawn to you.
Most of us tend to do the bare minimum that allows us to get by and keep collecting our paychecks, especially if we're in a job that we feel is beneath us. It seems like the rational choice - why do more than what is expected of us if we think we're not going to get paid extra for it, promoted or even recognized?
This thinking is short-sighted; we should really be asking how we can improve ourselves and be our best in any situation. We may not know what will come next, but we certainly won't be prepared for it if we aren't even trying to grow or excel. That fry cook who looks for the opportunity to shine in his minimum-wage position could become a chef one day. Oprah believes that "all of life is about growing to greatness." Why try to merely get by when you can aspire to be great? (For related reading, see 6 Millionaire Traits That You Can Adopt.)
2. "Luck is preparation meeting the moment of opportunity."
When we see someone who has achieved success, we often assume they've been lucky. Maybe they were born into the right family, or happened to sit next to the right person on the airplane, or had a blog post go viral.
Interestingly, successful people will often tell you that luck isn't something that arbitrarily touches certain individuals - you can do things that will help you to land in the right place at the right time. The singer who happens to meet a music industry person on the airplane will only get "lucky" if they are well-prepared, which might mean having put in years of practice to become a good singer, recording a demo, being friendly and open to meeting new people at all times and always carrying around a copy of that demo, just in case. A different singer who was just as talented could find themselves sitting next to that same person and not be able to make anything out of the moment because they weren't prepared.
The same is true of bloggers that get discovered: do you think Julie Powell felt lucky when she was putting in hundreds of hours cooking those 524 Julia Child recipes in 365 days and posting about each one? It was her hard work and pursuit of excellence - her willingness to do something challenging while the rest of us were watching "American Idol" and "Desperate Housewives" - that led to her critically acclaimed, bestselling book, two James Beard awards and a movie, among other achievements. (For related reading, see Small Business: It's All About Relationships.)
3. Listen to your own voice instead of trying to imitate someone else.
You have something unique to offer and you'll never beat your competitors at being themselves. Oprah didn't become successful by trying to be like Donahue - she made the best of being herself.
There is more than one path to success in business - indeed, if you try to do exactly what someone else is already excelling at, what will you bring to the market that sets you apart, that makes people want to come to you instead of the other guy? How will you have time to innovate and grow if you're directing your energy away from your own development? (For related reading, see 6 Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Fortunes From Nothing.)
4. When faced with competition, don't worry about the other guy.
Oprah says that "you can't control the other guy. You only have control over yourself." Looking at your competitors "takes energy away from you." Oprah has faced competition from more than 100 talk shows, including "Sally Jessy Raphael", "Geraldo Rivera" and "RickiLake", since she started her own national talk show. She told her team to run the race as hard as they could and give it their best effort, all the time, for themselves. She didn't worry about ratings or make decisions based on them, but instead focused on providing the content that would best serve her viewers and herself.
You only have so much time every day to focus on your own business or career - any time you spend focused on what other people are doing is time you're not spending on yourself. You probably have more competitors than you can reasonably keep tabs on, anyway. Focus your efforts on maximizing your opportunities, honing your skills and achieving your personal best. (For related reading, see In Small Business, Success Is Spelled With 5 "C"s.)
5. Invest in yourself.
When Oprah's talk show went national in 1988, her attorney advised her to take the risk of owning herself instead of drawing a salary. She acquired "The Oprah Winfrey Show" from Cap Cities/ABC and created Harpo Productions, Inc., and says it was the best bet she ever made. Today, the Harpo family of brands includes not just Harpo Productions, but also Harpo Films, Harpo Radio, a retail store, a magazine and a cable network. Oprah has a private philanthropic foundation that supports education and a public charity that supports numerous causes. She also launched the successful talk shows of Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, Dr. Oz and Nate Berkus. If someone else had owned her show, it would have limited her opportunities and detracted from her personal success.
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6. Know when you've finished growing in a situation and it's time to move on.
Oprah began her television career as a co-anchor in Baltimore and then got put on a talk show called "People Are Talking". She made good money, but after eight years she knew she wasn't growing anymore. She accepted a job offer to be on the Chicago talk show AM Chicago, which became an instant hit. It was expanded from a 30-minute show to an hour-long show and renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show" after less than a year. What would have happened if Oprah had stayed in her comfort zone in Baltimore? (For more, see What It Really Takes To Succeed In Business.)
Live With Intention
Oprah didn't become a communications industry mogul or inspire millions of viewers to lead better lives by settling or choosing the easy route. She also didn't follow a planned career path -she followed her heart. By applying Oprah's fundamental beliefs to your own life, you can maximize your career success. (For related reading, see The End Of An Oprah.)
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