How to NOT be Oprah

I used to want to do great things.

I mean REALLY great things.

Sometime around the age of nine I decided that I was put on this planet to do truly amazing, transformational, really, really great things.

I aimed high, my friends…as many of us do from time to time.

blog - superman

Me? I wanted to be at the MLK level, to lead a movement of some kind that would change the lives of most people in society for the better.

And it totally messed with my life.

  • When I graduated college I started to feel the pressure. The time was now to figure out what my really, really great thing was going to be.
  • By age 25 I began feeling a bit anxious, for the really, really great thing had not yet presented itself.
  • As I neared 30 with no really, really great thing in sight, I went into a silent, anxiety-ridden panic. I resented that 30th birthday, and each birthday after that.

Until the day came when I saw Oprah.

First of all, who doesn’t love Oprah?

blog - oprah magazine

When I saw Oprah, I really saw her…me and thousands of other people lucky enough to snag tickets when she came to town. (Helps when your husband works at the TV station that airs her show…thanks Hubbie!)

On that fateful day, Oprah talked about her show and about the difference she’s been able to make because of her fame. She talked about changing people’s lives all over the world…about helping women in Africa and increasing safety for children here in America.

And then Oprah Winfrey looked at all of us and said the following…

“You know, chances are you’ll never get to do what I have done.”

My first response was, of course, the very defiant, very immature…

Screw you, Oprah.

I mean really…who was she to say what I could and could not achieve?

But then my ego took a second to breathe, and I thought about what she was actually saying.

I realized that, odds were, I wasn’t going to become a wildly famous, perpetually obsessed-about, astoundingly wealthy woman who is able to use her unlimited dollars and celebrity to make a difference all over the world. All the time.

After all, Oprah status just doesn’t just happen…and it certainly doesn’t happen to most of us. It’s really, really rare.

And yet many of us are looking for Oprah status in so many ways:

  • We don’t just want to do excellent work, but to over-perform in everything we do…and to be recognized for our greatness. By everyone, all the time.
  • We don’t just want to play a sport, but to win every time…and to be recognized for our greatness. By everyone, all the time.
  • We don’t just strive to be a good parent, but to have our kids be the brightest and best students there are…and to be recognized for our greatness. By everyone, all the time.

But, odds are, these things won’t happen to us in the way and at the level we want them to.

Let’s face it. In addition to her incredible visioning, hard work and grit, Oprah was also incredibly lucky. Her efforts were made in the right places at the right time, when people were ready for what she had to offer.

It’s this luck factor that we need to think about when we aim for Oprah status. Her level of achievement is a huge exception to a much, much more common rule.

I realized all of this while still watching Oprah on stage. And in just about one minute, I felt a big part of that pressure fade away.

Because Oprah gave me permission to not be Oprah.

Now, let me stop here to say what I am not saying.

  • What I am not saying is that we shouldn’t try to achieve amazing things in our lives
  • What I am not saying is that we shouldn’t aim high and exit our very comfy comfort zone in order to try new things
  • And what I am really not saying is that we shouldn’t try to make a difference in some way

Now, let me say what I am saying.

  • That every achievement we make is an achievement to be celebrated…even if nobody knows about it but us
  • That making a difference for just one person (or animal or tree or what have you) needs to be honored
  • That, even if our efforts fail sometimes, we are still good people

That, as long as we’re trying to make our lives meaningful in some way…to do well at work and in our sport and with our kids…that what we are doing is enough. No, it’s great. And so are we.

That, chances are, we will never be Oprah. That we shouldn’t even try to be.

That, instead, we should just try to be our best us.

Because our best us can be really, really great.

blog - guy pose

Now go do good…and do it well.

PS – thanks to istolethetv for the superman photo, to emdot for the Oprah magazine shot, and to

David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott for the pic of the super cool thumbs up guy.


8 thoughts on “How to NOT be Oprah

  1. Lauri M says:

    You may it be Oprah but you are, indeed, a really great YOU. I got so much out of your presentation at the USD Nonprofit Symposium- thanks for doing what you do.

    1. That is so kind, Lauri…thanks for your kind words on this, and also the Symposium. I’m so pleased you found the session worth your time!

  2. Linda Villalobos says:

    Thanks, Deidre, for the reminder to appreciate my small accomplishments rather than lament a lack of large ones.

    1. My pleasure, Linda…love your nutshell summary!

  3. Patty says:

    thank you Deirdre again for your honesty and openness. Matthew Kelly a famous author talks about being the best version of ourselves.

    1. Totally agree, Patty…it’s all about being the best us. Not only is it impossible to be someone else, if we try to hard than the world misses out on the unique things we bring to it!

    2. Nolan says:

      Well said, hopefully well practiced. Your insight is a trait of…greatness

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