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Rising from the ashes

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Oprah Winfrey. AP FILE PHOTO

Many people regard Oprah Winfrey as the “titan of talk,” TV’s most successful interviewer who has inspired millions to improve their own attitude and prospects by “learning” from the mistakes that her program’s guests have candidly confessed.

In the process, Oprah has become a billionaire, launched her own TV network—and some of her supporters believe that she will eventually end up as the first female president of the United States! Of course, Hillary Clinton may have something else to say on that subject!

But, the point is that Oprah has succeeded way beyond her own expectations not just on TV, but as a national icon in her own right.

That’s why it’s instructive to learn that the eminently gifted and blessed Ms. Winfrey made her unique mark only after she was traumatized by her early experiences, some of which would knock out a number of other hapless victims.

So, the key aspect to Oprah’s inspirational success is the fact that she achieved it despite the low blows that life had given her when she was only a vulnerable child. Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant career was achieved only after she had risen from the ashes of trauma and abject misery.

Low blows

Life rains similarly low blows on some other people, but Oprah has earned the right to inspire others by not caving in, throwing in the towel, and giving up the fight:

Recalling her early years, Oprah shares that she was raised by her grandmother in Mississippi, because her mother left to work in Wisconsin when her daughter was only 4 years old. Oprah’s childhood was a troubled one, because she was sexually abused—by a cousin, a family friend and an uncle—on different occasions!

In high school, she began skipping classes. Once, she ran away and conned a popular singer, Aretha Franklin, with a sob story about her needing $100 to go back to her folks. The singer fell for her emotional blackmail, but Oprah used the money not to go home, but to pay for a hotel room, where she ordered room service and watched TV!

That story is so different from the usual inspirational tales we get to hear about Oprah that it’s hard to take—but, that’s precisely her point in telling it: She wants us to realize that she’s made more than her share of humongous mistakes, so what you see now is what she’s struggled to become, despite most people’s low estimation of her eventual career prospects.

Even after Oprah had gotten her foot inside a TV station’s door, she still had to deal with failure, because she was pulled out as anchor of the evening newscast by an unimpressed news director, and relegated to a mere five-minute segment—at 5:30 in the morning!

Instead of being devastated by the rejection, however, she persevered—until another news director saw “something” unique in her ability to make on-cam interviews more  personal than curtly “official,” and gave the previously rejected newbie her own talk show—which eventually took her all the way to the top!

Even after she had become the Oprah Winfrey, she still had to deal with controversies that threatened to pull her down, like her long-running feud with David Letterman, her support for an author who turned out to have invented some of the “real-life” tales he told, and her run-in with burger companies for her “antipork” remarks. Most recently, her “O” TV network experienced growing pains and other setbacks, so Oprah had to do a lot of frantic tweaking to recover lost ground—and she’s successfully risen from the ashes again!


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