I know I’m not the only person in the world slightly obsessed with Oprah. By now everyone has worked out just how fabulous this powerhouse woman is. But as a thirteen year old switching on the TV back in 1988 and discovering her talk show for the first time I was completely blown away by the immediate connection I felt with this woman. She was down-to-earth, funny, unassuming and friendly – an adult I could finally relate to! Unlike all the adults in my life, she seemed intent on listening to what others had to say and she knew how to ask all the right questions and give all the right answers.
You have to remember that back then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were no reality shows that allowed us to sneak a peek into other people’s lives. There was no Keeping Up With The Kardashians or Big Brother or anything remotely similar, that allowed us to take glimpse behind the facade, to see the person behind the mask (though admittedly it seems as if reality stars are pretty good at cultivating different masks nowadays).
So when I discovered Oprah it felt as if I had found a crystal ball that allowed me to glimpse into other people’s lives and hear the real truth about life stripped back bare. The show was raw, honest and it hit home that there were people living in this world experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly in ways a 13 year old could not even begin to know or comprehend.
By watching Oprah I learnt all about racism, eating disorders, incest, date rape, weight issues, suicide and injustice. I watched guests open and spill their hearts onto the table about the pain they felt inside. One by one, they would purge their experiences by sharing unfiltered words and I watched as their fear, vulnerability, agony and heartache transformed into strength, fearlessness and courage.
At first I was shocked by all the honest confessions – was this really real? I thought, did people honestly live lives that were so different from me? -but over time I began to recognize the beauty and inspiration behind every sad, heartfelt story. I saw firsthand how by sharing their weaknesses, these individuals were no longer weak but strong and amazing role models for others going through similar experiences.
Oprah had a way of making every person feel safe and loved and respected. She inherently understood that by releasing their stories instead of keeping them locked inside, her guests embraced the opportunity to heal and finally move on.
During my teenage years her show was the greatest influence in my life – even more so than the other “holy trinity” called school, family and friends. As a girl growing up in a semi-affluent suburb in Sydney, Australia, I was quite naive to the happenings of the world, to the issues and problems other people faced, prior to discovering Oprah.
Admittedly there was no such thing as the internet back then, to distribute or share information about the happenings in other corners of the world. The only books I read were the ones currently stocked at my local library. The only news I heard was whatever my local TV station or newspaper decided to indulge. If an adult told me something was a “fact” there was no way of verifying whether it was true or not – so for many years I believed that life was fine and happy for everyone, though that was not always the case.
I feel blessed that I discovered the harsh truth about the world under the guidance of Oprah – who showed me that even when people experienced the most horrific things there was still always hope. She taught me that something good always came out of every bad – that a little priceless gem could be extracted from the minefields which exploded and shattered people’s hearts and this gem would later fill them with riches they wouldn’t have received had they not fought that tough battle.
She ignited in me a strong sense of empathy and compassion and an interest in the human mind that led to my study of psychology during my university years. She was one of my most favorite friends even though we never met and the guide who whispered into my ear during every difficult or dark day. Oprah inspired in me a love for life, a passion and desire to do well, that could never be dampened no matter what life threw at me because she lit up that path up for me, a road she had confidently walked herself and that she encouraged us all to follow despite our fears.
She taught me fear was normal and that I had the ability to survive and prosper even the most insurmountable experiences. She spoke about the importance of letting go of anger and regret and reassured us that everyone is worthy of happiness. The truth will set you free, she promised me, because if you are keeping a secret or in any way pretending to be something you are not, you will never ever become all that you were meant to be.
She said everybody has a calling, which encouraged me to find mine, and that when you know better, you do better. She insisted every human is responsible for his or her own life, so rather than sitting around waiting for others to save or fix me, it was up to me alone to take that responsibility to move forward in life. She taught me to trust my inner voice, my intuition and step outside my comfort zone. The only courage we will ever need is the courage to fulfill the dreams of our own life.
When you are thirteen, you believe what older people tell you. So I believed Oprah and set out to live a beautiful life…