Oprah Winfrey: Life Purpose and Productivity
Episode #3 of the course Productivity hacks: Lessons from top leaders and billionaires by John Robin
Welcome to Day 3!
As promised, we’re going to focus more on the key to successful work, by way of billionaire television phenomenon Oprah Winfrey.
If there’s anyone we should pay attention to, it’s Oprah.
Born in 1954, she’s made history by becoming the first African American multi-billionaire. She’s also ranked as one of the most influential women in the world and been given the title, “Queen of All Media,” but these achievements eclipse the fact that Oprah was born into poverty and raised through a rocky childhood. Yet, that didn’t stop her from landing a radio job at 19, then rising to success as she worked her way into the TV world and soon developed a popular confessional-style media that led her to pioneer the talk show genre itself.
What’s the secret to her success?
When asked in an interview at Stanford Business School, her secret was simple:
“I live a fantastic inner life; my inner life is really intact.”
The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
Many of us are familiar with Aesop’s famous fable, “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg,” but you might not have heard about it as a business or self-improvement strategy.
In the fable, a special goose lays a golden egg, and the owner, greedy for more, kills the goose. If only the owner had more insight! He’d have realized that keeping the goose alive and looking after it would mean an endless source of golden eggs.
Businesses use this model to define “not urgent, but important” activities. These are tasks that could be put off, but if you don’t do them, you’ll suffer in the long term. Taking care of your health and getting enough sleep go here. Getting exercise and investing in long-term goals also go here.
Unfortunately, we are often inundated by the “urgent and important” activities: Get our to-do list done. Meet deadlines. Take on extra jobs to pay the bills. Make appointments we can’t get out of.
This quickly spirals into “urgent and not important” because our reactive brain is too caught up in reacting, which is what the sense of URGENCY does to us. The phone is ringing, so we should answer it. Someone asks us to do them a favor. An email comes in, and we feel we should answer it right now.
And then it all comes apart even more. We’re exhausted, so we need a bit of a break. Welcome to the “not urgent, not important” category: Check social media to take a break. Play a quick game to unwind. Tidy our desk because the mess is just driving us nuts.
Meanwhile, that golden-egg goose is crushed, and there’s no space for high-meaning activities that will improve us or get us out of the reactive nightmare that will only grow bigger and bigger, like a cyclone.
By Oprah’s standards, the golden-egg goose should be our top priority.
“Every human being comes called. And the calling goes beyond what the definition of your job is,” she said in an interview with Forbes. For Oprah, following your passion is just the start of the path.
When reflecting on her choices to keep pushing herself to another level, she constantly drew on that sense of, “This isn’t it yet, there’s more.” She had it made when her Chicago talk show became number-one, but even then, she pushed into a daring new place: starting her own broadcasting company.
All the while, Oprah was driven to invest in her vision of what she saw her life becoming. It wasn’t just about the show, it was about her passion to make other people’s lives better.
Simply reacting to the duties of running a TV show and entertaining audiences with interviews wasn’t where her energy went. She invested most of her time in the “not urgent, but important” task of really digging into the emotional struggles of other people, so she could then use her work to capture that in a way that has changed millions of lives.
How do you spend your time? When you reflect on your inner meaning and what you want to accomplish in your life, how much time do you give to that? Do you want to write a novel? If so, when will you work on it so it’s not just a dream waiting to happen? Whatever your dream is—that thing that calls in your heart—ask yourself how what you’re doing now helps you get closer to it.
As an exercise, try investing some time in this first thing every day before anything else. As you’ll see tomorrow, how you order your activities is critical in defining your pathway to success.
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