It can sometimes feel like there aren't a lot of healthy role models around. American culture in particular tends to venerate young, seemingly perfect people who seem frequently vapid and occasionally meanspirited.
Yet there are also brilliant, wise role models if you look for them. Oprah is one.
Oprah Winfrey was raised in poverty and is a survivor of sexual abuse. She is also a mega-successful entrepreneur, a billionaire philanthropist, and an inspiration to millions of people globally.
She is an icon.
She's also a human being who is attuned to her own humanity and that of others. She doesn't grandstand or act like she's above the fray. She's remarkably open about her own journey, and what really matters.
Here are seven wise quotes from Oprah that will inspire you to expand your purpose, cultivate your career, and live your best life:
1. Be conscious of where you put your attention
For ten years straight, Oprah kept a gratitude journal. Every night she made a ritual out of jotting down things for which she was grateful. On October 12, 1996, for example, her list was:
1. A run around Florida's Fisher Island with a slight breeze that kept me cool.
2. Eating cold melon on a bench in the sun.
3. A long and hilarious chat with Gayle about her blind date with Mr. Potato Head.
4. Sorbet in a cone, so sweet that I literally licked my finger.
5. Maya Angelou calling to read me a new poem.
Why did she do this gratitude practice, and why did she come back to it after letting it slide?
Because according to her: "You radiate and generate more goodness for yourself when you're aware of all you have and not focusing on your have-nots."
2. There is no 'wrong' path
When Oprah spoke at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, this was the single biggest piece of career advice she wanted to leave the students with:
"There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that. And sometimes when you're not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it's all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths."
We spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for not making perfect decisions or getting off-track. What if it actually is all leading to the same place?
3. How to look at growing older:
In 2011, Oprah had this to say to O Magazine readers:
"We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we're not glowing, and we're not 'hot,' that we don't matter ... I refuse to let a system or a culture or a distorted view of reality tell me that I don't matter.
I know for sure that only by owning who and what you are can you step into the fullness of life. Every year should teach you something valuable; whether you get the lesson is up to you. Every year brings you closer to expressing your whole and healed self."
4. The truth about balance
In an interview with People magazine:
"I can eat anything I want; I just can't eat it at the same time. Which is the entire philosophy of life: You can have it all. You just can't have it all at the same time."
5. The importance of rest
In O Magazine, Oprah talked about her own process of reset and relaxation:
"I always give myself Sundays as a spiritual base of renewal --a day when I do absolutely nothing. I sit in my jammies or take a walk, and I allow myself time to BE --capital B-E-- with myself. When I don't, I absolutely become stressed, irritable, anxiety-prone, and not the person I want to be in the world."
6. How 'no' relates to love
In a Dear Sugars podcast episode, Oprah discussed how she was able to say "no" to Stevie Wonder--and the larger lesson:
"If a person turns against you because you say 'no' to them, you recognize that that wasn't real love anyway. True love, true friendship, true support comes from people who want you to tell your own truth. They don't want things given to them that don't come from a pure place."
7. Authentic power is always yours
In 2013, Oprah spoke at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon. (For context, The Oprah Winfrey Show had ended two years prior, in 2011.)
"The truth is, I try not to let other people define for me whether I have power or don't. I ended the show, and then there were a whole bunch of people who said, 'Oh, you don't have power anymore.'
But the truth is, I know who I am, and the thing about power for me is that it's connected to a source that's obviously greater than myself. Any time you can connect to the source and understand that that's where all of your energy, your creativity, your joy and your triumph come from, I consider that to be authentic power."
Bonus: On what she'd say to her childhood self
We often get caught up in whether we're in the right career, or the perfect relationship, or we're making it in life or getting ahead or falling behind. We worry that we don't give enough to those around us because we feel like we're barely getting by ourselves.
But according to Oprah, the greatest gift you can give someone else, whether it's a coworker, a sibling, your partner, or simply the person sitting next to you at the cafe, has nothing to do with money or status or opportunity:
"Seven-year-old Oprah ... I was so sad. All of my real love came from my teachers.
I would say this to anyone in this room: You have no idea the power of noticing another human being and what it feels like when somebody knows that they have been seen by you. It is the greatest offering you can give."