There’s a blurry video from 1986 making its rounds on Instagram lately. Have you seen that old video clip of Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes interviewing Oprah?
In December of ’86 The Oprah Winfrey show had just launched and our beloved icon was just stepping on to the national stage. She discussed how to not allow failure to define you in one pithy answer.
In the segment, she says something I think we should pay close attention to.
Mike: So this show that’s just getting underway, nationally…
Oprah: It’ll do well.
Mike: And if it doesn’t?
Oprah: And if it doesn’t, I will still do well. I will do well because I’m not defined by a show.
Ya know, I think we are defined by the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat other people.
It would be wonderful to be acclaimed as this ya know, talk show host that’s made it. That would be wonderful. But if that doesn’t happen there are other important things in my life.
Just the other day I was talking with a friend, and full disclosure, I was being a real Debbie Downer.
“If in 10 years I still don’t fulfill my dreams then I’ll give up and crawl into a hole.” Of course, that statement was fueled by stress and being overtired, but it was total bullshit. I’m never flipping giving up, dammit.
Then I watched this video again and realized my focus was in the wrong place.
Imagine shifting our mindsets so that this thing we’re trying to do doesn’t define us completely. That it becomes only a part of who we are.
It’s Easy to Get Caught Up in Defining Ourselves by Things.
In my quest to follow my dreams of becoming a writer, speaker, and changemaker, I’ve gone through an evolution. There have been times when things don’t go as I’d like them to and moments like the one I just described above where I’m negative or overwhelmed. This is because I’m putting too much weight on numbers or “things” and not the daily work of who I am and how I treat others.
My dream is bigger than one thing. And like Oprah, I know (even though I don’t always feel it) that I’ll be okay. More than okay, I’ll do well.
I want you to know that you will be okay, and you will do well too. Regardless of the outcome of whatever you’re doing now.
I believe that if we’re going to do well, we should take a quick look back at the last part of what she said. “I think we are defined by the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat other people.”
For me, the way I treat myself is often the part that falls apart. For others, it might be the other way around. In any case, there’s a balance there and some deep truth, not only about the value of a human being, but how we pursue our dreams.
One of the biggest misconceptions of personal branding is that it pigeonholes you into being defined by something (a business, genre, service, product, etc.) that is too small to hold the wealth of your intricacies.
You don’t have to be constrained by one thing that you’re doing. Even if your book doesn’t sell, or your artwork doesn’t get in a gallery—or whatever your personal version of success might be—you can still do well.
Part of that “doing well” mindset is defining yourself and your personal brand by WHO you are and not just the work you’re doing.
Your personal brand is your foundation. You build, demolish, rebuilt, remodel but the core of your values and vision for your life ground you in your truth. Truth that can adapt to whatever is next in your life or career.
Don’t believe me? Think of Oprah. This woman has had a personal brand from the start, she’s done a lot of different things and sometimes failed. But she is a force, an example of what someone with a clear, working vision for her life can do. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the odds that were stacked against her as a black woman in America, one who had to prove herself more times than she should’ve had too.
But she did it, because she knew where she wanted to go and she kept at it. Even if she failed, she’d do well. And well she did.
The Other Side of Our Humanness
One of the things I love about Oprah, is despite her sometimes showwomanship, is that she breaks through and shows her true self, her vulnerable, flawed, and beautiful self.
So while that segment of the interview contained powerful truthtelling, I’d like to show you the context of that question and answer, a little before and after. (Don’t worry it’s only ~2.5 min).
A couple of things stood out to me. First, Oprah’s open insecurity about her weight, her appearance, and all she had to overcome in order to get her own show in 1986. And then Mike Wallace’s dick comment about a “fella” and Oprah’s visible discomfort at having to publicly define her love life. At having to guess at when her knight may come. And the weight comes up again.
Maybe it’s because I’ve gained 40 lbs since setting out toward my dream, but I so feel her struggle there. We all have our demons we’re wrestling, but weight is one of those not so easily hidden as others. As a woman, there are many times where I feel like a fraud because of my weight—like why should anyone listen to this chubby girl? Like I have to explain my weight gain, or call it out before someone else does, or like Oprah, wonder if [insert thing I want] will come along, once I lose some pounds.
Of course, that’s where her reminder—how someone treats themselves—comes in.
It’s also what’s so beautiful about this longer version of the video. She is clearly a badass and she is clearly human.
You can be both.
So I’d like to break down her wisdom and vulnerability into a quick list of affirmations for us (for the next time we’re tying our worth to a thing):
1. I am not defined by this _____________ (book, show, job, etc.).
2. I have other important things in my life (friends, family, travel, helping others, etc.).
3. I’m not perfect. I’m human.
4. I am defined by how I treat myself.
5. I am defined by how I treat others.