7 Things I Learned From Spending the Day With Oprah
A day of TED-talk style talks from 11 visionaries left me with many life lessons
Posted Sep 15, 2015
So just based off that title alone, I’m pretty sure one of three thoughts are running through your head: 1) That sounds amazing! 2) That sounds awful! 3) You must have been the only guy there. I can confirm that I was definitely not the only guy there (but I was outnumbered) and I can confirm that I was lucky enough to win a pair of free tickets to watch a full day’s taping of SuperSoul Sessions at UCLA’s Royce Hall with Oprah and some of her friends. And as shocking as it may sound coming from a 26-year-old male, I was actually quite excited about the day's events—not just because I'm a clinical psychology Ph.D. student and interested in the self-help topics discussed, but as a person who grew up watching Oprah (at first because I had to, but later because I wanted to) because that was the only show that was on after I came home from school as a kid. And for someone always interested in those psychological concepts and who was the president of the Conflict Mediation club in high school, this was a very big deal.
I had no idea what to expect going into it, but what ended up panning out was far more interesting than anything I could have imagined. After waiting in a very long security line to get into Royce Hall, I sat patiently in my seat waiting for thee Oprah to come out. And when she did, she introduced the day's event and listed off the presenters for the day and how the day was going to work. She explained to the audience that we would get to listen to her along with 10 visionaries, including Dr. Brené Brown, Dr. Michael Beckwith, Shawn Achor, Marianne Williamson, Tim Storey, Iyanla Vanzant, Rob Bell, Elizabeth Gilbert, Janet Mock, and Deepak Chopra give 25-minute talks in a TED talk style format on how we can live better lives, foster our sense of purpose and meaning, and leave the show better than how we attended. And I must admit, Oprah and all those presenters delivered!
For those who want the live tweets from the show with more quotes than I can post here, check out my twitter and quotes page for all the good stuff. However, if I had to condense my favorite quotes/lessons into 7 short ones, they go as follows (in no particular order):
“Have ‘Marble Jar’ Friends” –Dr. Brené Brown
Marble Jar friends refers to those friends who have enough marbles in their friendship jar to have earned your trust. Especially, in the age of social media, we often have a distorted view of what it means to have friends and sometimes we need to go back to basics. Marble jar friends is an age-old reference to what teachers would do to help keep their kids behaving and when they behaved good, the class got marbles. And when the class didn’t behave well, they lost marbles. Building trust with friends is the same way. The more time and experience we build with a friend, the more marbles we can put in their jar. And it is through a full jar that we can learn to trust our friends. But what puts marbles in that jar may not be so obvious because trust is built on the smallest of moments. Trust is not just built when a friend visits you in the hospital, but when a friend remembers to wish you luck before a big day at work or say hi to your parents when they run into them around town. Trust is not a big illusive concept, Brené Brown says, but it is a simple concept that is built moment by moment.
“Let go of your passion and follow your curiosity because your curiosity may lead you to your passion.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
When Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pay, Love started her talk making an argument against passion, I didn’t know where she was going to go with it. Especially today where there are self-help people, life coaches, psychologists, and psychotherapists all telling people to follow their passion, the word “passion” in and of itself has lost its meaning and has in many was become condescending to those who feel like they don’t have it. So Elizabeth Gilbert has reformulated the meaning and saying that not everyone has a passion, but everyone is curious and if you just follow your curiosity, then that may lead you to where you need or want to be. She draws the analogy that people are either jackhammers are hummingbirds. Jackhammers have a passion and just keep going deeper into it and some people are hummingbirds who float from one thing to the next. And neither is good or bad, but different. Sometimes you're more of a jackhammer and other times you're more like a hummingbird. However, the important part is just recognizing who you are not judging yourself for not having what society may deem a traditional "passion."
Probably my favorite line of the day was this quote by Shawn Achor. The meaning of this quote is ever so true about psychotherapy. There is a tension between acknowledging what happened to us and playing a victim to what happened to us. Shawn Achor argues that between this chasm, we need to maintain rational optimism—because we’re not trying to be blind to the reality of the situation, but we are trying to be realistically optimistic. And ultimately, the most important thing is to remember, that our behavior matters because as soon as we become victims of our circumstances, we lose power to change anything about it. Yes, we may have been victims to our past experiences, but we have some control over how we experience our future.
"You do not describe what you see. You see what you describe." –Dr. Michael Beckwith
It takes one or two extra reads to truly get the breadth of what that quote means. What I heard Dr. Michael Beckwith saying is that the story we tell ourselves about situations is often more important than the situation itself. We all come from our own unique perspective and we have to be aware of the labels and judgents we put on events. These stories play a big role in our lives, especially as we move into adulthood. This idea works for both past events and understanding what happened as well as future events with goal-setting and visualization. Visualization doesn't have to be esoteric, law-of-attraction-like concept, but can just mean really understanding, at a deep level, what your goals look like becasue the better you know where you're going, the quicker you'll get there.
“If there is a story that you want to read that hasn't been written, then you have to write it.” –Janet Mock paraphrasing Toni Morrison
Janet Mock is an author, activist, and TV host who also happens to be transgender. Throughout her 25-minute talk, she bravely told her story of how she came into being and learning to own who she was from the inside out. She talked about her tragedies and triumphs—from being bullied in middle school to being able to grow into her wholehearted self. However, she said that she had no roadmap for how to find herself. There was not a model she could follow, no real book or story that represented her life, and she used the above quote from Toni Morrison to illustrate her point. I thought it was so poignant because we all have a story. And none of our stories are like anyone else’s and if we want to tell our story and live our authentic life that means that we will have to write it ourselves. We will have to become the captain of our fate as William Ernest Henley said in his poem “Invictus.”
"I don't believe in failure. I just believe in information." - Oprah
Oprah went on to say how failure is not the end of the road, but just a detour. Failure is just a means of pointing you in a different direction. So many of us stumble ourselves into a failure rut where shame, self-blame, guilt, and self-loathing sit. We sit in that failure until it sometimes infuses into our identity. However, failure does not have to be so dramatic. It can be painful. It can sting. But it can be seen as a way of moving your life in a new direction. Failure can teach you valuable information regarding what you're not good at or what you can do better at. And had you not had that experience, you would not be prepared for the opportunity that is to come. This shift in perspective on failure may hopefully make you more fearless as you move into your own life.
"When you're playing the victim role, you're more connected to the thoughts about reality than reality itself." - Dr. Michael Beckwith
Life throws us punches at us more often that we would often like and, to be honest, it sucks. However, what Michael Beckwith talks about here is how often we get stuck in victim mode. And when we're in that space, we're in our heads. We end up connecting to our past and to our future and we lack perspective on the true reality of the situation. Our mind will create stories that further distance ourselves from the present, which inevitably leads us to forget how much power we can have on our lives. We forget how to be a force of change in our lives rather than being a victim of life's circumstances.
These lessons I wrote are only a fraction of the things that I took away and I wish I could reach out to every single one of you to tell you all the other great lessons, but you will just have to tune into the Oprah Winfrey Network where they eventually air these sessions. And in the meantime, you can catch a new season of SuperSoul Sunday starting on September 27th with former President Jimmy Carter.
Rubin Khoddam is a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology at the University of Southern California whose research and clinical work focuses on substance use issues and resilience. He founded a website, Psych Connection, with the goal of connecting ideas, people, research, and self-help to better connect you to yourself and those around you. You can follow Rubin on Twitter by clicking here!