3 Lessons from Stanford, from Oprah Winfrey

Born to a poor teenage single mother, this African American girl was raped at age 9 and 14-years-old. Few could have predicted she would go on to become the host of the world’s highest-rated talk-show in the history of television.

Oprah Winfrey had a candid message to give to the graduating class of Stanford. It was about the 3 simple things:

1. Feelings — “When you’re doing what you’re meant to do, it feels right”, she said “and every day is a bonus regardless of what you’re getting paid.” She defined success as a combination of “money and meaning”.

2. Failiure — “Ask every failiure: What is it here to teach me?”

3. Finding happiness — Oprah asked the audience to “stand for something greater than yourself… Whatever fields you choose, if you operate from the paradigm of service, I know your life will have more value and you will be happy.”

P.S. — A total digression, but I have to mention 2 recent movies I just loved watching:
1. Slumdog Millionaire: (An authentic depiction of Indian poverty, juxtaposed with remarkable hope).
2. Frost/Nixon: (Frank Langella delivers a superb performance as Nixon)


Dreams From My Father

Like a delicately woven web of perspective, this book has the power to engulf all your internal quests into an innocent embrace of surrender.

Barack Obama’s words are a narration of his search for meaning and place in a black-or-white world. In the book, he shares experiences of growing up as a child in Indonesia, the images of poverty, his mother’s insistence that he wake up at 4 am every morning to take lessons from her… He writes about Hawaii, living with his white grandparents, going to college, working in a corporate environment, then remaining jobless for 6 months to become a community organizer. The story leads him, through moving experiences in Chicago’s economically backwards community, to his own roots in Kenya, an understanding of who he is through the larger perspective of the life-history of his father and grandfather.

“The constant, crippling fear that I didn’t belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn’t I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.”

Even as the story’s themes run in front of a background of racial views, the story (at least for me) shared a basic quest of finding one’s place in a world that is seggregated by labels. These are not just labels of race, but labels of nationalities, languages, religions, caste, status. Obama’s dilemma came from race, while many others have some or the other label that forms questions about who we are in life, what is important, and where should we stand…

Obama had been raised by his single mother, and his father met him only once in life. Towards the end of the book, Obama describes the moment when he sat outside in his grandmother’s home in Kenya, after having learned about his grandfather and father’s life — their roots, their relationships, challenges, disappointments. He writes:

“Oh Father, I cried. There was no shame in your confusion. Just as there had been no shame in your father’s before you… It was the silence that betrayed us. If it weren’t for that silence, your grandfather might have told your father that he could never escape himself, or re-create himself alone. Your father might have taught those same lessons to you.”

As I read further, I wondered how much of us was the residue of people before us. How much their circumstances affected their choices, how their choices affected their attitudes, and the courses of our lives…