Recently, I heard Oprah Winfrey say something quite profound and inspiring. For many of us, hearing a profound and inspiring word from Oprah can be a daily occurrence, but for me, this time was different. In some shape or fashion, we all have a natural and consistent need to seek moments of validation that define our human experience and who we are as individuals, whether subconscious or deliberate. In what felt very surreal, my unexpected moment of validation just happened to be delivered in a message from one of the most powerful women in the world. On this day, just as she has twice a day over the past twenty five years, Oprah was speaking to a large audience… yet, I felt as if her words were unmistakably meant for me. But as Oprah always says, “It’s always better when you share!”, so here goes! Don’t get too excited, you’re not getting a new car, an Ipad, or a trip – just a few words to ponder as you kick off the New Year…As if she was reading the personal details of my life, Oprah reflected on her youth and not being able to find her name on little tourist souvenirs, such as keychains and license plates. She went on to point out the irony in the fact that Australian government officials decided to hang a large “O” on the Sidney Harbor Bridge in her honor, humorously declaring “…so, who needs a little license plate or keychain!” Though there’s no “T” emblazoned with lights hanging from the Eiffel Tower in my honor, this particular nugget of Oprah wisdom struck a chord with me to say the least. I understand all too well the feeling of being an outsider – from being enrolled in a different elementary school every year to often working in an environment free of names like “Tamika”, “Keisha”, and “Shaquita”. Do you know how many times I had to type my name, before spellcheck would stop indicating that it was wrong? But, I digress. Oprah’s poignant message was not as much about non-traditional names as it was about the full-circle moments of life, and the type of external validation that inevitably follows the endorsement we give ourselves. Regardless if your name is “Bob”, “Ann”, or “Fuquanda”, it’s a message that each of us can grasp.
As I raise my children, I try to not to forget the emotions associated with feeling excluded, but more than that… I try to remember the miraculous happenings of life that are often born from those feelings. Possibility of the latter makes the former all the more bearable, which is something that I try regularly to impart to my children. Consider the moments from your own childhood that continue to stick with you today. Were you always last to be picked for anything remotely athletic? Were you the girl who never seemed to make the right social and/or fashion choices? Or, did it seem as if everyone you knew came from a “normal” family except for you? Sure, we may be a force to be reckoned with today, but those hurt feelings from the past have helped to shape us, for better or worse.
Similar to our own lives, our children, at some point, will be on the outer bounds of some contrived circle that will help shape who they’ll become. These are the times when I explain to them the importance of remaining steadfast, relating struggles of mine and others… carefully pointing out that fitting into a box or a circle is not always the path that leads to success. In fact, conventional wisdom teaches each of us that sometimes weathering the storm solo, though difficult, can be the best way to discover one’s true purpose in life. So, as hard as it may be, and it will be hard, try to resist the urge to “fix” all of the social ills that exist in your child’s classroom. They deserve the same opportunity we had to discover resilience and its consequential payoff. Would you have pushed yourself to be better, stronger or brighter if everything had been easy for you? Would life be as sweet? Could Oprah be “Oprah” without having sustained her signature bumps and bruises? If there is a better example of a cloud with a silver lining, we would be hard pressed to find it.