In life, no matter how long or short your time is on this earth, you will experience pain. Babies enter the world in traumatic fashion–screaming, crying and completely helpless. And life continues from there.
Struggle, failure and pain are all intricate pieces of the puzzle that makes you who you are. When you shy away from struggles, run from failure or hide your pain, you become an incomplete picture. What most people fail to realize is that wisdom, strength and fuel for the future is wrapped up inside that pain.
Oprah Winfrey epitomizes the concept of not only triumphing in spite of pain, struggle and turmoil but actually using it a tool to help actuate success. And when discussing Oprah and all that she has accomplished, the word ‘successful’ is incredibly inadequate and a grossly insufficient label for her. She has defied the odds as a woman, as a woman of color, as a poor woman of color and as an abused poor woman of color.
It’s not how you start…
Poverty, physical abuse, abandonment, sexual abuse, drugs, teenage pregnancy and the death of a child–all in the first 17 years of life. Yet Oprah thrived. Proving that it’s not how you start something it’s about the journey and where you end up.
It’s understanding that you may have started life at a disadvantage–extreme poverty, single parent home, drug infested neighborhood, violence, physically and or sexually abused, learning disabled, physically deformed, given up for adoption or left by a dumpster or emotionally abandoned–but those circumstances do not define who you are nor do they determine your future. You do. In fact, those things build a mental toughness, an internal drive to win and the strength to push through when the odds are not in your favor.
Oprah decided to unveil her trauma to the world. She chose not to hide it but exposed it in order to assist others–without a voice or platform–dealing with and carrying these types of deep emotional wounds. She became transparent and allowed others to see through her pain that damaged doesn’t mean destroyed and that what is broken can be fixed.
Oprah is winning.
You have to fight to win
At 17 while living with her father after all that had transpired in her life, she was crowned Miss Black Tennessee, she got her first on air TV job and earned a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She didn’t just “turn her life around,” she bulldozed her old life to the ground and erected a bigger and better existence for herself and she has never looked back. Since that time she has steadily grown in popularity, fame and wealth. She has been named one of the most influential people in the WORLD by Time Magazine and hailed as one of the most powerful women of this century.
An article published in Vanity Fair aptly described Winfrey’s influence this way:
“Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the pope.”
Simply put, Oprah learned to fight. She never felt sorry for herself and she refused to let others pity her. She worked for everything she got, earned every accolade and deserves every dollar of her wealth.
Learning to turn your tragedy into triumph
Behind anyone who has accomplished anything worthwhile–lurking in the shadows–are countless failures and puddles of tears. Life is funny that way– the more gifts you have the more pain and heartache you must endure. The two go hand in hand. They are twins or at the very least cousins. You must embrace them both in order to win.
If you have experienced tragedy upon tragedy, and endured immense amounts of pain–I have good news–you are destined for greatness.
The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Those people would then tell tales to others to help teach those lessons so that others would not have to make the same mistakes.
People still tell these stories today but in a slightly different format — they use speeches to express their experiences. Here are some valuable life lessons you can learn from some of the greatest inspirational speeches:
1. JK Rowling teaches us to not fear failure no matter how bad things become
It is a well-known fact that JK Rowling’s now-famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally picked up. Those publishers are likely kicking themselves in the pants right now. However, before that, JK Rowling was in a fairly dire situation and was on the brink of failure. Despite being turned down time and time again, she kept trying. Her efforts paid off. Harry Potter is now a ubiquitous character in today’s world culture. Despite failing over and over again, Rowling kept trying and fulfilled her dreams. You can watch her deliver some valuable life lessons in her Harvard commencement speech video above.
2. Steve Jobs teaches us to never settle
Steve Jobs had a fairly tumultuous life. He co-founded Apple, was kicked out of the company, came back, and then re-defined the mobile phone space with the iPhone. Even if iPhones aren’t the rage they once were, its iconic value is forever written in stone. One thing Jobs never did was settle. He lived life on his own terms and was rewarded for it by being dubbed one of the most revolutionary voices in technology of our time. In the Stanford commencement speech above, Jobs explains how you should never settle for what someone else wants out of your life. It’s your life and you should do what you want with it.
3. Admiral William H McRaven teaches us to make our beds every day
Anyone who has gone through the basic training of a military service will tell you it’s pretty difficult. However, every seemingly obnoxious step is actually a life lesson in disguise. This even applies to flawlessly making one’s bed every single morning. As Admiral William H McRaven teaches us, recruits are taught to make their beds every morning to remind them that even the little things in life matter. After all, how can you be expected to handle the biggest obstacles in your life if you can’t even handle the small and the mundane like making your bed every day? You can watch the entire speech in the video above.
4. Author David Foster Wallace teaches us that we’re a part of a greater existence
David Foster Wallace found fame in 1987 with his book The Broom of the System. Nearly 20 years later in 2005 he game a commencement speech at Kenyon College that is worth listening to at least once. In his speech, he reminds us that was are but a part of a huge, dynamic, ever changing interaction of life forms. In order to truly experience life, we need to leave our personal bubbles and interact with others even if it’s in an unpleasant way. Wallace states, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can watch the whole speech above.
5. Stephen Colbert teaches us that life isn’t something you can plan
If there is anyone who knows about improvisation, it’s comedian Stephen Colbert. In his commencement speech at Northwestern University in 2011, Colbert reminded students that you cannot plan life. Life throws too many curve balls. There are too many unpredictable things that can happen. The most successful and happy people are not those who have a plan, but those who can roll with the punches and overcome the obstacles. He goes on to site his time as an improv comic and how all of the actors working together to create a scene out of literally nothing are all working for one another. He states that like improv comedy, you don’t know what happens next in life. You just make it up as you go along. You can watch the whole speech above.
6. Kurt Vonnegut teaches us to not sweat the small stuff
Some of our younger readers may not know Kurt Vonnegut. He is a famous author that found of of his success during the middle of last century. In 1999, Kurt Vonnegut was at Agnes Scott College giving a commencement speech. During the speech, he mentioned that in order to live a more complete life, people needed to let stuff go. He argued that you cannot reasonably expect others to forgive you for your mistakes if you cannot forgive others and that you cannot live life fostering a personal vendetta against others.
7. Neil Gaiman teaches us that success can be distracting.
Neil Gaiman is most known for his work in a number of literary mediums including journalism, comic books, and novels. In 2012, Gaiman gave a speech at the University of the Arts where he talked about success. He stated that when you become successful, you may be unintentionally swayed from performing the actions that made you successful. Gaiman recalled his early success and how he felt pressured to answer emails all day long and it actually prevented him from writing as much as he wanted. So he reminds us to keep doing what makes us successful and to not let others get in the way.
8. Barack Obama’s life lessons teaches us that you really can beat the odds
We know that not everyone likes Barack Obama but that doesn’t mean the man can’t deliver an amazing speech. In this 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convenction, Obama reminds that it is possible to beat the odds and become something great. He cites his own upbringing as an example and how he was never expected to make it as far as he did. It shows that when you’re passionate about something and when you try hard enough, you can accomplish almost anything. It’s important to note that Obama talks about this in 2004 and would become the President of the United States just four years later.
9. Robin Roberts reminds us that we each have the courage to overcome challenges
Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about courage. She is a breast cancer survivor and has done battle with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. Her sister once had to donate bone marrow just so Robin could remain alive. She was also ESPN’s first African American broadcaster in the early 1990’s. She’s a woman who works in an industry predominately populated by men. So when Robin Roberts takes the stage at the ESPYs and delivers a short lecture on having courage, we would do well to listen!
10. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that some things are more important than success
We all know the story of Martin Luther King Jr. So much so that we have a day of the year to celebrate him as a national holiday here in the United States. Most of us have listening to segments of his famous speech where he told the world about a dream he had. The main message of his famous speech is that racial inequalities needed to end and he was absolutely right. However, he also reminds us that there are things that are more important than success such as equal rights and treating each other with respect and kindness. If you somehow made it through school without watching the famous speech, we’ve got it linked above.
11. Jim Carrey reminds us that even if you keep it safe, you can still fail so you might as well go big
Jim Carrey delivered a commencement speech at Maharishi University recently that went absolutely viral. You may know it as the one minute video that will change your life. They weren’t lying but they weren’t telling the whole truth because the speech was actually 28 minutes long. During the speech, Carrey talks about his father who wanted to be a comedian but decided to take the safe route and become an accountant. As it turns out, his father was laid off and his family ended up poor anyway. With that, Carrey tells us that you can still end up failing even if you play it safe so you might as well swing for the fences and do what you want to do.
12. Bill Murray teaches us that it’s the hard times that determine if someone really loves you
You may have heard the story about Bill Murray crashing someone’s bachelor party and delivering a speech. It turns out the speech was both short and fairly epic. During the speech, Bill Murray challenged the bachelors to travel around the world with the women they love and go to places that are difficult to go to and deal with. He says if you can get back to the United States and you still love each other, then you should get married right then and there. It’s a great message. It’s easy to love one another when times are good but do you still love each other when the times are bad? If so, that’s true love according to Bill Murray.
Inspiration comes from everywhere and from anyone. There are a countless number of speeches and stories that can teach us an incalculable number of life lessons.
All these speeches almost share the same message: Don’t be afraid to fail and keep trying.
If you also want to live your best life like the above successful people, this is what you should start doing: