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all i really need to know, i learned from oprah

Oprah in AustraliaOprah Winfrey may be one of the biggest celebrities in the world but, as she always admits, the role that is most meaningful to her is that of teacher. For 25 years, The Oprah Show has been her classroom where she’s taught millions of viewers everything from paying attention to that little voice in their head to experiencing the power of “now.” Along the way, she’s also shown us the importance of wearing the right size bra, checking the shape of our poop and approaching every action with intention.

What’s made Oprah such an amazing and effective teacher is that she doesn’t stand there lecturing – instead, she shows us how things work and introduces us to people who have gone through those experiences. And by letting us see her in some of her own vulnerable moments – without makeup, in her pajamas, doing the “ugly cry” — Oprah has given us a safe haven to ask embarrassing questions and share our most personal hopes, worries and secrets.

When I was selected as one of Oprah’s Ultimate Viewers last September, I felt like Oprah had just taught me another huge lesson – the Law of Attraction really worked! I had been talking about, dreaming about, praying to somehow get to Oprah for years. She was the inspiration for StyleSubstanceSoul.com, and I wanted her to see that, because of her, we were trying to make a difference in the world. I had put that in writing and sent it out into the universe back in 2007 and then put all of that in writing on the Ultimate Viewer application. The fact that it was now actually coming to fruition – and that Amy, Susan and I were GOING TO AUSTRALIA WITH OPRAH! – took my breath away.

That trip was life-changing and I was surprised, when we got back, at the number of people who asked me what Oprah was like in person, whether she was really the same person they saw on TV. Of course she was. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was exactly who she seemed to be, and many of the lessons she had been teaching us all these years were put into practice and proven over and over again on the trip.

Here are five of them:

Dream big

After a private tour of the Sydney Opera House, we were treated to a surprise and very intimate performance by legendary soprano Penelope Mills and pianist Simon Kenway. Following a once-in-a-lifetime private beach party with Oprah and Gayle – catered by Curtis Stone, no less – we were invited to the sweetest dessert party ever. Each activity in which we participated included a goodie bag.

Any one of these special events – and, trust me, special takes on a whole new meaning here – would have been enough for us. But not for Oprah. She and her producers dream big in a way none of us could ever imagine, and that’s a skill worth practicing because if you can dream it, you can make it happen.

Step outside your comfort zone

For two thirds of the Ultimate Viewers, this trip halfway around the world marked their first time out of the United States. During this trip, people who were afraid of heights climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. People with fears of the water swam in the Great Barrier Reef.

Because we had Oprah as our safety net, it was easier to try things we had never experienced before. I am not a snorkeler – I get nervous trying to breathe underwater – but I’d be damned if I was going to miss the opportunity to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

Putting that mask on and viewing that unparalleled underwater world was something I’ll never forget. I left there with a real sense of pride and accomplishment, as did so many people on that trip. It was transformative to learn that you could do something you had always held yourself back from doing, and I will be forever grateful to Oprah for giving us the chance to learn that firsthand.

Everything’s better when it’s shared

Oprah could have headed Down Under herself but she chose to take 302 people who she knew would appreciate the experience as much as she would. She always says, “Everything’s better when it’s shared,” and she proved that to us on this trip.

I am really not a big group person but this was not just any big group. As Oprah herself said in one of her speeches to us, “Of course it’s a nice group. We didn’t take any assholes on this trip!” Each person was nicer than the next and we would all turn to each other at different times to try to take in the incredible moment together.

Now, almost six months after the trip, we still communicate through a very active Facebook group. I am so thankful for the amazing people in this group because they are the only ones who truly understand the emotions of that trip and the only ones we can share our feelings with, without sounding like we’re boasting in any way. We help each other in whatever ways we can, and we know we are bonded to these people for life.

We’ll be introducing you to some of our fellow Ultimate Viewers over the next week and know you will love and learn from them, too.

Be grateful

Oprah has kept a gratitude journal forever, and she gave us all journals at the beginning of the trip so we could do the same. We could have filled up a dozen of them.

As we traveled around Australia, we were constantly being thanked by the warm, hospitable Aussies for coming so far to visit their country. We genuinely couldn’t understand why they would be thanking us, and we would fall over ourselves trying to explain how grateful we were to them. These encounters often ended with lots of hugging, which, really, could be the answer to world peace.

The most touching display of gratitude, though, was Oprah’s surprise visit to the airport to see us off and thank us for being her Ultimate Viewers. It was such a classy – and unnecessary – thing to do, especially since, once again, we felt that we were the ones who had so much to thank her for. I thought this revealed so much about her as a person.

Anything is possible

This lesson is now indisputable. If you had told me anytime before last September that Amy, Susan and I would be going to Australia with Oprah, I would never have believed you. It was hard enough to believe when we were actually there! And I think all 302 of the Ultimate Viewers would agree.


With Oprah’s final show coming up this week, there’s another lesson that’s also indisputable now: One person can make a difference. Oprah has proven that over and over again.

I mentioned to my husband the other day that no one will ever take Oprah’s place and he said, “No one, but many.” That was a giant “aha” moment for me because I think he’s absolutely right.

Oprah’s influence has been so far-reaching that if every person she’s touched in some way did their own part to make the world a better place, the world really would become a better place.

So, with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, all I can say is, “Thank you, Oprah.”  I will miss you in my house at 4:00 every day — although please know you are always welcome to show up!

I will take to heart the lessons you have taught so well and work hard to do you proud. I know we will meet again – maybe for a StyleSubstanceSoul segment on OWN or back in Australia for an Ultimate Viewer reunion? (Hey, I am mastering that Law of Attraction lesson and have to throw it out there!)

Meanwhile, I am stocking up on tissues to watch the finale on Wednesday because I am going to go full-swing into the ugly cry. This I know for sure.


  1. You three are truly blessed, beyond the obvious, but the fact that you get “it” and go for “it.”
    Whatever that “it’ is, by your words and actions, you are sharing and showing others that anything is possible.

    Thank you!

  2. well-said Lois and btw, very rpoud of you for swimming /snorleing- if I remember well, you tried your best NOT to go swimming LOL!
    That was long ago and far away…xox! Well-said!

    • Ha ha! The lake at Willoway wasn’t quite the Great Barrier Reef, and Mike the swimming instructor wasn’t quite Oprah!

  3. Lisa Dewar says:

    Thank you for expressing my exact sentiments regarding not only the Australia experience, but also Oprah herself. I’m sad to see the show end but excited to see what OWN holds in store.

    So glad to have met you ladies.

  4. Ladies –
    Thank you for sharing your lessons learned. Sometimes we need more than one person to say it and remind us before we can take action. The piece I need to overcome is the realization that I have something to share, so I should indeed put “it” out there. My cousin and I wrote a a children’s book, one which I gratefully know you have shared with your readers – “Butterfly Kisses and Wishes on Wings – When someone you love has cancer – a hopeful, helpful book for kids. We sent it to Oprah, along with a great letter – but never heard back. That’s me – try once, people know what they want, if they don’t want it the first time, perhaps they never will. I know that goes against everything Oprah teachers us- it looks like I have a lot of work to do! None-the-less, thank you for taking the time to remind us of her BIG 5 Lessons. You summed it up well. I think I ‘ll print it out and reread it again… and again…

    By the way – love your site!

    Ellen McVicker

    • Thank you so much, Ellen, and you know we have been inspired by your work, too. Keep sending it out there!

  5. I am a HUGE fan of Oprah, but surprisingly hardly ever watch her show! I think she best teaches by example. Her career trajectory (not to mention tenacity, dedication, hard work) is inspiring, and the fact that she has used her powers for good, not “evil” is impressive.

    I didn’t realize the stylesubstancesoul.com site had an Oprah connection… but it makes sense. I think you gals are honoring her well.

    I went to a taping of her show back in the early ’90s when I lived in Chicago. I was inspired not by the content of the show but rather by the fact that Oprah said “please” and “thank you” to her staff, even in a high stress production environment (I’ve seen other tapings of other shows where staff was not treated so well), and after the show, she graciously shook hands with audience members and said “thank you for coming.”

    Thank you for sharing your experiences! What an incredible experience! I look forward to reading more. (and learning from YOU guys!)

    • Totally agree — her gratitude is inspiring in itself. And thanks, Jennifer, for your own inspiring writing. (If any of you haven’t read Jennifer’s piece, Mom’s Chicken Divan, which we posted on Saturday, treat yourself now!)

  6. sheryl baron says:

    that was beautiful, Lois. I would listen to you talk about this amazing, life-changing adventure anytime. It’s my way of “dreaming big”. I think that’s why so many of us are so touched by Oprah; she helps us to see what’s possible, pay attention to the what we’re thankful for and live life to its’ fullest, each and every day. I will miss her, too! Maybe she’ll come visit us all in San Diego!

  7. Your dreams are inspiring and Lois, your writing a true gift. I can still remember MY screams when Amy told me to watch the show which revealed you were going to Australia. You three have worked hard, dreamed big and inspired many. You deserve every success and then some. That is why I was so thrilled you were selected for the trip.

    I am a native Chicagoan and remember when Oprah arrived “on the scene.” She was very different and unique in those days. She also had a connection to my family so I feel a sense of “relationship.”

    There are many people with substantial $$$ that don’t choose or make the effort to share it; she has. In addition, I always remember that one of the “keys” to her success was the fact that reading was a healthy escape from a “difficult” family situation.

    Ongoing congratulations to all of you.


    • Thanks so much for the nice words, Iris, and for all your support — we can’t tell you how much it means to us.

  8. Sharon Stanley says:

    I haven’t had a lot of time to watch Oprah’s show in the past few years, but when her show first came out I thought that she was an incredibly geniune person. Warm, friendly and a person that doesn’t pu on airs. In fact, I think my exact words were, “I think I’d really like her if we met at a party!” I am glad that someone I know really did meet her at a party and I know that she will continue her positive influence wherever her new road wil take her. Thank you, Style, Substance and Soul, for taking us with you on your incredible journey!

    • Sharon, you would definitely like her if you met at a party — and she would definitely like you too!

  9. This was so refreshing to read.

  10. michael says:

    So deeply proud and impressed by you. Happy to be known as Lois’ husband.

  11. Wow Lois, that was so much fun to read!! I so hope Oprah has an Ultimate Australian Adventure reunion, because there are so many UVs I did not get to meet or interact with, that I wish i had had the chance to! I am looking forward to meeting up with some new, ‘old’ friends this Saturday, tho, and that will be a treat! Possum Joni

    • I feel the same way, and am bummed that I can’t join you guys in Chicago this weekend. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  12. I am so happy that our lives have crossed paths. We are all only one person away from our destiny. I heard that last July and then on Labor Day, I got the call from the Oprah show! How prophectic! I have always believed that good things are in store for me and meeting 300 Ultimate Viewers and sharing a lifetime experience together is the best example of what that means. I loved everyone of you the moment that I met you. I loved what your husband said, “not one, but many.” Aha moment it is. Great things can happen to everyone and if you believe it, it is so.

    • So happy to have shared this amazing experience with you and hope to spend more time together soon.

  13. Cathrin Eckle says:

    With Oprah’s absence in the 4:00 p.m. slot, this makes an opening for the 3 of you to carry on her work….I would LOVE to see you on T.V. sharing with us, bringing us together and continuing to do the work Oprah taught us all to do. You are great; the opportunities you offer to each of us as women and men; human beings, really, to reach out, to be, to understand and to be understood is the most important work to be done! Thank you…..see you on the tube at 4:00…I know you can pull it off…the Law of Attraction principle at work!

    I taped 24 Oprah’s so can ease into the “ugly cry”!!


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