Working for Justice

From One Working Woman to Another

“I want us all to fulfill our greatest potential.  To find our calling, and summon the courage to live it.” Oprah.

When most people think of Oprah, they think of her as an African-American talk show host, actress, producer, billionaire, and philanthropist.  What people don’t know is that she was born in rural Mississippi to a single teenage mom; she is a survivor of sexual abuse, and her first and only child died in infancy when Oprah was fourteen.  So how did she become the most famous woman in America?  How did she shatter the ceiling when race, sex, and socioeconomic status were all stacked against her?

Oprah is now sharing her secrets to success on a cross-country speaking tour entitled “Oprah’s the Life You Want Weekend.”    It may sound a bit hokey, I know, and I promise that I went into this seminar with the same skepticism with which you are currently reading this post.  But if there is any aspect of your life that you want to improve, and you commit to the following lessons, I believe that it will have the same positive effect on your life as it has had on mine.

Here are five suggestions that I learned from the seminar that I find particularly helpful in my personal and professional life:

  1. Be responsible for the energy that you bring into a room.

You have the power to set the tone in a room.  The energy and attitude that you carry will have a great influence on the people around you.  Thus, you must be very careful about the way that you impact these people and take responsibility for the power that you have.  For example, you have the option to walk into work every day with a poor attitude full of complaints.  This will likely affect the morale of your co-workers and bring others down, even those that were feeling positive before you entered.  Alternatively, you have the option to walk into work and treat others with respect, kindness, and thoughtfulness.  This energy will likely be reflected back to you, creating a positive and healthy environment.  Simply turning complaints into proactive suggestions can shift the mood.  Try it- compliment one co-worker and watch how the energy in a room transforms.

  1. Create your new language.

Telling a new story starts with changing your language.  Find words that you would like to stop using and replace them with words and ideas that you want to integrate into your daily life.  Some examples of your new language may include:

  • I am tired vs. I am waiting on my second wind
  • I am overwhelmed by this project vs. I look forward to this challenge
  • I am so behind vs. I am on my way
  • I can’t work with x anymore vs. I look forward to working with others
  • I am bored vs. I will search for more fulfilling opportunities
  • Use the power of language to process experiences through a different lens, one that is empowered and forward-thinking.
  1. Don’t let fear get the best of you.

Fear is paralyzing and it is also the most boring thing about us, as explained by Elizabeth Gilbert, one of Oprah’s trailblazers and most famous for her international best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love.  We all have the same fear; it is not special or unique.  Standing out, coming forward, and speaking up is not easy and it is scary- but sometimes it is our only choice in order to catalytic change.  Fear will only hold you back.  Whether you are an employee at a company who has knowledge of corporate actions that are harming the public, or you have been swallowing inappropriate conduct from your supervisors because of your race, sex, or pregnancy, it is brave to speak out about it.  You are standing up for yourself, your co-workers, your mother, your sister, your daughter, and the many that will come after you.  Because if you won’t, who will?

  1. Forget about your passion, follow your curiosity.

I know this may sound counterintuitive but stick with me.  I am willing to bet that at least once in your life someone has told you to “follow your passion.”  And if you have a clear passion that is defined and you are living it every day then that is amazing and you are the exception.  Most of us have been wandering around trying to find our passion and feel bad or guilty that we haven’t discovered it yet.  But the good news is that we do have curiosity, and with that curiosity, we may find our passion or we may not- but we will have a full life of adventure.

We may not all be able to quit our jobs and travel around the world, but we can try to make the most of our current situation.  If there is a project at work that peaks your curiosity, try to grab every opportunity that will let you explore that path.  And if one doesn’t come along naturally, try to create it.  Your curiosity may also come in the form of learning a new skill, reading a novel, saving up for a trip, trying a new food, or donating your time to a cause you care about.  Chances are that passion will burn out, but curiosity will stay with you for the journey.

  1. Pay attention to the whispers.

Are you a whisper person, a brick person, or a brick wall person?  A whisper person is someone that listens to their gut, trusts themselves, and makes a change based on the first sign of warning.  It is that “hmmm” that you sometimes say to yourself innately, maybe even out loud, when you realize something is “off.”  A brick person will ignore the whispers and wait to see a few more warnings until they decide to go in a different direction.  A brick wall person is the stubborn one who ignores all of the warnings until something catastrophic happens.  If you are here, don’t worry, I used to fit here too.  We should all try to be whisper people and act at the first sign of caution.  For example, if you are pregnant and overhear colleagues making inappropriate comments about your ability to perform your job, that is quite a loud whisper.  If your workload is gradually being reduced during your pregnancy, that is a brick moment.  If you are fired, that is the brick wall.  Trust your gut, when you think something is wrong — it usually is.

These are five lessons that one can institute in order to be a more active participant in daily life.  This is difficult to do because change is hard but it is also very rewarding.  I challenge you to create the highest, greatest vision for your life and to target every step you make to move you in that direction.

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP

Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP is a nationwide litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, and Baltimore. We represent individuals against powerful interests. We act as a private attorney general in support of the private and public good. Learn More

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