Oprah to Boomers: Drop Dead

Stop the presses! Did Oprah really say she would pursue a younger demographic because after forty, women have things figured out? Nothing more to teach us older broads?

Apparently it’s true. To shore up her biz, Ms. Winfrey said she would like to attract women

in their 30s or perhaps their 20s, to be able to reach people when they are looking to fulfill their destiny.” She added, “By the time you’re 40, 42, you should have kind of figured it out already.

Yah, us over 40s have that destiny thing all out of the way. No sense talking to us anymore.

Okay, it makes sense that she’d want to augment her customer base by adding younger people, but I get the impression she wants to distance herself from the demographic whose undying loyalty made her a billionaire, and that rankles.

Even though I fell out of love with All Things Oprah a couple of years back, I’ve always thought she was one smart cookie, but that comment about having things figured out is ridiculous and self-serving. I mean, look at all the heavy shit we still have to face! Deaths of loved ones, illness and surgeries, loss of jobs, financial challenges, helping our aging parents and/or the younger generations while still trying to carve out some happiness for ourselves, following our dreams even late in life

Does Oprah really think we have it all figured out?
What a failure of imagination.

I understand commerce. Business is business, and she must do what is necessary to keep her financials healthy. So why would she ignore women in the second half of life? It’s a common mistake – I guess some folks just can’t accept that we older women have discretionary income and we’re not afraid to use it. You’d think that would weigh into her biz calcs.

A minor oversight!

Sometimes when you become too rich and powerful, your minions only tell you what you want to hear. Maybe that’s what’s happened to Ms. Winfrey. However, she might want to sneak off to a broom closet with her personal laptop and check out She-Conomy by Stephanie Holland to get all kinds of late-breaking info about who has the bucks in this country. Or maybe catch some of the great wisdom about marketing to women by Marti Barletta. Maybe even invite Stephanie and Marti to present. Hell, Oprah could do a gigantic segment on women entrepreneurs in the second half, from starting-out-on-a-shoestring to Fortune 500 CEOs (all 20 of them).

Oprah seems to be assuming women our age (ahem – her age) aren’t still on a path to conquer old demons and new worlds. But maybe I’m reading her wrong, and what she really meant to say was this:

By the time you’re 40, 42, let alone 60, 70, 80, and up, you’re so completely awesome that I can’t think of anything else I can tell you.

Or this:

I’m only 58. I need to restart my own growth curve and I haven’t quite figured out how to do that. Any ideas?

Yes, Oprah. Start hanging out around Any Shiny Thing, where we could illuminate a small planet with all the wisdom, friendship and warmth we generate! Ladies and gents of AST, what would you advise Miss Oprah to do, personally or regarding her business? Any ideas? And keep it friendly.

Thanks to my friend Sarah Stockton for alerting me to this intriguing article in the first place. It appeared in the NY Times on November 29.

Oprah Struggles to Reinvent Herself

O Magazine was started twelve years ago. How many articles do you think Oprah Winfrey has published about reinvention? Yet it seems even for the Big O, it’s not that easy. (Boomers everywhere hide a half-smile of schadenfreude.)

Used to be the only time we had to invent ourselves was in our late teens, early twenties.

“What are you going to do with your life?” was the big question. Now we have to recreate ourselves every decade or so due to job insecurity. Capitalism depends on creative destruction, and the United States is the envy of the world in the way our CEOs can toss workers into the garbage whenever the balance sheet needs more black ink.

Most of us are vulnerable. We’re the little guy, Joe Employee. We don’t have much power, unless you’re one of the few remaining union members and even they are pretty much toast. Witness the tens of thousands of highly trained and educated teachers who stay home every day, losing their edge as opposed to educating the next generation. But I digress.

Little Guy, take heart. You’re not alone. It seems Oprah is flailing about in her new life-phase. (Warning: mute this article because otherwise you’ll be force-fed an annoying commercial.)

Apparently Oprah’s reinvention has hit a rough patch. Her new cable channel is sucking wind. I feel her pain because I’ve been there, stepping off the cliff from where you are golden into a place where you are tin. You feel as if you’re twenty years old again, but not in a good way. In your new incarnation, you have little power or authority, and must slave away to rebuild it. But this time you’re forty or fifty or sixty or more.

In my late forties, I left a profession in which I’d established a twenty-seven year history and threw myself into freelancing. After ten years of trying and failing, changing my mind, feeling lost and/or depressed, wasting time, wasting money and learning things I’ll never need, I’ve finally figured out my new career. Apparently I’m a teacher and a writer. I’m so happy, it’s obviously the right choice.

From my new vantage point, I’d give younger people this advice: think of yourself as a small business. You may have to reshape it or carry it to an unexpected place, but this will be less jarring if you plan for it. What would you do if you were suddenly tossed from your current job?

Burnish that business called You, Inc.

WHILE YOU’RE EMPLOYED, learn everything you can, network with those who can further your career, keep your eye out to alternate but related industries, think of side businesses you can build in your spare time for emergency cash, and save your money. Living within your means is the ultimate power over the unpredictable future.

For the older people, my peers, this is something you’ve already discovered. If you need tips from your contemporaries about reinvention and finding work in mid-to-later-life, here are several:

I wish you success and contentment, and I hope you’ll take some comfort from knowing that the great Oprah is struggling, too.

What If We Didn’t Consider Aging a Problem?

Rossellini younger

The world is a magical place limited to some extent by our low expectations.   Today while I was meditating these ideas bubbled up:

  • If it’s true that forming a new habit takes 21 days of repetition, shouldn’t we be able to form a new habit every 21 days? So if you picked three new things you want to groove into your brain (say, meditation, Kegels and exercise), and did them for a month, wouldn’t you have three new habits? Over a year you could develop 36 new habits/behaviors. Is that really possible? What a better person I could be in a year if that were true.
  • What if you looked in the mirror on a regular basis and thought, “You’re smart! You’re pretty! Dang, you’re awesome.” Oh, put away the modesty. You love yourself, right? Why not unabashedly tell yourself that? Oprah does, or at least I assume she does. I wrote about it here. I think it would feel wonderful if we could stop with the negativity and start celebrating ourselves. My shrink used to say, “change the behavior and the feelings will follow.” Isn’t that a lovely thought? What if we could change our feelings simply by acting like we believe it?

Rossellini older

Okay, now that I’ve laid the groundwork, now that you are floating on a bubble of what might be, I would like to share with you a fabulous anecdote. A reporter asked Isabella Rossellini what she does to try to look younger. She fixed him with that half-mocking, studious look of hers and said, “I do nothing. I don’t think aging is a problem.”

Can you imagine feeling this way? Let me create a mental image for you: we look in the mirror and see that our necks are veiny, our eyes are surrounded by a starburst of lines and our hair is thinning. We shrug, because we know that looks go away.

We accept with a peaceful heart and good humor that older women look different from younger women. We marvel at their strength and ability to bend down and reach into the lower shelves, and we hand them things to carry and put away because they can. We laugh, knowing we’re taking advantage. They laugh, knowing it’ll be their turn one day. It’s all good. It’s just the way of the planet.

What would that feel like? What if we acted as if we believed it for twenty one days? Change the behavior and the feelings will follow.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my AST friends. I am grateful for the companionship we share.

Being Oprah

What would it feel like to be Oprah? No, I’m not talking about living in a fifty-million-dollar house near Santa Barbara (for which she wrote a check), or having a private jet to haul you anywhere in the world, or your own TV show and magazine and cable network. No, I’m talking about something else: the attitude. What would it feel like, to feel like Oprah?

This question occurred to me as I unfurled the tenth anniversary issue of O Magazine. On the cover, Oprah stands next to a giant cake. She’s been on the cover of every one of her magazines for the past ten years – one hundred and twenty issues – the only face of O, blow-dried and airbrushed to within a pixel of perfection.

She’s even on the back cover. In a special nod to her anniversary, and forgoing what must be tons of advertising revenue, Oprah is portrayed in a lovely near-silhouette. She is wearing diamond earrings and a sparkling, sequined dress. The picture lacks any text, as if words simply fall short.

Now, you might think I’m going to say that Oprah’s ego is way over the top, but I’m not. I’m asking you to suspend judgment and think about how it would feel to be that person on the back cover. Imagine you had the power to decide to occupy that space, and then to direct the stylists and the artists and who-knows-who-else to focus on one thing: making you look fabulous. Imagine your one-point-five-million subscribers and countless other readers gape-mouthed in awe when they see you on that page. Can you feel it?

Me, neither. It’s too much of a stretch from my normal life, and the self-negating attitudes many of us struggle with. So let’s do a warm-up exercise, and then I’ll ask you again.

I was dining alfresco on El Paseo recently, El Paseo being the Rodeo Drive of the Palm Springs area. It was high season on this mid-winter day, and when I looked up from my croissant I saw that the Bentleys and Rolls Royces had cruised to a stop, and the shoppers had turned their backs on Tiffany and Cartier. Everyone was watching a tall, thin, forty-something greyhound of a woman, her long limbs clad from shoulders to toes in bronze leather, her coppery hair cascading down her back. Stunning, even for El Paseo, the woman strutted past high-end showrooms, absolutely riveted on her own reflection in the plate glass windows. She seemed oblivious to us, the commoners who had themselves dressed up for this pricey resort area. For her, the only two people who existed on the street that day were herself and her reflection. Everyone ogled her – some scowling, others with mocking grins, some just shaking their heads. Lady Godiva and her horse wouldn’t have gotten a better response. My own reaction was mirth: what a showboat! What an ego! How could a person act like that?

And then I felt a thrilling rush, almost a sense of vertigo as some unpredictable part of my mind took the question literally. Mentally, I left my fellow gawkers behind and hungered to feel like her, even for just one minute – to sit inside her mind and look outward at the world from her vantage point. Was she aware of us and feeding off our reaction? Society teaches us to be modest, and that braggarts and showoffs will be punished, but what if her parents taught her something different? What if she came from a culture where beauty was accepted as a gift from the heavens rather than a sign of conceit? Maybe she assumed that we adored her, and negativity never crossed her mind. How would it feel to stand so tall and strut so proudly, not only not minding the attention but inhaling it, your heart expanding with joy from your own reflection, and from all that human energy focused directly at you?

I ask you, could the sun shine any more brightly?

And then, as I stepped away from judging this woman – as I quieted the voice inside that whispered “narcissist” and instead simply admired the pure brilliance of her self-confidence, I felt freed from the bonds of jealousy, of envy, of competition. I felt like a spectator, admiring a fiery thing of beauty, and more than that, I felt lifted up, equal to that beauty, because I had the capacity to celebrate rather than denigrate.

Now back to Oprah.

We’re all familiar with Oprah’s history, how as a child she lived in a shack without running water, and that she was sexually violated before she was even out of elementary school. You might say she’s overcompensating for a childhood that would have ground most of us into the dirt, that she’s not really happy, and that nobody who is that driven could be, deep down. If she were happy she’d have married Stedman by now, right?

But I asked you not to judge.

Imagine that you built a media empire in which you launched the careers of Dr. Phil, Suze Orman, Dr. Mahmet Oz, Gale King, trainer Bob Greene, and countless other celebrities, authors, philanthropists and do-gooders. She’s won awards – thirty Emmys for her TV show alone. She has created thousands of jobs, given away vast sums of money and helped so many causes, small and large. She is a trailblazer, having been feted for becoming the first of her gender or race in many areas. She has funded schools and built an academy for impoverished girls in South Africa. Nelson Mandela loves her. Maya Angelou writes poems for her. President Obama and his wife consider her a friend. What must that feel like?

Oh, and the money? Oprah earns $385 million a year. Her net worth is upward of a couple billion. Forbes identifies the source of her wealth with this most sterling of American descriptors: “self-made.”

If I were inside Oprah’s head – if I were her – and I looked in the mirror as I got ready for bed at the end of a long day, and thought about the weary necessity of tomorrow’s schedule – a dozen meetings, a hundred decisions, camera/hair/makeup – I might feel lonely. I might feel the burden of leadership at the top of my media empire, and the hard-won distance from my childhood and youth.

But after I washed off my makeup and saw my plain, wide-eyed face stripped clean, my hair unstyled, my earlobes unadorned, I might let my shoulders relax. I might break into a grin. I might even say to the mirror, “Damn, girl, you’re amazing!”

In our own humble (or astounding) lives, we are all accomplishing great things, even if it’s only getting out of bed and showing up for work at a horrible job, because our family needs to eat. Even if it’s only because we manage to keep a smile on our faces when dealing with damaged and demoralized family members. Even if only because we’ve managed to hang onto our houses for one more day.

Damn, girl. You’re amazing.