On her final show, Oprah shared her greatest lessons and hopes for her viewers. In this series of posts, Paul highlights ten lessons Oprah learned, along with his related and unre­lated thoughts and stories.

“Every single day I came down from my makeup room on our Harpo elevator, I would offer a prayer of gratitude for the delight and the privilege of doing this show. Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this experience. The opportunity to have done this work, to be embraced by all of you who watched, is one of the greatest honors any human being could have. And I thank each of you for allowing me to speak in such a way that, no matter what was happening in your life, you could see the best of your selves.

“For everything there is a season, we know, and our time together on this platform is coming to a close. In a few moments when the final credits roll, I see it not as an ending, but as an extraordinary beginning. One chapter closed. The next chapter beginning for all of us.” — Oprah Winfrey, May 25, 2011

Read the complete Oprah Show finale transcript →

An attempt at super-human strengths

Somehow, somewhere I got it in my head that to do well in the world, I needed to do all things well. All “A”s on the report card, regardless the subject. Fix what was wrong, what was not an “A.” In my right-wrong, no-grays world, I wanted to be on the “right” side.

I had mentors that prescribed the theory “mistakes (or failures) are good, that’s how we learn.” For me, the underlying reason to learn from my mistakes is so they won’t happen again. My assumption is there will be a day when I am mistake free — perfect. Sailing through life.

I thought I could do anything if I put in an effort. I could fix any weakness, or at least charm my way around any stumbling block.

Forty years into this modus operandi, the list of weaknesses to overcome was growing, not shrinking! Relationships and challenges were more complex, not simpler. And I was hitting the limit of waking hours possible.

So it was startling to me to read Soar with your strengths by Donald Clifton and Paula Nelson. Clifton is the founder of Strengths Finder, and throughout his career he asked, “What would happen if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?”

Clifton and the folks at the Gallup Organization developed this theory: Focus on strengths and manage the weaknesses. Find out what you do well and do more of it. And find out what you don’t do well and stop doing it.

Heresy I thought. No one would let me get away with that — or better stated, “I would not let me get away with that.” I had honed my work-work-work coping strategy, and I was sticking to it. Success kept coming. Why should I change?

Then in 1993 my job at the Baltimore Symphony capsized.

I checked in with a psychiatrist at George Washington Medical Center in D.C. to sort out the disappointment (I don’t think that was the term I used in 1993). Five sessions later he says, “I think you should read up about Attention Deficit Disorder, and oh, I’m moving to Chicago. This is our last session.”

I started pouring through ADD readings by Dr. Lynn Weiss. Fellow Texan. Musician. Psychotherapist. Her ADD diagnosis came late in life. I could relate.

Dr. Weiss understands ADD as an alternate, perfectly natural way of brain wiring. A gift.

“I am so glad I am ADD! When I follow my heart, I am happy being me.

“Unfortunately, there were many times I did not take that path. Instead I did what I thought was expected of me, which in most instances did not fit my ADD nature. I tried to learn things the way I was taught to learn them. I stayed in school. Although not performing up to the level of my intelligence, I managed to be successful. This meant that I struggled to follow a path that often ignored my creative way of thinking, learning and doing things.… The emotional result

[of my struggles] was depression.

“I was aided along my path by a psychiatrist who told me in my twenties, ‘Lynn, trust your feelings. You are sensitive, and they will guide you.’

“What he really did was give me permission to trust my feelings. I did, and that became the strongest tool of my life. When I follow my heart and trust my feelings, I experience success and happiness.” — Lynn Weiss (1996)

There is no “normal” in Dr. Weiss’ approach. And no “disorder.” ADD is not something I have; it’s something I am. ADD traits can cause me trouble, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me. What it means is the way I am wired may not be a good match with the demands of a particular situation.

No heresy thoughts to distract me this time; I was ready. And with these three authors begins a journey of understanding my gifts and strengths. Especially learning and celebrating the positive gifts that come from circumstances I view as undesirable, awful or too dark to be told.

Joyous. Life-giving. Confusing. Enlightening. Surprising. Grace-filled.

An addendum

Preparing to write this post, I gleefully grabbed the well-worn books and started re-reading favorite passages. This paradigm shifting thought rose out of the pages as if I’d never read it before:

“Does failure truly exist, or is it simply an inaccurate matchup of expectations and strengths? Could it be that people are not successes or failures but merely individuals in the right or wrong expectation environment?” — Clifton and Nelson

Resources

Clifton, Donald O. and Paula Nelson (1992). Soar with your strengths. New York: Dell Publishing.

Weiss, Lynn, Ph.D. (1992). Attention Deficit Disorder in adults: Practical help and understanding. Dallas: Taylor Publishing.

Weiss, Lynn, Ph.D. (1996). ADD on the job: Making your ADD work for you. Dallas: Taylor Publishing.