"Don't you ever want more?"
- "My Love," Jill Scott
If Oprah never does another thing that's meaningful in my life, her Master Class show would be enough. I watched both of her own episodes of Master Class, and two things struck me. One was the moment during her childhood when Oprah's grandmother told Oprah while washing clothes for whites and hanging them to dry something to the effect of, "Now, Oprah Gail, you pay attention to what I'm doing because someday you're going to have to do this." Oprah said that something in her soul just rebelled, and deep inside she knew, "That would not be my fate."
The second thing that struck me was Oprah's response to a conversation with her boss at a Baltimore television station when she decided to go to Chicago and do a talk show -- a talk show that would eventually become The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her boss told her she would get slaughtered, that there was no way she could hope to compete with Phil Donahue, in his own backyard, no less. She listened and acknowledged to herself that he was right, but she said to herself that even if she couldn't beat Phil, she knew that if she stayed in Baltimore, she wouldn't grow.
I call Oprah's childhood conversation with her grandmother an "Oprah Gail" moment: When someone, with the best of intentions, can't imagine a fate for you greater than what you have or what they have. Even worse -- when they can't imagine a fate for you that is commensurate with your abilities.
I've been having some Oprah Gail moments as of late, with people I know assuming that I aspire to little more than what I have or -- even worse -- that I shouldn't aspire to more. When I jokingly said to a friend that I wouldn't take a position because the employer couldn't afford to pay me the salary I'm worth, a reasonable one given my experience, the friend replied, "You don't need to make that much money." But what really gets me is that people can't imagine that I would want to do anything other than what I'm doing. It's all I can do not to shake them and say, "Given my abilities, can't you even imagine that I might want more than this?" Imagine in a way that, because of time and circumstance, Oprah's grandmother couldn't?
The second part of Oprah's Master Class that struck me, the inability to grow in one's current position, is something we don't always think about. It's easy as we grow older and risk averse to become the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of being pot bound and, like a pot bound plant, in need of a transplant to grow. My husband's pastor calls it "outgrowing your circle," and this can happen at work or in any organization you're involved in.
How do you know if you've outgrown your circle? Ask yourself:
Are you considered the go-to person in your group?
Are you expected to catch the errors of your peers because you're held to a higher performance standard than your peers?
Are you the one person who consistently brings a new perspective to problems?
Do you teach more than you learn?
When you make an error, is the error so complex that only you could catch it, but you get derided by people who can't even comprehend the error you made?
Do you have better judgment than your peers?
Do you bring more to your position than what's in your job description? For example, can you balance the books as an accounting clerk AND write a killer press release?
Are you accused of being arrogant because, more often than not, you're right and you won't back down about it?
Have you stopped speaking up because you know that, if you do, you'll have to explain, too, and you don't have the patience to teach?
Is there a mismatch between your position and your passion?
Do you bristle at being talked down to by someone in your group who outranks you and whom you consider to be less intelligent than yourself?
I have a lot of interests and, thank God, I'm still curious. I imagine far greater for myself in addition to what I have now or what others would have for me. I'm not done growing, nor do I hope to ever be.
To borrow from a Dos Equis commercial, "Stay curious, my friends."