When I was nine years old, my mom returned to the workforce after a 13-year career break. Financially, we were struggling, so my parents decided to forgo finding an afterschool babysitter. Instead, I became your stereotypical eighties latch-key kid, walking home from the bus stop on my own, with a Papa Smurf keychain that said, “Don’t Lose These Keys!” and an afternoon that was a blank slate.
Having grown up to that point with a stay at home mom, I struggled with all of the new-found freedom at first. In the first few weeks, I called my mom two or three times an afternoon—and you can guess how this went over with her employer. She had to cut me off, limit me to one 5-minute conversation and then I was left to figure out how to fill the rest of my afternoon.
Then it happened. I found myself an inspirational mentor I could check in with five afternoons a week at 4PM, Eastern Standard Time.
I was riveted by her energy, optimism and belief that anybody could be anything and that anybody could get through anything.
I was taken by the confidence and authority in her words—even when she didn’t look like anyone else I saw on TV. Already at nine, I was aware that my body was bigger and different than most of my classmates, so to see someone standing in her power simply as herself was a tremendous relief. I was grateful to know that this was possible.
My relationship with my mentor grew over time. On the days her show was a bit sensational for my taste, I simply used it as background fodder for snacking and homework. But the days when she dug into the human experience: resilience, persistence, empathy, compassion, finding courage to stand in your convictions—I was hooked.
I leaned most on that personal leadership foundation built during my mentor sessions in the initial weeks after my parents died in a car accident when I was eleven. I went to therapy and had the unconditional support of my extended family—but it was the Oprah Kool-Aid that truly kept me going. I’d seen first-hand how people could survive the most horrific tragedies and live to talk about it on the show. I often thought about how I would share my story with Oprah, and how she might grab my hand and tell me that I was brave. In that moment, when the rest of my family was reeling in grief and had no clue what to say to me, in my mind, Oprah knew how to be with me and I would feel in my bones that I was brave. I believed it. And it was that belief that started so small and grew to become all that I am. A survivor and someone who knows with every cell that anybody can be anything and get through anything.
Looking back on that time now with my coach training, I know my conversations with Oprah televised in my mind, were my pre-teen version of visualization that kept me in the space of explaining my resilience, my compassion for myself and my belief that I was going to make it through. I remember keeping it to myself thinking I was either just a super fan or a little crazy—but that was actually quite an insightful strategy for an 11-year-old!
Now that I’m in the business of helping people step out of their fears and into a life of their design, I call on my early training often and I’m certain that these were the days I first fell in love with this work. I’d be lying if I said I gave up on my mentor conversations. When I’m struggling with something in my business or in life, I picture myself in Oprah’s Santa Barbara backyard, filming our Super Soul Sunday episode and somehow, I always find my way back to being both brave and truly seen.