One of the greatest among the many aha teachings seared into my soul by my mentor-mother-friend Maya Angelou is the one about legacy.

I'd just returned from the opening of my school in South Africa and was regaling her with all the details.

"This school will be my greatest legacy," I said. "It will make such a profound difference. It will change the trajectory of girls' lives. It will impact generations to come."

I was pretty confident making those statements. And time has proved them true, as I witness the members of the first classes now blossomed into young women graduating from college and venturing into new areas of service and achievement.

But Maya wasn't hearing it. She stopped me cold. "You have no idea what your legacy will be!" she exclaimed. "Your legacy is every life you touch! It's every person who ever watched your show and felt something. Was moved to do something. Go back to school, leave an abusive marriage, stop hitting their kids, no longer remain silent, not be a victim. It's not one thing—it's everything!"

That was an eye-opening, enhancing aha. Aha! I took it in, thought about it, and have never let it go.

Everything you do that leaves a handprint or a heartprint is your legacy. And there's a chance to make a difference daily, building a legacy as a giver to and supporter of others.

I've experienced firsthand the effect that another person's simple care and concern can have—especially when times are tough. As Maya would say, my life has been touched.

Two examples:

During the spring of 2012, I was being mauled by the media over "the struggling OWN network."

I took the attacks personally. I was embarrassed to be perceived as struggling. Ashamed that people were thinking She should have kept her day job.

On one particularly bad day in March, when there was wall-to-wall coverage on all the evening entertainment shows, I received this email from the husband of a friend:

Subject: LIFE

You have omnipotence at your command and eternity at your disposal. Just thinking about you. Keep your head up. You're Oprah.

What a difference that note made for me.

Then, two months later, another email, this time from a jewelrymaker named Sue. I'd had lunch with her once in Dallas and bought a pair of her earrings, but she didn't know me know me. Yet she took the time and trouble to send this:

"The Will of God will not take you where The Grace of God will not protect you."

Those words meant so much, I had a pillow embroidered with them so I can see them daily and never forget.

Building a television network is no easy feat, especially when your heart is your brand. Creating shows that have meaning and get ratings is a never-ending challenge. With the support of my team at OWN, we turned the narrative around. We're currently "successful," with hit shows that people respond to warmly. But the memory of the oh-so-humbling early days of trying to figure out what works and what doesn't has stayed with me.

Now when I see people going through a hard time, particularly if they're taking a public beating, I quietly reach out.

I know for sure: Thinking of someone with kindness and offering words of support can make a moment of grace. And a world of difference.


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