Artist Living

7 Lessons Oprah Taught Me about Business and Confidence!

Me Ra Koh

I remember the day my dad called.  He wanted to tell me about a show he’d discovered.  After losing his leg in June 2010 to a tragic accident of being hit by a teenager who was texting, he’s required to have daily down time in either rehabilitation or rest.  His down time has given him a chance to see a few shows he’s never watched before.  “Mee-da!” (insert his Korean accent) “I’m watching this show right now, her name Opah–ORPAH?–not sure how you say, but she AMAZING.  Remind me lot of you.  You should check her out!”  Thus, one of the BIGGEST compliments my dad could ever give me.  Little does he know, Oprah’s been one of my hero for years.

Oprah has taught me countless lessons over the years.  But these are the 7 lessons Oprah taught me about business and confidence.

7 Lessons Oprah Taught Me, Me Ra Koh

photo: Mashable

1.  To Just Begin.

It’s so easy to not follow your dreams until all your ducks are in a row.  But the problem is that all our ducks are never going to get lined up perfect.  So why not just begin.  Our dreams are waiting with expectation, ready to meet us.

2.  Transformation (i.e. change) is a Beautiful Thing.

When I think of change, I have the instant awareness of feeling awkward.  Does anyone relate?  If so, it’s shouldn’t be a surprise that we would avoid change at all costs.  So if the C word is a nasty word, flip your take on it and find the T word looking back at you–Transformation.  I have loved flipping through this month’s O magazine and looking at 25 years of Oprah’s changing, transforming journey.  Everything from her hairstyles, to her outfits, to the show’s sets, and most importantly, to the guests she’s interviewed–all of it is in this beautiful ebb and flow of constant transformation and change.  All the photos over the years are living proof that transformation in the beginning stages, middle and end are BEAUTIFUL.

3.  Asking the Hard Questions is Cleansing.

We’ve watched her interview countless guests.  The guests who allowed her to ask the hard questions, the courage it took in her to ask those hard questions, I am eternally grateful for.  Their stories of inspiration and resilience continue to give to me.  It’s so easy to avoid the things that may cause us pain, but as Oprah has shown us again and again, attention to the painful questions can be powerfully cleansing.

4.  You are the BEST Gift You Can Give.  (the marketing strategy we took for our photography)

When Brian and I first decided to advertise our wedding photography, we went to Barnes and Noble and looked through every wedding magazine for ideas on what kind of ad to run.  Every wedding photographer’s ad was amazing!  ALL of their wedding photography was beautiful.  When every one’s work is amazing, how do you stand out?  I turned around and saw an end cap with Oprah’s O magazine. She was on the cover of every issue.

And that’s when it clicked.  I was the BEST gift I could give to our clients.  My photography wasn’t the best gift I had to offer, it was ME.  I asked Brian, “what if we did an ad with a photo of just me, and not a single example of our wedding photography?  What if we risked stepping out in boldness with this ad, and making the statement that the photography we’d shoot would be so good that we don’t need to show you examples in an ad because the bigger issue is you feeling safe and comfortable with your photographer?!”  What if I showed you a picture of me having fun, even laughing–expressing all the joy I feel when I hold my camera.

7 Lessons Oprah Taught Me, Me Ra Koh

Would this translate to our clients?  It was a big risk.  We dove head first.  Yes, the rumor is true.  We took a second out on our home and paid $15K for that single piece of paper (that is the pink ad you see above you) to run in Seattle Bride magazine and Grace Ormonde’s Wedding Style magazine.  What was the reaction?  We got some angry emails from photographers who thought I was nuts and completely full of myself.  But I knew what Oprah was trying to say with her photo on every issue.  I was the BEST gift I could give my photography clients.  Within two weeks of the ad running, a bride found our Grace Ormonde ad and said “Your picture, YOU, remind me of my best friend! I love your laugh! (amazing comment b/c she imagined the sound of my laughter from the photo of me) I’ve got have you be my wedding photographer!”  She booked our first $10K wedding, then another one booked a second $10K package a week later, and then a $15K package booked two weeks after.  Our business forever changed by that one risk, and for that, I’m forever grateful to Oprah for leading the way.

5.   Critics will Always Be There–So Get On with Your Dream Building!

How many times have I been in line at the grocery store and seen another nasty tabloid attacking Oprah?  Too many to count!  And yet, this woman has pioneered forward again and again.  It’s easy to think that Oprah has some special gift for not being affected by all the criticism–and thus, ‘I don’t so I can’t go forward because of the criticism I’m facing’.  It’s funny how we look for any excuse possible to get out of dream building.  But Oprah doesn’t give us freedom to let those excuses have the last word, she gives the opposite.  When Oprah started to cry in her interview with Barbara Walters this year, when asked about the rumors regarding her friendship with Gayle King, we were reminded of how human she was.  Her heart is HUGE, and how can she not be hurt by the criticism.  Every time a certain episode speaks to me, I’m always so excited to go online and post a comment–and I’m blown away by all the negativity that is already there.  So in this beginning stage that I find myself in dealing with criticism, I’ve been watching Oprah closely, trying to gleam from her.  Despite all the critics, she’s kept pushing forward.  Oprah’s taught me that the critics will always be there.  Now that I know that, I don’t need to let those critics weigh in on my decision making.  I am free to go ahead and get on with my dream building!  And so are YOU!

6.  “Fill Your Space”

I wish I could remember which guest said this to her because I’ve never forgotten the phrase.  “Fill Your Space.”  It’s the last thought I have before I get up and speak.  Every time, in that single moment, before I face my audience, whether it’s a conference or Nate Berkus Show taping, I remind myself of this quote “Fill Your Space!”  The tendency is to feel instantly self conscious, and shrink back.   So I say it out loud, “Fill Your Space Me Ra! Don’t shrink back.  Don’t hide your gifts, your enthusiasm, your passion.  FILL YOUR SPACE!  Breathe in deep and FILL IT ALL–every corner of who you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually–FILL IT WITH CONFIDENCE.”

7. One person, one woman, can do a WHOLE LOT OF GOOD!

Regardless of what pain we’ve endured, what lies we’ve been told, what shame we’ve carried, we are worthy of being loved, heard and living our life to the fullest.  And we can, no matter how insignificant we feel at the moment, bring powerful change to the world.  If anyone has shown us that one person, one woman, can do the impossible (over and over again), it’s Oprah.

Thank you to the AMAZING staff at The Oprah Winfrey Show who has worked the longest of days, year after year, to bring us the magic of Oprah.  When I see the around-the-clock intensity and commitment of the team at the Nate Berkus Show, I can’t believe that some of you have been at it for twenty plus years!  You are all simply AMAZING!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  And Andrea, I DEFINITELY think you should wear that pink dress when you speak at the EVO Conference!  You ROCKED that dress and photo!

And to Oprah, with all my heart, I want to thank you for the incredible courage you’ve had and continue to carry.  Your example has made a way for all of us.  You have been an inspiration to me countless times.  You have given more than words can contain.  One of my wildest dreams is to one day meet you and give you the BIGGEST hug EVER and then listen to you share all your wisdom!!  So look out!!!  🙂



p.s.  What are lessons that you’ve learned from Oprah?!  Post em up in the comments. I’d LOVE to hear!


  1. BreAnna says:

    I remember watching Oprah with my grandma every day after school when my parents first split up. Back then, there was no facebook, and I didn’t like watching the news (I was 8). Oprah was my connection to the world. She taught me that people often experience heartbreak, but that there are also good people out there trying to make things better. Oprah was, and still is one of my favorite role models. As a child, she taught me that women can be successful and make a difference in the world. Today, she continues to make me want to be the best person I can be.

    Me Ra – I really hope you one day get to fulfill your dream of meeting Oprah!! How amazing would that be. It makes me sad that people go out of their way to say hurtful things to people…especially people like you and Oprah who I’ve never heard say a mean thing to anyone. It’s unfortunate that they’ve never heard of the Golden Rule.

    Thank you, Oprah for all the inspiration over the years! And thank you Me Ra for all that you do for women, photographers, and moms everywhere!!!

  2. Tiffany says:

    As someone who has always struggled with my weight, Oprah has taught me to never give up. She said something that has always stuck with me “you never break promises to other people, why are you breaking promises to yourself” from that day forward I promised to lose the weight once and for all and I am proud to say I did it. Oprah is amazing!

  3. Tiffany says:

    P.S. I think you could fill the 4:00 slot!

  4. Me Ra says:

    BreAnna, what a beautiful story. I can just picture you and your grandma sitting in front of the TV watching Oprah. I love what you said about “people often experience heartbreak, but that there are also good people out there trying to make things better.” I feel like her show has been there so many times at “just the right time”. Thanks for sharing!

    And wow, Tiffany, I need to put that quote on my bathroom mirror. “You never break promises to other people, why are you breaking promises to yourself.” Powerful. Thanks so much for sharing Tiffany!!!

  5. Claudia Constantino says:

    Me Ra – I’ve grown up watching the Oprah show and being from Chicago have always felt like Oprah was the big sister I never had! My co-workers know that I put Oprah on a huge pedestal and we’ve all even been fortunate to meet her and attend her show a bunch of times. However, I must tell you that after coming home from your Confidence Workshop my co-workers were all so excited to hear about my weekend and the best way I could think of to describe the impression you left on me was to say that “the pedestal I put Oprah on might be this tall (holding my hand above my head) but the pedestal I would put Me Ra on is taller than this building. She’s THE most inspirational person I’ve ever met! Her confidence workshop was life-changing!”

    I would say that the greatest lesson I’ve learned from Oprah is to dare to dream! As she’s said so many times, God has a greater plan / dream for us than we could ever dream up for ourselves. After attending your workshop I came home feeling like it was okay to let myself dream again. I could probably go on and on about Oprah. Her influence on my life has been immeasurable. It’s so sad to see here go, especially living in Chicago but her legacy will certainly live on forever in the lives of all the women that she’s influenced.


    P.S. Super excited that you’ll be in Chicago this weekend! You’ll get to meet my friend Jenn Bennett. Her family is doing a mini session w/ you! I couldn’t make it work financially this year but I’m determined that if the opportunity comes up again I will make it work! If you need anything while you’re in town, please don’t hesitate to let me know! 🙂

  6. Claudia Constantino says:

    P.S.S. A friend of mine who was fortunate enough to attend the Season Finale at the United Center told me that there was a box of kleenex under each and every seat in the arena and I instantly thought of you. Kleenex should sponsor your workshop too. 🙂

  7. Michelle says:

    First off, I HEART Oprah! So much so that I made sure to buy her anniversary CD collection so I could specifically watch it during my 3 days in the hospital after my c-section. 😉

    Through Oprah, I have learned to trust myself. To know my abilities and to trust and believe in them.

    She has reminded me to enjoy my children. Just last week, they spoke with the guest that once said that you need to smile and celebrate your children each time they walk in the room instead of have a critical face of judgement. That hit home. It is so easy to get caught up in the hecticness of the day and forget to take time to smile and enjoy the time together. I need to be conscious of my expression and smile at them when they enter a room.

    Lastly, Oprah has taught me to be me and be proud of me regardless of howmi feel about my outside appearance. “Me” is my personality, my mind, my compassion and not the body that looks at me from the mirror. (still working on this, but I am getting there!!!)

    I have long dreamed of meeting Oprah and being on her show. I guess now just need to work on getting on the OWN channel or better yet….end up on the Me Ra Koh Show!!!!!!! 😉

  8. Alexis says:

    It has been over a year since I saw the most powerful show in my life, let alone most powerful Oprah show. It was the show she spoke candidly with child molesters. I, like Oprah, had experience sexual abuse. For me, it was multiple people, throughout my life starting at age 3. Even now, I can still see Oprah’s face, and hear her voice when she said, “It was not your fault.” I cried when she said that-it was the first time anyone every uttered those words to me. I was 39 years old then. No therapist, dr., pastor, not even my own parents ever said those words to me. Those words still have tremendous power in my life. Whenever I feel as though I don’t deserve love, respect, or success, I remember those words, “It was not your fault.” and I understand that it was those people who were bad, not me. So, I guess her greatest lesson to me was understanding that sometimes people do bad things, but those people’s bad things don’t make the victim bad people, and I may have experienced so much pain, BUT it is over, and I no longer have to give them power over my life anymore. And lastly, that even though that has happened, I DO deserve to be loved. I DO deserve to be respected. And I DO deserve to be successful and I owe that to myself. I know that show had to be hard, but that show in the one I will never forget and am eternally grateful for her courage to do it.

  9. Emily M. says:

    love this post, Me Ra. need to see if i can find a way to watch these last oprah shows on the internet somewhere! especially found #4 interesting. what a fabulous way to market yourself–and how odd that other photographers would even care how someone chooses to market themself!

  10. Michele Dwinell says:

    I have so many memories of Oprah over the years, but one that has always stayed with me was when she talked about her love of the movie “The Wizard of Oz”…and a favorite quote from it. It is when Glenda gives Dorothy a real “Aha moment” when she’s in despair, believing, after missing the hot air balloon ride with the Wizard, that she’ll never get home. Glenda says simply, “You don’t need to be helped any longer; you’ve always had the power.” Oprah said she had that quote in her home, to remind her that she has within herself the power to do anything she set her mind to. It’s a great little reminder that, whoever we are, there’s no limit to the good we can do or the challenges we can overcome or the dreams we can realize…

  11. Julie Watts says:

    I just got done watching the 5 segments of Barbara Walters’ interview of Oprah, and the sentence I can’t get out of my head is “seeking the fullest expression of myself on the Earth.” I keep feeling pulled to imagine “What if I held back 0%?” What if I sought the fullest expression of what I was put on this Earth to contribute? The FULLEST. Not overworked, not overwhelmed, taking on too many responsibilities….but learning to notice in a detailed and broader perspective (telephoto and WIDE! ha!) what are the parts of the most beautiful “portrait” of my lifestory can I create? What, in my life, needs to be cut out? What else, needs to be focused on and developed? Is it (my life/my lifestory portrait) muddled with too much color and texture? No it wouldn’t. The FULLEST and best “portrait” that I could create over a lifetime would have interest, variety, space, and when I looked at it when it was done, I would have that sense, the sense that I did what I was meant to do, to my fullest capability.

  12. denise karis says:

    oh goodness i am so glad you posted this! I think my biggest lesson from Oprah is that I am powerful….. I was watching an episode once where she was saying that you CAN be everything you want. If you want a home family life but you also want a real working career, YOU CAN HAVE BOTH. You can do BOTH. Just her view on life that you HAVE the time, you HAVE the power and you actually have everything that it takes to do ANYTHING you want is such a huge thing to realize.

  13. Erika Lara says:

    You are also a great inspiration, thanks for always sharing Me Rah!

  14. Amie Dockery says:

    My favorite Oprah quote is: “Playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
    Anytime I think I might be too much for people and I feel as if they wish I’d be a wallflower, I remember my desire to use my life to serve the world. And the fact that I won’t do anyone except the critics any favors by pretending to be small. God has given this world a generation of women who were made to be ‘large and in charge’. The world might not be ready for us but we are ready for the world, because of women like Oprah.

  15. Katrina says:

    What an amazing and touching post. It are a great soul. Thanks so much.

  16. Me Ra says:

    I LOVE hearing your favorite Oprah quotes. They are ALL just AMAZING and full of POWER! What an impact she has had on our lives.

    And AMIE, you have a BLOG and website!!!! I can’t wait to get reading and be able to follow along in your life more. So happy and crazy proud of YOU!

    Claudia, almost bought those Kleenex’s for this weekend’s workshop in Chicago, but still wonder if the women would think we were crazy. 🙂

    Special post coming tomorrow that involves building your own studio with your kids that is Barbie-sized!

    Love you all!


  17. Grandma says:


  18. Natalie Johnson says:

    Dearest Mera, I have been MIA these last few weeks for many reasons, but now I am going back to read all I have missed starting with today. I just finished watching the last Oprah show tonight for the second time today. It just makes me so sad to know she will not be teaching us on a daily basis. My 16 year old daughter and I sat and watched the end together and even she kept saying what are we going to do without Oprah, she has taught me so much?

    I love that you have articulated and written down the many ah-ha illuminations that Oprah has given you. I will have to copy these down to remember them. There are so many lessons and sayings that I can hear her saying in my head like (When someone shows you who they are, believe them). I absolutely loved what she said today on the show that we are all called to do something special whether it is your vocation or not. I pray that we, myself included, have the confidence and courage to follow that calling. I have to put blinders on many times to keep moving forward with my dreams so I will not be discouraged by the actions and voices of others. I am so grateful there is a place, here on your blog, that I can come any time day or night to get encouragement and reassurance that I am worthy of dreaming big.

    Oh, how I have missed you and now I will have to get my morning coffee and finish catching up with you:) Good to know you are all safely back home.

    Much love!xoxoxoxo

  19. Me Ra,
    What a wonderful tribute, to a wonderful woman. I too have watched Oprah for years and have been inspired by her. I think Oprah is our gift in a time when women need encouragement to grow and fill their space. I also have to say you too provide great encouragement. After a lifetime of being a photographer, just in the last year I decided to take it to the next level. Your words of encouragement for women photographers helped me to take a chance and just begin. In true Oprah fashion, you pass-it-on. Thank you to both Oprah and you for being great examples.

  20. Sarah C says:

    Adore this post MeRa. You, Nate and Oprah all in one spot. Cheers!

    My fav O quote: “When you know better, you do better.” Applies to so much, no?

    O quote that makes me think of you: “For everyone of us that succeeds, it’s because there’s somebody there to show you the way out.”

  21. Valerie says:

    I have learned SO many lessons from Oprah but probably the most important one is that God has given each of us a gift. It may not be to be a multi zillionaire famous talk show host, or a wonderful = photographer or an amazing decorator (Nate : ) but whatever it is we must use it to spread love and give positive energy to this world. Many times I have been snickered at or belittled for the gift I have and thought how silly it is and maybe it isn’t a gift at all and I think back to this and I forge ahead knowing that if it makes a difference in one person’s life it is all worth it.
    PS I think your ad is genius because the energy and love you give in your photography is what makes it so amazing.
    Valerie White

  22. Tresha says:

    Merah, I have never met Oprah but I have been inspired to dream and live my life in way that encouraged me to dig deep inside and grasp that courage and let it rage beyond my imagination. She is a phenomena and someone all us women look up. But what I want you to know is that when I came back from the confidence workshop I would explain to my friends what it was all about and this is how I described you… ME RA’S love for women beems out of her flowing and wrapping you up until you feel warm. It felt like I was meeting Jesus. I could feel her love and I know she is the next Oprah! Me RA is changing the world. I love you!! Tresha

  23. Erica says:

    I love Oprah and this post truly inspired me and made me think of additional contributions that she has made. Thank you Me Ra!