Oprah’s lucky break came at 17 when a Nashville, Tennessee, radio station chose her as its entry in a local beauty pageant based on her spunk during a radio interview. “I was the only Negro in a pageant of all red­ haired girls, and it’s the Miss Fire Prevention’ contest. So the Lord knows, I’m not going to win. So I was very relaxed about it. I thought, ‘Well, I got a new gown, and this is great,'” she told the Academy of Achievement.

When asked about her career aspirations, Winfrey shocked the crowd again by saying she hoped to become a broadcast journalist. When she returned to the radio station to receive her Longines watch, it was Winfrey’s turn to be surprised – they offered her a job. By 19 she began co-anchoring the local evening news. Her emotional, ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime talk show arena. After boosting a third­ rated, local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.

Luck follows, hard work!