The Formula that Leads to Wild Success- Part 9: Ellen DeGeneres

People who back their ideas and opportunities with hard work, a positive attitude and faith are very successful. They’re the individuals we look up to and admire in society. They follow the unofficial winning formula of humanity, which they put into practice each day.

They have maximized their talent by believing in themselves, having the audacity to put themselves in the spotlight and outworking everyone while never, ever giving up. We choose people like these as role models to look up to and to inspire us. They serve as a baseline- a standard of greatness- for us to study and measure ourselves against.

This is the ninth profile in my series on individuals, who in their own unique way, followed this formula to overwhelming success. Next week, I will reveal the 10th and final individual in this series. All 10 are people who have shattered the limits- of what many thought was possible- to re-define greatness.

Today, I tell the story of comedienne, talk show host and humanitarian extraordinaire, Ellen DeGeneres. You can read Part 1 on Michael Jordan here, Part 2 on Oprah Winfrey here, Part 3 on Elon Musk here, Part 4 on Martin Luther King Jr. here,Part 5 on Misty Copeland here, Part 6 on J.K. Rowling here, Part 7 on Gordon Ramsay here and Part 8 on Simone Biles here. Enjoy!

You Make Me Smile

The thing everyone should realize is that the key to happiness is being happy by yourself and for yourself. — Ellen DeGeneres

If you were to think of the most likable celebrity, there’s a good chance Ellen DeGeneres might come to mind. Just looking at her or hearing her describe a positively goofy, awkward moment is enough to bring a smile to our faces.

We live at a time where terrorism, natural disasters, hatred and despair are all too commonplace. Ellen DeGeneres and her bright blonde hair shine as a beacon of warmth, grace and happiness. Ellen makes people laugh. But most importantly, she makes people feel better. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s one mark of a successful individual.

Ellen DeGeneres grew up in Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. In her teen years, she moved with her mother and stepfather to Atlanta, Texas, after her mother divorced her father. Ellen later went on to study at the University of New Orleans before dropping out to enter the workforce.

It wasn’t until her early 20s when she began to scratch the comedy itch. Like many successful people, Ellen had a talent and others started to encourage her to explore it. She started grinding it out on the comedy circuit, beginning first at coffee shops and local comedy clubs. As she experienced success and decided to go “all in”, she started touring the U.S. with the hopes of making it big.

By age 24 she was named Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America.” A great springboard for opportunity on the comedy circuit but it would take longer before she would find success on television.

Ellen’s big breakthrough came when she received her own network television show, These Friends of Mine which was later shortened to, Ellen. It was on this show where she catapulted into the hearts of millions of Americans and showed all of us the courage of being our unique selves.

The Courage to Come Forward

In 1997, after suppressing the truth for long enough, Ellen DeGeneres came out to the world to announce that she was gay. On her eponymous TV show, her character broke the news to the world. She made a well publicized announcement the week before in Time magazine. She did so because after almost 40 years, it was time to let others know that it was OK to be your true self.

It was time to encounter the adversity that comes with seeking acceptance where, sadly, not everyone is willing to accept who you are. She became the first leading character in American primetime television history to come out as gay.

While we now live in a society that is more accepting of homosexuality, nearly 20 years ago, many people were not. This took remarkable courage and strength- it took liberating herself from the bondage of fear and worry of what others might think. Ellen is a hero in the gay community. She has helped millions by giving them strength and hope to be themselves.

“I had everything I’d hoped for, but I wasn’t being myself. So I decided to be honest about who I was. It was strange: the people who loved me for being funny suddenly didn’t like me for being… me.” — Ellen DeGeneres

The Big Time

She came back to television in 2001 with The Ellen Show, which was short lived. Suddenly, adversity was back to stare her in the eyes again. The show lasted less than one full season. After a meteoric rise to the top, Ellen had a decision to make. What would come next?

The opportunity came in 2003 — a magnificent shot— to host her own daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres show. Despite all of her previous success, this is where the comedienne finally struck gold. More like diamond.

We know her today as the torch bearer, the one who received the proverbial “hand-off” from Oprah Winfrey to become the host that makes us laugh, makes us cry and makes us feel comfy and cozy inside. It’s no surprise that each woman experienced adversity, needing to prove themselves and break down barriers to tread where few women had ever gone before.

Oprah and Ellen are unique voices and personalities in a world where the media too often focuses on the negative. Each woman maintains a powerful, positive attitude that they fuse with an impassioned, industrious work ethic. They tried out many different paths before crafting and forging the path toward the careers that they always imagined in their dreams.

Within each woman is strength, an innate desire to mobilize others to make the world a better place. Ellen was a comedienne who imagined a bolder future, one where her smiling, jovial presence would light up the silver screen, as well as evening and daytime television. Oprah, while not a comedienne, accomplished the same feats in her own way.

Laughs and Cries

A comedian’s mind may be processing at warp speeds — to get laughs on the outside — but on the inside, sometimes all that fast-thinking for laughs can lead to loneliness.

“All of us, whether we are in show business or not, have little voices that tell us we’re not good enough and we don’t deserve it.” — Ellen DeGeneres

Think of that the next time you seek to carve out your own successful path in the world. We all have those little voices telling us we’re not good enough. It’s how we process and channel our emotions to instill faith and belief in ourselves that help us to confront what attempts to hold us back.

Grace and Kindness

What I’ve always admired most about Ellen DeGeneres is her grace. Rare are the people that give us the chills, inspire us and make us feel good while simply being themselves. She keeps it clean in her comedy routine and does so with a smile and a positive attitude. She is all about promoting good vibes.

Ellen truly cares about her fellow man and woman as much as anyone. She has turned emotional intelligence into an art form, one that enables her to lift people’s spirits both emotionally and spiritually. She uses her gifts for a better good.

She has donated money and time to people who have been affected by natural disasters, children who have been victimized by bullying and for abused animals in need. She’s donated money to St. Jude’s children hospital to help children in need.

“I get to change people’s lives.” — Ellen DeGeneres

She is a humanitarian who embodies the phrase, be the change you want to see in the world. I believe success should be measured by the self-satisfaction you experience on becoming the best version of yourself. Ellen has not only accomplished this, she has helped millions of others to see that in themselves. Truly special.

She has the quality of the “everywoman,” having worked at JC Penney and TGI Friday’s, as well as in a clerical role prior to receiving the encouragement to decide to pursue her dream. You’ll note, Ellen DeGeneres was not an immediate Hollywood star. It most certainly took time to reach the peak of the mountaintop.

Ellen broke down barriers and served as one of the pioneers not only in Hollywood — but in America — coming out to openly share her sexuality with the world. She simply shared who she is. She was her authentic self, the most beautiful of all qualities.

Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. By all means, you should follow that. — Ellen DeGeneres

Accolades and Honors

She is also a bestselling author and the owner of a record company, Eleveneleven. She has served as the voice actor for Dory in the wildly successful Pixar movies, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. She has hosted the Primetime Emmy, Grammy and Academy Awards.

In 2015 she was named the 50th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. She has won a staggering 27 Daytime Emmy awards. For goodness sake, the woman has an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the awards she has won and nominations she has received!

Note: They tend to create a page like that when you’re super successful. Because it’s easy even for a Stanford mathematician to lose count after a while.

This should be required viewing for anyone looking to enter comedy.

Three Lessons

My three lessons from the extraordinary life of Ellen DeGeneres are these:

  1. Add humor to your life. While it may seem when we’re young that life goes on forever, it really doesn’t. Life is short. Life is also impossibly boring and frustrating when we’re not laughing and smiling. Doing these two things will add flavor, zest and spirit to your life. Life is so much better when we can poke fun at ourselves and take the time to laugh.
  2. If I were to tell someone of the human, living example of kindness, particularly from someone who lives in the public eye, I’d tell them to observe Ellen DeGeneres. She always treats others with kindness. We may not have the money to be the great philanthropist she is, but we can always be kind to others. We can show others respect and love. The warmth and delicate nature with which she treats people is inspiring.
  3. Be the most authentic version of yourself. It may take time to find happiness and success on your terms. But all it takes is the willpower to decide to change — to become the person you are destined to be. The more I’ve studied the life of Ellen, the more I’ve found a truly authentic individual who crafted her own life from scratch. She believes in herself and has faith in others. She lives by the Golden Rule and works tirelessly to make the world a better place through her philanthropy and by making people laugh.

What Matters Most

Here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.” — Ellen DeGeneres

I think of my life and what matters most to me- I’ve learned from Ellen’s example that personal development — both my own and how I use my talents to help others — is what matters most to me. It’s why I write, why I hope to influence and touch the lives of people.

I’m sensitive to the use of my time because I want to feel each minute that I live is earned; each step is one closer to enriching lives and driving positive change. It’s easy to grow cynical when we hear people say, “I want to make the world a better place.” But if words are not enough, we have the example of how others live.

Ellen’s brilliant example is one of following your dream, working hard and approaching each moment with a positive attitude. She became more successful by believing in herself and having the courage to let others know that she’s OK with everything that makes her unique. She’s taken all the wisdom and strength that got her where she is, to share and help others get there, through kindness, love and care.

Please stay tuned for Part 10- the final part in my series next week. Who will it be?! In the meantime, if you enjoyed reading this, please be so kind as to hit the green heart to recommend this to others. If you’re really feeling lucky, please consider following me here on Medium! Thank you so very kindly for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: and check out my site: There are more details there on my upcoming book, The Courage to Have Faith in the 21st Century.

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Christopher D. Connors

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A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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