Kelli O’Hara

Actor, Singer, Tony winner

I think that we have to sort of ask ourselves, what are our priorities? Is it money? Is it making a lot of money? Or is it having a verdant successful community? I think we’ve gotten lost with with the money. We don’t have a free education system, a higher education system in this country. We don’t have that because things are too valuable. Somebody’s making a lot of money. And so we’re not putting the value where it belongs.

What makes a Power Woman?

A Power Woman is someone who understands collaboration. Someone who can get the best out of those she surrounds herself with, professionally and personally. Giving others power gives you power.

Why is gender equality so important in the workplace?

I don’t think it matters what you’re selling, whether it be a product or, in my case, entertainment; you’re selling to an equal representation of gender. It is a gift for a workplace to have everyone’s input and equal participation so that you’re representing yourself and your audience.

Do you feel that there’s a subject that you are very passionate about?

I am very passionate about appreciating ourselves as both mothers and professional women. We must celebrate this miraculous ability to be mothers, if we so choose, but also the ability to have a full life, career, passion, or something outside the home. We have to rearrange our thoughts and celebrate this type of success.

What do you feel is the number one action as a society that we can take to empower women and work towards gender equality?

Women need to have more seats at the table. However, we must stop expecting these changes to be gifted to us by men. Women need to occupy these positions of power themselves. We also must celebrate each other’s victories. Women often feel competitive with each other, and this delays our progress.

Is there a story that you find relevant that you’d like to share?

I was raised on a farm in Oklahoma. Without ever even visiting, I decided I would pack my two suitcases, go to New York, and sleep on a friend’s couch. This sounds like a crazy plan, but my parents were very supportive. I’ve often wondered if it had been my brother, would their reaction look different? As a man, he was expected to guarantee himself and his future family a successful and financially safe life. That expectation was not placed on me. Besides that, I have a story about my senior year of high school. I met with my guidance counselor and told him my plans about attending a fine arts college for their theater program. He totally discouraged me from doing that. He told me that I should attend Texas Christian University, join a sorority, and meet a nice young man to marry. He believed I should pursue a future husband over my passion. I am just grateful that I had the wherewithal to ignore him.

Was there a defining moment or experience that led you to where you are today?

I was a chubby kid but still very athletic. I ran the mile for school and had a girl count the laps for me and everything. When I made a good time, my PE teacher accused me of lying. I was heartbroken by this accusation from a full-grown man. He made me rerun the mile the next day and counted the laps himself. I beat my original time. I spoke about this in the book, “My Moment,” a collection of similar stories from all different women.

In what ways does our education system need to be reformed?

We need to refocus our priorities. We have made money the main priority, which has had huge negative effects on our education systems. People want to gain knowledge and earn college degrees, but they are afraid to be buried in debt over it. That places value on the people who make large amounts of money from these college payments over those who actually hold our society’s future. We also need to treat teachers better. I am a huge fan of teachers, and I am aware of the power they wield. I work with the Stuttering Association for the Youth. Many children’s problems come from their teachers and the lack of resources they are provided. So many classrooms lack the staffing to allow children who may struggle with the space and time they need to work through these troubles.

If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who would it be?

Shonda Rhimes. She is in a position where she makes important statements while creating entertainment. It’s like giving a gift while simultaneously educating people.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I struggled to balance motherhood and my professional life. I would always apologize to my children when I would leave for work. I read an article about working mothers that stated, “Never apologize to your children for your work.” I totally shifted my perspective. Instead of saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, Mommy has to go to work,” I would say, “Mommy gets to go to work, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get home.” Your children follow your lead. If you treat work as the positive thing it is, their attitude will match yours.

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is All the Light We Cannot See. I love historical fiction, especially World War II. This book focuses on individual people. It proves there is good amidst the evil. There is beauty within the messy pain.

What do you value most in your friendships?

Confidence. I often worry about how I am making my friends feel and my lack of time to spend with them. They are secure in our relationship and know that we are friends even through periods of time spent apart. Once we see each other, we can catch up as if no time has passed – even if it’s been years. I appreciate a friend that is happy to see me when we can, rather than resenting me for not seeing them.

What trait are you most uncomfortable about in yourself?

I engage in a lot of negative self-talk. I often put myself down before anyone else can, which I would like to stop.

What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?

The focus on physical appearance is so overrated. I’m raising a daughter and want her to understand that she does not need to change anything about herself. People entirely change their faces and body by the time they’re 18. We need to think about the next generation. They need to be taught and encouraged to love themselves the very way they came into this world. I wish I could tell my chubby child self, “You are able and capable. Believe in yourself.”

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