Hands up if you think of Dolly Parton is just big chest, high heels, and wild wigs! I have to admit, I was one of you too. But let me tell you, all that changed when Dolly snuck her way into my Spotify playlist. I’ve been a die-hard Dolly fan ever since.

It turns out, she’s not just an iconic singer; she’s one of the most inspirational public figures out there. Her life lessons are invaluable, and I can’t get enough of her wisdom. Dolly Parton has shown me that there’s so much more to her than meets the eye, and she’s become a genuine source of inspiration in my life.

Life Lessons from Dr. Dolly Parton

“My boys stand like soldiers.”

That’s my first memory of Dolly. At the age of 7 or 8, I found it hilarious. My mom was watching the Ellen Degeneres show when Dolly made that candid statement. Her “boys” in fact her breast.

As a tomboy, Dolly was never someone I thought I’d admire. Wigs, makeup, high heels and girly glam weren’t my thing. That’s what Dolly embodied to me.

Fast forward to my junior year of college. After a disappointing tournament, I was sitting in our team van scrolling through Spotify, looking for new music to listen to on the way home. Out of nowhere Dolly’s voice spoke through my headphones. Not singing, but speaking words of wisdom.

Dolly spoke about hard work, determination, perseverance, and faith – all the things I needed to hear in that moment. After listening to her life advice, I began to wonder if there was more to Dolly Parton than her appearance and voice. During the car ride home, I gave her music a listen.

The first album on queue “I Believe in You,” a series of songs she’d written for kids. At 19 years old, I was one of those kids. While the songs had a youthful beat, the lyrics were timeless.

I delved into more research about Dolly, learning about her values and successes, and it wasn’t long before she became a role model in my life.

Over five years later, I’ve been reminded of Dolly quite frequently recently. For my birthday, my friend sent me a sweatshirt with the word “Dolly” on it, and my sister gave me a Dolly sticker. I sip coffee from a mug with a quote from her every morning, and she’s all over our TV screens with ads for the Olympics.

With that in mind, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned and carried with me from Dr. Dolly.

In 2009, she delivered the commencement speech at the University of Tennessee, and on the same day, she received an honorary doctorate from the university, hence the name Dr. Dolly. Her speech revolved around the four principles in the Dollywood Foundation’s mission for inspiring kids: Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More. Later on, she turned the speech into a book with four chapters.

Here are the main takeaways from the speech and book that may inspire you:

Dream More:

“Dreams are where you visualize yourself achieving success in what’s important to you. They build convictions because you work hard to make them come true.” – DP

As a child, I had strong dreams, and I didn’t care about others’ opinions since these dreams were deeply rooted in my heart. As I grew older, I gave myself less time to dream until I realized how important dreams are. They ignite a desire within us to strive and work hard. We are never too old to dream.

Learn More:

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that working hard involves continuous learning. It’s about trying new things, even if they scare you or seem challenging. Learning is taking chances.” -DP

I want to be a lifelong learner – exploring new interests, expanding my expertise, and seeking insights from various people. That’s what makes me feel alive. I’m passionate about reading, as I’ve learned more from books outside of school, following my curiosity. Dolly embodies this principle in her actions. Here are some examples of how she’s helped others learn more

  • The Imagination Library: She started the Imagination Library in 1996, providing a book to every student in her hometown every month, which has now distributed forty million books across the U.S., Canada, and America.
  • Reducing Dropout Rates: To address a high dropout rate in her high school, she promised fifth and sixth graders $500 if they graduated and had a buddy to hold them accountable, resulting in a reduced dropout rate from 34% to 6%.
  • Assistant Teacher Program: After the fifth and sixth grader experiment, she learned those attitudes started when they were in first grade because the slower kids weren’t getting the help they needed at that stage. So, the Dollywood Foundation gave an assistant teacher to each first grade classroom. The program was so successful the school system paid for it after the two first years

Care More:

“Always give every task and job your utmost effort. Caring for people means not judging them and appreciating the uniqueness in every soul.” – DP

Caring more is about striving to be your best in all areas you commit to. It allows you to lay your head down at night, knowing you’ve worked to reach your fullest potential and positively impacted others.

Be More:

“I know I’m known for my physical attributes, but the real me is in my heart and actions. The real you resides in your heart and actions too.” -DP

In her book, Dolly discusses being a “real somebody,” someone who is authentic and unique. No one else can be you, it’s essential to discover who you are and share that light with the world. In doing so, you care for others and leave a lasting legacy on those you touch. I’m always reminded of this lesson at funerals. Life’s true purpose is to be more for others.

I’ll sum up the lessons from Dr. Dolly with a quote from the legend herself:

“I’ve thought about this a lot, and I believe having lots of energy mostly comes from having happiness in your life. Happiness is your commitment to appreciating all the good in life, big and small.” – DP

The Good Stuff

Dolly has many great quotes that I’ve carried with me in my life. However, this is by far my favorite:

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

It’s easy to move through life without intentionally seeking who we are and what type of person we are meant to be. Our environment, jobs, family, friends and passions can easily develop who we are. All of those are important and contribute to each of us as individuals, but this quote has been constant reminder to intentional seek ourselves deep down and let all of the outside be an expression of who we are on the inside.

If you want to watch Dolly’s commencement speech at University of Tennessee, click here.