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If you like Oprah Winfrey's story, you might also like:
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Oprah Winfrey's
recommended reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Oprah Winfrey also appears in the video:
You Can Do Anything

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Oprah Winfrey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Talent and Vision

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Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
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Oprah Winfrey Interview (page: 4 / 8)

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  Oprah Winfrey

When you talk about seeing Barbara Walters on TV, it occurs to me that at that time, women in television were just beginning to really have a force. And you were dealing with both sexism and racism when you came up. How has that affected your career?

Oprah Winfrey: I would have to say that I, for the most part, have not been, as far as I know, affected.

As a matter of fact, it was because of the riots of the '70s that I think they were looking for minorities. They were trying to fulfill all of their quotas and programs. So I was hired as a token, and had to take the heat from my college classmates -- I went to an all-black college -- with them calling me a token. And I used to say, "Yeah, but I'm a paid token!" At the time I didn't even know it was a pun. I'm saying, "Yeah, but they pay me." I was very defensive about it because I've always had to live with the notion of other black people saying -- for any amount of success that you achieve -- they say, "Oh, you trying to be white. You are trying to talk white. You are trying to be white," and so forth. Which is such a ridiculous notion to me, since you look in the mirror every morning, and you are black, there is a black face in your reflection.

So I had to live with that whole thing.

It was very uncomfortable for me at first because when I first started as a broadcaster, I was 19. Very insecure. Thrown into television, pretending to be Barbara Walters, looking nothing like her. And still going to college. So I'd do all my classes in the morning, from eight o'clock to one o'clock, and in the afternoon, I'd work from two o'clock to ten o'clock and did the six o'clock news. And I would stay up and study and all that until one, two, three o'clock in the morning, and then just start the routine all over again. My classmates were so jealous of me, that I remember like, taking my little $115 paycheck - and at the time I thought it was really a lot - and trying to appease them. Anytime anybody needed any money, I was always offering, "Oh, you need ten dollars?" Or taking them out for pizza, ordering pizza for the class, things like that. That whole "disease to please." That's where it was the worst for me, I think, because I had wanted to be accepted by them, and could not be. First of all, I didn't have the time. They wanted me to pledge, and I didn't have the time to pledge. I didn't have the time to be a part of all the other college activities, or a part of that whole lifestyle. And it was very difficult for me socially. Really one of the worst times of my life, because I was trying to fit in at school, and be a part of that culture, but also trying to build a career in television.

One of the messages that I'm getting from you is that it may be a little painful to be out there, but you have to be courageous. You have to, sometimes, go against the crowd.

Oprah Winfrey: Well, now I think it's courageous. The interesting thing is, if you were telling me my life story, and it was about somebody else, I'd say, "Oh, how courageous." It's very difficult for me to give myself that credit. It's very difficult for me to even see myself as successful because I still see myself as in the process of becoming successful. To me, "successful" is getting to the point where you are absolutely comfortable with yourself. And it does not matter how many things you have acquired.

Oprah Winfrey Interview Photo
The ability to learn to say "no" and not feel guilty about it is the greatest success I have achieved. The fact that I have, in the public's eye, done -- whatever -- is fine. It's all a growing for me. But for me to have the kind of internal strength and internal courage it takes to say, "No, I will not let you treat me this way." is what success is all about. The same thing that prevents you from being abused as a child, and prevents you from being abused as an adult, allows you to build success for yourself. "I will not be treated this way, I demand only the best for myself."

It's okay if you say "no," and then people don't like you. That's really okay. The important thing is how you feel about what you are doing, how you feel about yourself. It's a long struggle, though. And I'm just hoping that in the work that I do on the show, and in the speaking that I do around the country, that young people can get the lesson sooner than I did. It's painful because you keep repeating it over and over and over, until you get it right. And what I found is that every time you have to repeat the lesson, it gets worse. I call it, "God trying to get your attention." The universe trying to get your attention. "Sooo we didn't get your attention the first time! We are going to have to hit you a little harder this time." So I'm still doing it. I'm still learning.

And it seems worse, because it gets worse. I say, the universe is always trying to get your attention. Sometimes it starts out -- any major problem you encounter -- as a whisper. By the time it gets to be a storm, you've had a pebble knock you upside the head; you've had a brick; you've had a brick wall; you've had a house fall down. And before you know it, you are in the eye of the storm.

But long before you are in the eye of the storm, you've had many warnings, like little clues. So now my goal in life is not to have to hit the eye of the storm, but to catch it in the whisper. To get it the first time. I think the thing, the one thing that has allowed me to certainly achieve both material success and spiritual success, is the ability to listen to my instinct. I call it my inner voice. It doesn't matter what you call it -- nature, instinct, higher power. It's the ability to understand the difference between what your heart is saying and what your head is saying. I now always go with the heart. Even when my head is saying, 'Oh, but this is the rational thing; this is really what you should do.' I always go with that little... feeling. The feeling. I am where I am today because I have allowed myself to listen to my feelings.

Your career was kind of a sky-rocketing success. But there was that period of anchoring that made you uncomfortable. In a way, did you have to make that mistake in order to find what you do best?

Oprah Winfrey: Well, you know,

I don't know if anybody really skyrockets to success. I think that success is a process. And I believe that my first Easter speech, at Kosciusko Baptist Church, at the age of three and a half, was the beginning. And that every other speech, every other book I read, every other time I spoke in public, was a building block. So that by the time I first sat down to audition in front of a television camera, and somebody said, "Read this," what allowed me to read it so comfortably and be so at ease with myself at that time, was the fact that I had been doing it a while. If I'd never read a book, or never spoken in public before, I would have been traumatized by it. So the fact that we went on the air with "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1986, nationally, and people said, "Oh, but you are so comfortable in front of the camera; you can be yourself." Well, it's because I've been being myself since I was 19, and I would not have been able to be as comfortable with myself had I not made mistakes on the air and been allowed to make mistakes on the air and understand that it doesn't matter.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

There is no such thing to me as an embarrassing moment. If I tripped and fell, if my bra strap showed, if my slip fell off, if I fell flat on my face... I know that there is nothing I could possibly experience on the air that someone hasn't already experienced. I was on TV the other day, and somebody says, "Oh Oprah, you have a run!" Have you not seen a run before in your life? Well, I get them too. Let me tell you. So I can't be embarrassed. When I first started out, that was not true because I was pretending to be somebody I was not.

I was pretending to be Barbara Walters. So I'd go to a news conference, and I was more interested in how I phrased the question and how eloquent the question sounded, as opposed to listening to the answer. Which always happens when you are interested in impressing people instead of doing what you are supposed to be doing. And it took me a while. It took me messing up on the air, during a live newscast. I was doing a list of foreign countries, and all these foreign names, then Canada got thrown in. And I called Canada "ca-NAD-a". I got so tickled. "That wasn't caNADa, that was CANada. Excuse me, ha ha. That wasn't caNADa, that was CANada." And then I started laughing. Well, it became the first real moment I ever had. And the news director later said to me, "If you do that, then you should just keep going, you shouldn't correct yourself and let people know." Well, I know who's ever heard of caNADa? So that was, for me, the beginning of realizing that, "Oh, you can laugh at yourself and you can make a mistake and it's not the end of the world." You don't have to be perfect -- biggest lesson for me for television because then, it didn't matter.

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