Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership (Transcript)

Oprah Winfrey

At Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oprah Winfrey speaks on her career journey and the importance of listening to your instincts. She also offers advice to students on how to find their calling: “Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”
Oprah Winfrey: Thank you. Whoo. Love it.

Love, love love. Tweet, tweet. Whoo! You.

So happy to be in the bubble.

Love it. Aren’t you all the luckiest people in the world? Oh my God, I envy you.

Hi Amanda.

Amanda: Hi Oprah. I can’t believe I just said that.

So we have been so excited and eagerly anticipating this day. This campus has been buzzing since the announcement was made last week that you’d be coming here. And I received.

Oprah Winfrey: Thanks for the buzz. I’m so glad you know I still have buzz. So good.

Amanda: I received a lot of support and advice from my friends and that was really great and I just wanted to say I think the best advice I’ve heard was don’t worry Amanda, if you mess up, Oprah can just interview herself. So, if I falter, feel free to ask yourself some questions, and we’ll, and we’ll be good.

But to get things started, I want — I thought we’d frame today’s talk with framing three sections with quotes of yours that you shared after wrapping up your 25th season and final season of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

And I thought some of these quotes, I mean you share so much wisdom but, these really spoke to me, and thought it would be a great way to frame our discussion.

Oprah Winfrey: Okay.

Amanda: So this first one that I will read for everyone and for you so you don’t have to strain your neck is –

“You have to know what sparks the light in you so that you, in your own way, can illuminate the world”. – Oprah Winfrey

So I wanted to take this time to talk about your early career and how you discovered your calling. So let’s go back to when you were college age. Did you know that you wanted to get into TV and media specifically?

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Oprah Winfrey: No, I did not. I thought that I was going to be a teacher. I was in my Sophomore class at Tennessee State University. I’d already been working in radio since I was 16 and my — I remember I was in Mr. Cox’s drawing class for theater. And I was terrible drawer. He said, I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

And I got a call in that class, from a guy at the local station CBS, and he’d been calling me several times when I was working in radio. So I started working in radio at 16, and I won the Miss Fire Prevention contest, another long story. And so when I went back to the station to pick my prize, some guy said, would you like to hear your voice on tape. I said sure and I started reading this copy on tape. They called everybody in the building, said here this kid read. I was 16, they hired me in radio. So I was in radio at 16.

And so I started getting calls about my freshman year to come into television. I had never thought about it. And still was living at home, and couldn’t figure out how I’d manage those — I had biology at 1 o’clock, and so I couldn’t figure out how I would be able to manage my schedule.

And Mr. Cox said to me, the one, same professor who said you can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. He said, I came back from taking this phone call and he said who was that? I said there’s this guy at CBS, he keeps calling me, he wants me to interview for a job, and Mr. Cox said, that is why you go to school, fool. So that CBS can call you. That is why you are in school.

So I — he said you leave now and go call him back. And, I did. And I was hired in television, not knowing anything about it. Having in mind Barbara Walters but thinking. Oh, okay I can do that. Not knowing how to write or film or anything.

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And I think it was because it was the – it was the times and I literally had somebody who was willing to work with me that I managed to, to find my way. But I had to find my way, because, the reporting never really fit me, and what did work for me. I’m this old, I’m so old that when I started that it was the year of live action cam. And so, it was like video cameras live, and so, the news stations would do a live, a live shot they would throw to somebody live even if nothing was going on. Just so they could say live action cam.

And what I found was I wasn’t so good at the writing part but if I was just standing up and talking about what had just happened it was really good. And then I started to feel — so I started at 19 working in television, became an anchor immediately afterwards. My father still had an 11 o’clock curfew. Can you believe such a thing? That I am — that I am the 10 o’clock anchor in Nashville Tennessee. I am the woman on the newscast. Reading the news, and my father would say be home by 11. And I’d say, dad, the news is on at ten, he goes and it’s off at 10:30 so be home by 11. So I had a very strict, very strict father.

So, anyway, I could feel inside myself, that reporting was not the right thing for me even though I was happy to have the job. I got an offer to go to Atlanta. I was making $10,000 a year in 1971, but still in college, so I was thinking I was doing pretty good.

Amanda: Yeah.

Oprah Winfrey: I got an offer to go to Atlanta for $40,000 which I thought – it’s over. I’m going to make $40,000. And my boss at the time said to me you do not know what you don’t know. And you need to stay here until you can learn to write better until you can perfect your craft as a journalist. And so I — he said we can’t give you 40, but we can give you 12. So I stayed and you know the reason why I stayed is because I could feel inside myself that even though the 40 was alluring at the time, that he was absolutely right.

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So to make a long story short, because I’d be here all day just talking about how it all came about. I started listening to what felt like the truth for me. A couple of years later I moved to Baltimore. I could feel that as a reporter, and by this time, 22, I’m making 22,000. I met my best friend Gale there who said oh my god, can you imagine if you’re 30 and you’re making 30,000. And then you’re 40 and then it’s 40,000. We actually had that conversation in the bathroom.

So this is — I started to feel that reporting wasn’t for me. But I had my father, I had my friends. Everybody was saying, oh my God, you’re an anchorwoman, you’re on TV. I mean, you can’t give up that job.

And when I was — by the time I was making 25, my father goes, you just hit the jackpot. You’re not going to make no more money than that. That’s just it. So I was torn between what the world was saying to me, and what I felt to be the truth for myself. It felt like an unnatural act for me reporting, although I knew that to a lot of people, it was glamorous. And, I started to just inside myself think what, what do I really want to do, what I really want to do.

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