Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership (Transcript)

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.

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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And I will say this. Knowing what you don’t want to do is the best possible place to be if you don’t know what to do. Because knowing what you don’t want to do leads you to figure out what it is that you really do want to do.

Amanda: Okay. So you discovered talk then, right? Around that time?

Oprah Winfrey: I didn’t discover talk. I was being – I got demoted. They wanted to fire me but I was – I was under contract. They didn’t want to give up the 25,000 so they were trying to keep me on to the end of the year. So they put me on the — this is how life works. They put me on a talk show to try to avoid having to pay me the contract out and the moment I sat on the talk show interviewing the Carvel ice cream man and his multiple flavors. I knew that I had found home for myself. Because when I was a news reporter, it was so unnatural for me, I, you know, to cover somebody’s tragedies and difficulties and then to not to have feel anything for it. And I would go back after a fire.

And I would take the blankets and then I would get a note from my boss saying, what the hell are you doing? You’re just supposed to report on it.

Amanda: Can’t be that empathetic.

Oprah Winfrey: Cannot be that empathetic. And it felt unnatural for me. So if I were to put it in business terms, or to leave you with a message, that the truth is I have from the very beginning listened to my instinct. All of my best decisions in life have come because I was attuned to what really felt like the next right move for me. And so, it didn’t feel right. I knew that I wouldn’t be there forever. I never even learned the streets in Baltimore, because I thought I was there longer than I thought, I was there eight years I should’ve learned the streets.

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But I kept saying to myself I’m not going to be here long, I’m not going to be here, I’m not going to be here so I’m not going to learn the street.

So when I got the call to come to Chicago. After you know starting with a coanchor and, working in talk, for several years, I knew that it was the right thing to do. And I knew that if I didn’t — even if I didn’t succeed because at the time, there was a guy named Phil Donahue who was the king of talk. And was on in Chicago, and every single person, except my best friend Gale, said you are going to fail. Every single person, when I learned of it, my bosses by this time thought I was terrific, and said, you’re going to — you’re walking into a land mine. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail. Chicago is a racist city. You’re black, you’re not going to make it, everything to keep me sane. They even offered me a car and apartment and all this stuff, and I said no. If I fail, then I will find out what is the next thing for me. What is the next true thing for me?

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