Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership (Transcript)

Amanda: It felt right to you, so you went for it.

Oprah Winfrey: Because it felt like this is now the move I need to make. And I was not one of those people – you know, all of my – the people who worked with me in the news, they would have their tapes and they’d have their stories, and they’d have you know resume’s ready. I didn’t have any of that, because I knew that the time would come where I would – where what I needed would show up for me. And when that showed up, I was ready. Because my definition of luck, is preparation, meeting the moment of opportunity. And I was prepared to be able to step into that, that world of talk in a way that I knew I could do it.

Amanda: Great. So, often in your career I’m sure you were a minority. Perhaps as the only woman. The only black person, the only person from a poor family. Did this affect you on your professional path? And how did you navigate situations in which you might have felt more alone? And now how did that impact how you lead and how you might help people who may be feeling that same thing?

Oprah Winfrey: Okay, Amanda, that’s a lot of questions.

Amanda: I’m sorry, all right let’s –

Oprah Winfrey: Let me put my glasses on.

Amanda: I figured I had you here, I was going to – I was going to ask as much as I can.

Oprah Winfrey: Oh, Amanda went deep on me for a minute there. Whoa. Back up sister girl, c’mon, back up. So first one is –

Amanda: So how did you navigate situations in which you would have felt more alone?

Oprah Winfrey: Always the only, only woman in the room – still walking only woman in the room. And there is a room full of white men, usually older thrills me. Just thrills me. I just, I just love it. Usually the only black person in the room, also, never really concerned me because I don’t look at people through color. I didn’t get to be where I am by – and who I am, by looking at the color of people’s skin. I really, literally, took Martin Luther King at his word. And, understand that the content of a person’s character, and, refuse to let anybody else do that to me. So, I love it, just love it.

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And there’s a wonderful phrase by Maya Angelou, from a poem that she wrote called To Our Grandmothers, that she says, when I come as one but I stand as 10,000. So when I walk into a room and particularly before I have something really challenging to do or I’m going to be in a circumstance where I feel I’m going to be you know, up against some difficulties, I would literally sit, and I would call on that 10,000. I would call on back to the ancestors, I would call on those people who come before me, I will call on the women who forged a path that I might be able to sit in the room with all of those white men, and I love it so much.

I, I call on, I call on that. Because I know that my being where I am, and first of all, being who I am and where I am didn’t come just out of myself that I come from a heritage and so I own that. And I step into that room not just as myself but I bring all of that, that, energy with me. So it has never been an issue for me except when I was, I think, 23, still working in, still working in Baltimore. I’d gone to my boss and said that the guy who was working with me, my cohost on the People Are Talking show, was making more money than I. And we were cohosts. So I went to my boss and I said, this was in 1970, so I was older than 23, this was 1979, ‘80, and I said I, I just would like to -.You know how intimidating it is to go to the boss in the first place. But I’m going to go, and I’m going to stand up for myself.

And, I said, Richard’s making more money than I am, and I, I don’t think that’s fair because we’re doing the same job. We sit in the same show. We do the same. And, my general manager said, why, why should you make as much money as he? And I said, because we’re doing the same job. And he said but he has children. Do you have children? And I said no. He said, well he has to pay for college educations. So he has – he owns his own home. Do you own your home? I said no. He said, he has a mortgage to pay. He has insurance, he has — do you have that? No. So, tell me, why, why do you need the same amount of money? And I said, thank you for your time. And I left. I left. I didn’t complain about it. I didn’t file a suit about it.

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