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The Greatest Life Lesson Oprah Winfrey Ever Received

From the moment Oprah Winfrey read the book one Sunday in July 1982, her experience with The Color Purple has been "transcendent". She says she can’t believe this even happened to her in this lifetime.

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‎Oprah’s Super Soul: Bonus Episode: Jamie Kern Lima in Conversation with Oprah Winfrey on The Color Purple on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Oprah’s Super Soul, Ep Bonus Episode: Jamie Kern Lima in Conversation with Oprah Winfrey on The Color Purple - Dec 23, 2023

"The moment I opened the book and the first lines are:

Dear God, I am 14 years old. I’ve always been a good girl. Please explain what’s happening to me.
-The Color Purple by Alice Walker

That’s my story.

And I could not believe that there are words on a page that are reflecting my story.

Someone knows my story?

At 14?

I couldn’t believe it.

I just couldn't believe it.

First of all, those of you that are listening, you just have to imagine a world in 1982...

There are no black shows, there are no black images, there are no black role models, there are no black magazine covers.

There are no... There's nothing that reflects you in the world.

You go to work and come and you never seen a billboard or a bus, back of a bus, nothing that looks like you.

I think maybe Good Times was on or something like that.

Or All in the Family, God bless Norman Lear.

But you are not being reflected on a regular basis in your work, in any environment whatsoever.

And so to pick up a book, which I loved books...

The only other story I had read that had come close to reflecting me was Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

And I read that at 15.

So in 1982 when I read this I was now 28 years old.

And there is my story on a page?

I didn't know what to think.

So that's why I went back to the bookstore and got all the other copies and passed them out to friends, and then I hear that there's going to a movie and... that whole process of how do I find a way to get in a movie?

I don't know one single thing about movies or anybody in the movies.

I then 6 months later get a call saying Quincy Jones, who was at the time, who had produced Thriller and was working on Billie Jean, somebody was suing Michael Jackson for Billie Jean, saying that Billie Jean was not Michael Jackson's lover and whatever.

And Quincy Jones was in Chicago and happened to be coming out of the shower and saw me on A.M. Chicago.

He had taken a redeye.

Now what would have happened had he not taken a redeye?

What would have happened if he had already spent the night and been in the room?

I mean so all those forces...

I get a call saying come and audition.

I audition.

I don't hear anything for two and a half months.

When I call the casting agent he says real actresses have auditioned for this part.

Do you know who just left my office?

Alfre Woodard.

Don't you call me I'll call you.

Ruben Cannon who just the other day called and asked for tickets to the premiere.

That same guy.

That same guy.

And didn't I get him tickets to premiere.

By the time I called to say you know have you heard anything after the audition, I thought ok I didn't get it because I was overweight.

And that's why I left and I went to this health retreat which at the time they called them Fat Farms, it not me calling it that.

And I was on the track trying to release let me let it go because I'm obsessed with it, and I started singing:





Over and over and over again.

I sang that song and prayed and cried.

And when I'd stop and say ok I can let it go, I hadn't let it go.

I prayed and cried some more until I could bless Alfre Woodard with the role.

Because I know, I thought, there's no way I'm gonna get it.

He said Alfre Woodard left his office, there's no way.

And I wanted to be able to see the movie, but I wanted to be able to see the movie and not be upset that I didn't get it.

So God help me bless Alfre Woodard.

So I cried and prayed some more, and the moment I felt the release...

The moment I felt the release... a woman comes running out and she says there's a phone call for you.

And that phone call from Stephen Spielberg saying I hear you're at a Fat Farm, if you lose a pound you could lose this part.

The fact that it happened in the instant, the instant I know I let it go, was the greatest life lesson I have ever received.

Because I physically felt the release, and I saw that the second I did that, it changed.

The second I stopped resisting, the second I stopped wondering, the second I stopped putting myself in the fear space and said, “It is well.

Use me how you choose to use me. I thought this was the answer, but now I see it’s not. I’m willing to be open to wherever you take me.”

The INSTANT I did that, I saw that woman.

And so, that became my grounding teaching for the rest of my life and career.

Do everything you can, work as hard as you can, and then let it go.

Give it to God.

Give it to the universe.

Let it be an offering.

Do not resist.

Do not resist, do not push against it.

Let it go.

And, that was the great teaching.

That was the great teaching that ruled every decision going forward.

Do what you have to do, let it go.

Do what you have to do, let it go.

No attachment.

Have no attachment to the outcome.

And then when I lost track of that lesson, I got it again.

The hard way, I worked on Beloved for 10 years.

Was attached to the outcome, went into major depression afterwards, and why?

Why did I go into depression?

Because of my attachment.

Not because the movie failed.

Because my attachment to it succeeding.

Because the work was the work.

I loved every minute of the work, the process of the work, everything that I offered, I still loved that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I was offered an opportunity to change it I said no I’m not going to change it.

They said well it’s screening this way, and people don’t… I said no I’m not going to change it.

So what was I attached to?

I was attached to it being something that I wanted it to be versus what it really was.


I learned from that experience after Beloved, never do anything with the attachment to how people are going to receive it.

Let the JOY of the process of the work and putting the work out into the world, be your reward, and however people receive it, that becomes the bonus.

But the work and the art, you wouldn’t change anything about that.

You wouldn’t change anything about that.

And so now, as we move into awards season, it’s fun.

It’s wonderful to be celebrated.

It’s wonderful for people to have acknowledgements about it.

But the real JOY is in the offering.

oprahthe color purple


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