People, I gotta tell you: 2012 kicked my butt, yes it did. I thought I knew myself pretty well, but 2012 added a new dimension of discovery: Who are you, really?
Without the mantle of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which over the years had become an extension of me, I was forced to address that question in all the ways that mattered.
Who are you when the chips are down and you're running out of chips? Over and over after I ended the show and began the next phase of my life, the media tried to put me in a box labeled "struggling TV network." Even though I read only a few articles, one in particular cut me to the quick: "OPRAH WINFREY ISN'T QUITE HOLDING HER OWN." I had always prided myself on just the opposite -- my independence, my integrity, my support of others.
But there's a thin line between pride and ego, so back in the spring and summer, when the talk about my troubles was loudest, I did the thing I've always spoken of most [in O, The Oprah Magazine]. I got still and listened for the answer to What is this here to teach me?
The answer, first and foremost? Lay your ego down. Step out of your ego so you can recognize the truth. As soon as I did that, I was able to see the role I had played in creating "my circumstances," without blaming other people. And -- bingo! -- I realized that all the noise about my struggle was a reflection of my personal angst and fear.
I'd spent way too much time in the early months of OWN trying to explain why things had gone so wrong: I wasn't involved enough, I was too busy wrapping up my show, I left too much heavy lifting to other people, blah, blah, blah. The moment I stepped out of ego, though, I recognized that every choice I'd made had put me in the position I was in. The only way forward was to make better choices.
I hired Sheri Salata and Erik Logan, the team that had guided the final years of "The Oprah Show," to help me relaunch the network. Our motto became "The next right thing."
For years Sheri and I had had a running joke that someday we might climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In the trenches at the OWN offices in Los Angeles, someday suddenly became now: "We're climbing Kilimanjaro on Wilshire Boulevard," we'd tell each other. Steadily throughout 2012 we climbed...heads down, taking deep breaths, stopping to regroup when we hit an impasse (like having to let go of 30 employees to restructure). And I can tell you for sure that every difficult step only strengthened the muscles we needed to keep going.
Our footing became more stable when I changed the way I viewed the climb -- not as a struggle or even a challenge but Oh my God, who gets to do this?! And guess what? By late last fall, OWN's ratings had shown steady growth, pacing well ahead of where they'd been a year earlier. It's still not easy, but for now at least the clouds have broken and I can see the summit. I know where I'm headed because I know who I am.
We all have stand-down moments that require us to stand up, stand in the center of ourselves, and know who we are. When you lose what you thought was a perfect relationship, when your marriage falls apart, when the job that defined you for 20 years is gone, when the people you'd counted on turn their backs on you, there's no question that changing the way you think about your situation is key to creating a strategy for improvement. Consciously, joyously, I continue the climb into 2013. Step, step, stepping with open arms, I'm going to give it my all.
This essay also appears in the January 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, on newsstands now.