A Glimpse At Oprah’s Career In Her 20s And What We Can Take From It

A glimpse at Oprah’s career in her 20s and what we can take from it

Oprah Winfrey's 60th birthday - January 29, 2014

On January 29 this year, Oprah Winfrey was celebrating her 60th birthday. And this woman has a lot to celebrate! We mean frankly sometimes it seems like every day is Oprah’s birthday. She is a titan of media, philanthropy, film, literature and a cultural icon, but at one point in her life she was a woman in her 20′s trying to figure out the next step in her career. Did she have this grand plan to take over the world when she was the co-host of a local Baltimore morning show in the early 1980s? It would be cool to think she had this all mapped out but like most of us, she didn’t have her entire career scheduled to a tee. In fact, Oprah claims not to be much of a strategist. “I haven’t planned one thing – ever. I have just been led by a strong instinct, and I have made choices based on what was right for me at the time,” she has said.

She was doing pretty well on the pageantry circuit (she was crowned Miss Black Tennessee in 1972) but her news career was starting to take off. According to People, at 19, she became anchor of Nashville’s WTVF-TV station and left Tennessee State University to be the first female African-American news anchor in Nashville. ”Even then you understood that success was a process,” Oprah to a photo of her 20-year-old self, just starting out as a reporter, “and that moving with the flow of life and not against it would be your greatest achievement.”

Oprah certainly paid her dues in the news business before she turned into the superstar talk show host we know today. She worked for eight years as the co-host of that Baltimore morning show. At 29 she was given the opportunity to cohost the talk show AM Chicago. Her talent shined through and eventually she took over. Within a few months she beat the legendary Phil Donahue Show in viewership and the show was renamed, wait for it, The Oprah Winfrey Show. 

And then slowly but surely came her Oscar-nominated role in The Color Purple, the opening of Harpo Productions, The Oprah Winfrey Show becoming the highest-rated talk show in TV history, 40 Emmys, her overwhelmingly popular book club (which turns every book into a best-seller), Beloved, O Magazine, Broadway, the $40 million-plus Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls and OWN. Whew!

But none of this was handed to Oprah on a plate. She worked for all of it. She used her abilities as an entrepreneur to take Harpo, Inc. from a small, five-person production company to a 430-person multimedia conglomerate (as of 2011). ”I have always had the deep understanding for myself that if anything was going to move forward in my life that I was going to have to be responsible for making that happen,” she has said.

Oprah has always pushed the notion that “You are responsible for your life.” Remember that the next time you are faced with a challenge at work or find you are at a crossroads in your career, think of that.

By: Meredith Lepore 

Levo League

Levo League is the first online destination designed to provide Gen Y women with advice, mentorship and career opportunities. Follow us on Twitter at @levoleague.