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SALT LAKE CITY — Shortly after opening a school for girls in South Africa, Oprah Winfrey was sitting at the kitchen table with Maya Angelou.
The celebrated poet was teaching Winfrey how to make biscuits (a skill she said she never really did learn). As Angelou kneaded the dough, Winfrey told her about her school’s grand opening. That school was going to be her greatest legacy, she said.
“You have no idea what your legacy’s gonna be,” Angelou said.
Winfrey was taken aback. She disagreed. She knew the school would be her legacy.
“(Maya) puts her dough down. She wipes her hands, and she points at me and she says, ‘I said you have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy isn’t one big thing. It may be the school or a part of it. It’s not your name on a building or an African school. Your legacy is every life you touch.”
That was a “breakthrough,” the media magnate said during a keynote speech at the Qualtrics Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City Thursday. And it has been breakthroughs of that caliber that have led her to where she is today.
Another came as she interviewed a group of skinheads shortly after she began her own national show. Winfrey believed she was bringing to light the terrible things they believed, but afterward, she realized they had used her show as a platform to spread their hatred.
A week later, her producers convinced a man, his wife and his girlfriend to come on the show. It was on live national television that the man told his wife that his girlfriend was pregnant, Winfrey said, while the audience audibly gasped.
“I felt this should not happen to a human being and certainly not under my watch,” Winfrey said. “I will not be a part of any kind of show that continued to do that. I spoke to my producers and said, ‘Hey, we got to take a look at what we’re doing here (and) how we’re actually serving our audience. We’ve got to figure out a way that we can be a force for good.'”
It wasn't until Winfrey read "Seat of the Soul" by Gary Zukav, however, that she realized she needed to understand the intent of her message before each show. She began sitting down with her producers before and after every episode and deciding upon the truth they wanted to put out into the world.
Listen to the whispers that something is wrong before it becomes a problem, then a crisis then a disaster - @Oprah— Liesl Nielsen (@liesl_nielsen) March 7, 2019
"I don't do anything without thinking about what I ultimately want the energy, the motivation I'm putting into it. What is the end result going to be," she said. "I only do what I intend to do."
Winfrey would do something similar with her guests as well, from Beyoncé to Barack Obama. And she began to notice a common thread between all her guests who, at the end of each interview, all asked something like, "Was that OK? How was that?"
"What I started to learn ... was this question of, 'Was that OK?' really is, 'Did you hear me and did what I say mean anything to you?'" she explained. "So this idea of validating and letting people know that they are heard and what they had to say matters to you was a huge breakthrough moment because what I understood was people were more willing to share of themselves and share of their story if they feel safe and if they feel seen."
Oprah’s here you guys pic.twitter.com/HBncg4LpaY— Liesl Nielsen (@liesl_nielsen) March 7, 2019
Winfrey then echoed Martin Luther King Jr. who said not everybody can be famous, but everyone can be great because greatness is determined by service.
"I have learned that whatever your work, whatever your station, your position in life, if you change the paradigm of the work to 'How do I use this in service to something greater than myself? ... (and) you operate from the principle of what you come to offer the world from a point of view of service, that comes back to you tenfold, a hundredfold ... an abundance you cannot even measure."