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SALT LAKE CITY — Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was the star of a successful sitcom when she decided to come out as gay over 20 years ago.
It was a decision many warned her against. Some believed it would devastate not only her sitcom but her career. And it did, for a few years, she told conference-goers Thursday at Utah tech company Pluralsight’s annual conference in Salt Lake.
“(But) we are the creators of our lives. There’s only so much that we can control … but for the most part, we are born into this play that we’re a part of, and it depends on the story we tell ourselves and the characters we choose to incorporate into our world,” she said.
DeGeneres had originally planned to keep her sexuality a secret, but her manager gave her a ticket to a workshop that focused on changing the inner dialogue of the subconscious mind. The budding comedian didn’t think she’d go more than a day, but “it was really intense,” she said.
“It was basically tapping into our subconscious mind and what we say to ourselves. Some people say, ‘You’re fat.’ Some people say, ‘You’re stupid.’ … And whether we hear it or not or know that we’re saying that to ourselves, it just builds up shame,” she said.
“And I, during the course of the week that I was there, I just broke down and started sobbing, realizing the amount of shame I had. I thought, ‘People think they love me, but they don’t know who I am. And will they still love me if they know?’”
A short while later, she had a dream that she was holding a bird in her hands. When she went to put the bird back into its beautiful cage, however, she realized that the cage was facing an open window, and the bars were big enough for the bird to fly out.
The bird moved to leave, but she insisted it was safe in the cage. The bird then turned around and said "I don't belong here anymore," and flew out, she said.
When she woke up, she knew it was time to let people into a part of her life she had kept hidden for decades.
“I just learned that if you decide and clearly visualize and deeply feel where you want to go and who you want to be, that you can manifest that. Because we all have that power.” But DeGeneres wasn’t immediately successful after coming out on her sitcom and in real life. In fact, the show was canceled shortly after as advertisers pulled their money, she said.
For the next three years, her career seemed dead on arrival, she said. Now, her talk show, “The Ellen Show,” has been on the air for 17 years.
“Time has a way of healing everything if you just stay the course,” she said.
DeGeneres said she didn’t publicly come out to help others who were struggling with their own sexuality, though that's a happy perk. It was for very “selfish reasons,” she said. Though she wanted others to like her, it couldn’t come at the expense of who she was.
When Pluralsight CEO Aaron Skonnard asked DeGeneres what Utah could do to help LGBT youth in Utah, he also introduced a group of youth from Encircle and Envision Utah that the company had come to sit in the front row.
“All we want is love,” DeGeneres said to cheers from the crowd.