Now, for the first time, these thoughtful gems have been revised, updated, and collected in What I Know For Sure, a beautiful cloth bound book with a ribbon marker, packed with insight and revelation from Oprah Winfrey. Organized by themejoy, resilience, connection, gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity, and powerthese essays offer a rare, powerful and intimate glimpse into the heart and mind of one of the world's most extraordinary womenwhile providing readers a guide to becoming their best selves. Candid, moving, exhilarating, uplifting, and frequently humorous, the words Oprah shares in What I Know For Sure shimmer with the sort of truth that readers will turn to again and again.
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What I Know for Sure
By Oprah Winfrey
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"Sit. Feast on your life." —Derek Walcott
The first time Tina Turner appeared on my show, I wanted to run away with her, be a backup girl, and dance all night at her concerts. Well, that dream came true one night in L.A. when The Oprah Winfrey Show went on tour with Tina. After a full day's rehearsal for just one song, I got my chance.
It was the most nerve-racking, knee-shaking, exhilarating experience ever. For 5 minutes and 27 seconds I got a chance to feel what it's like to rock onstage. I have never been more out of my element, out of my body. I remember counting the steps in my head, trying to keep the rhythm, waiting for the big kick, and being so self-conscious.
Then, in an instant, it dawned on me: Okay, girl, this is going to be over soon. And if I didn't loosen up, I would miss the fun. So I threw my head back, forgot about step, step, turn, kick, and just danced. WHEEEEW!
Several months later I received a package from my friend and mentor Maya Angelou—she'd said she was sending me a gift she'd want any daughter of hers to have. When I ripped it open, I found a CD of a song by Lee Ann Womack that I can still hardly listen to without boohooing. The song, which is a testament to Maya's life, has this line as its refrain: When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance—to live free of regret and filled with as much joy, fun, and laughter as you can stand. You can either waltz boldly onto the stage of life and live the way you know your spirit is nudging you to, or you can sit quietly by the wall, receding into the shadows of fear and self-doubt.
You have the choice this very moment—the only moment you have for certain. I hope you aren't so wrapped up in nonessential stuff that you forget to really enjoy yourself—because this moment is about to be over. I hope you'll look back and remember today as the day you decided to make every one count, to relish each hour as if there would never be another. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
I take my pleasures seriously. I work hard and play well; I believe in the yin and yang of life. It doesn't take a lot to make me happy because I find satisfaction in so much of what I do. Some satisfactions are higher-rated than others, of course. And because I try to practice what I preach—living in the moment—I am consciously attuned most of the time to how much pleasure I am receiving.
How many times have I laughed so hard on the phone with my best friend, Gayle King, that my head started to hurt? Mid-howl I sometimes think, Isn't this a gift—after so many years of nightly phone calls, to have someone who tells me the truth and to laugh this loudly about it? I call that five-star pleasure.
Being aware of, and creating, four- and five-star experiences makes you blessed. For me, just waking up "clothed in my right mind," being able to put my feet on the floor, walk to the bathroom, and do what needs to be done there is five stars. I've heard many stories of people who aren't healthy enough to do that.
A strong cup of coffee with the perfect hazelnut creamer: four stars. Going for a walk through the woods with the dogs unleashed: five stars. Working out: one star, still. Sitting under my oaks, reading the Sunday papers: four stars. A great book: five. Hanging out at Quincy Jones's kitchen table, talking about everything and nuthin': five stars. Being able to do good things for other people: five plus. The enjoyment comes from knowing the receiver understands the spirit of the gift. I make an effort to do something good for somebody every day, whether I know that person or not.
What I know for sure is that pleasure is energy reciprocated: What you put out comes back. Your base level of pleasure is determined by how you view your whole life.
More important than 20/20 eyesight is your internal vision, your own sweet spirit whispering through your life with guidance and grace—now that's pleasure.
Life is full of delightful treasures, if we take a moment to appreciate them. I call them ahhh moments, and I've learned how to create them for myself. Case in point: my 4 p.m. cup of masala chai tea (spicy, hot, with foamed almond milk on top—it's refreshing and gives me a little lift for the rest of the afternoon). Moments like this are powerful, I know for sure. They can be your recharge, your breathing space, your chance to reconnect with you.
I have always adored the word delicious. The way it rolls off my tongue delights me. And even more delectable than a delicious meal is a delicious experience, rich and layered like a fine coconut cake. I had one a few birthdays ago—both the cake and the experience. It was one of those moments I call a God wink—when out of the blue everything lines up just perfectly.
I was hanging out with a group of girlfriends in Maui; I'd just come back from India and wanted to have a spa retreat at my house to celebrate turning 58.
As girlfriends do even at this age, we sat around the table and talked till midnight. On the night before my birthday, five of the eight of us were still at the table at 12:30 a.m., worn out from a five-hour conversation that had run the gamut from men to microdermabrasion. Lots of laughing, some tears. The kind of talking women do when we feel safe.
In two days I was scheduled to interview the famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and by coincidence I started to hum a line from a song invoking his name.
Suddenly my friend Maria said, "What's that you're humming?"
"Oh, just a line from a song I like."
She said, "I know that song. I listen to it every night."
"No way," I said. "It's an obscure song on an album by a woman named Snatum Kaur."
"Yes!" Maria said. "Yes! Yes! Snatum Kaur! I listen to her every night before I go to bed. How do you know her music?"
"Peggy"—another friend who was with us—"gave me a CD two years ago, and I've been listening ever since. I play her every day before meditating."
Now we were both screaming and laughing. "No way! "
"I actually thought of having her come to sing for my birthday," I said when I caught my breath. "Then I went, Nah, too much trouble. Had I known you liked her, too, I would have made the effort."
Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, Isn't that something. I would have gone to the trouble for a friend but not for myself. For sure I need to practice what I preach and value myself more. I went to sleep wishing I'd invited Snatum Kaur to sing.
The next day, my birthday, we had a "land blessing" with a Hawaiian chieftain. That evening we gathered on the porch for sunset cocktails. My friend Elizabeth stood up—to read a poem, I thought, or make a speech. Instead she said, "You wanted it, and now you have manifested it." She rang a small chime, and suddenly music started to play.
The music was muffled, as if the speakers weren't working. I thought, What's going on? And then there appeared, walking onto my front porch ... Snatum Kaur, in her white turban. And her musicians! "How did this happen?" I cried. And cried, and cried. Maria, sitting next to me with tears in her eyes, held my hand and just nodded. "You wouldn't do it for yourself, so we did it for you."
After I'd gone to bed the night before, my friends had called to find out where Snatum Kaur was, to see if they could get her to Maui in the next 12 hours. As life and God would have it, she and her musicians were in a town 30 minutes away, preparing for a concert. And were "honored" to come and sing.
It was one of the most amazing surprises of my life. Layered with meanings I'm still deciphering. What I know for sure: It's a moment I'll savor forever—the fact that it happened, the way it happened, that it happened on my birthday. All ... so ... delicious!
When was the last time you laughed with a friend till your sides hurt or dropped the kids off with a sitter and went away for an entire weekend? More to the point, if your life ended tomorrow, what would you regret not doing? If this were the last day of your life, would you spend it the way you're spending today?
I once passed a billboard that caught my attention. It read, "He who dies with the most toys is still dead." Anyone who has ever come close to death can tell you that at the end of your life, you probably won't be reminiscing about how many all-nighters you pulled at the office or how much your mutual fund is worth. The thoughts that linger are the "if only" questions, like Who could I have become if I had finally done the things I always wanted to do?
The gift of deciding to face your mortality without turning away or flinching is the gift of recognizing that because you will die, you must live now. Whether you flounder or flourish is always in your hands—you are the single biggest influence in your life.
Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully.
Is there anything I love more than a good meal? Not much. One of my best took place on a trip to Rome, at a delightful little restaurant filled exclusively with Italians except for our table: my friends Reggie, Andre, and Gayle, Gayle's daughter Kirby, and me, eating as the Romans do.
There was a moment when the waiters, prompted by our Italian host, Angelo, brought out so many delicious antipasti that I actually felt my heart surge, like an engine switching gears. We had zucchini stuffed with prosciutto, and fresh, ripe tomatoes layered with melting mozzarella so warm you could see tiny cheese bubbles, along with a bottle of '85 Sassicaia, a Tuscan red wine that had been breathing for half an hour, to sip and savor like liquid velvet. Oh my, these were moments to treasure!
Did I mention I topped all this off with a bowl of pasta e fagioli (made to perfection) and a little tiramisu? Yep, that was some good eating. I paid for it with a 90-minute jog around the Colosseum the next day—but it was worth every delectable bite.
I have a lot of strong beliefs. The value of eating well is one of them. I know for sure that a meal that brings you real joy will do you more good in the long and short term than a lot of filler food that leaves you standing in your kitchen, roaming from cabinet to fridge. I call it the grazing feeling: You want something, but can't figure out what it is. All the carrots, celery, and skinless chicken in the world can't give you the satisfaction of one incredible piece of chocolate if that's what you really crave.
So I've learned to eat one piece of chocolate—maximum, two—and dare myself to stop and relish it, knowing full well, like Scarlett O'Hara, that "tomorrow is another day," and there's always more where that came from. I don't have to consume the whole thing just because it's there. What a concept!
It's been more than two decades since I first met Bob Greene at a gym in Telluride, Colorado. I weighed 237 pounds at the time, my highest ever. I was at the end of my rope and the end of hope—so ashamed of my body and my eating habits, I could barely look Bob in the eye. I desperately wanted a solution that worked.
Bob put me through my workout paces and encouraged a lifestyle built around eating whole foods (long before I'd ever heard of the store that shares that name and mission).
I resisted. But even as different diets came and went, his advice remained consistent and wise: Eat foods that make you thrive.
A few years ago, I finally got the big aha and started growing my own vegetables. And what began with a few rows of lettuce, some tomatoes, and basil (my favorite herb) in my backyard in Santa Barbara eventually became a genuine farm in Maui. My gardening interest grew into a passion.
I get ridiculously happy at the sight of the purple radicchio we've grown, the elephant kale that reaches my knees, the radishes so big I call them baboon butts—because for me it all represents a full-circle moment.
In rural Mississippi, where I was born, a garden meant survival. In Nashville, where I later lived, my father always cleared a "patch" by the side of our house, where he would grow collard greens, tomatoes, crowder peas, and butter beans.
Today that's my favorite meal; add some cornbread and I'm clicking my heels. But when I was a girl, I saw no value in eating freshly grown foods. "Why can't we have store-bought food like other people?" I'd complain. I wanted my vegetables to come from the "valley of the jolly—ho, ho, ho—Green Giant"! Having to eat from the garden made me feel poor.
I now know for sure how blessed I was to have access to fresh food—something not every family today can take for granted.
Thank you, Lord, for growth.
I've worked hard to sow the seeds for a life in which I get to keep expanding my dreams. One of those dreams is for everyone to be able to eat fresh food that goes from farm to table—because better food is the foundation for a better life. Yes, Bob, I'm putting it in print: You were right all along!
I met Gayle King in 1976, when I was a news anchor at a station in Baltimore and she was a production assistant—both of us from circles that rarely interacted and certainly weren't friendly. From the day we met, Gayle made it known how proud she was that I had the exalted position of anchorwoman and how excited she was to be part of a team I was on. It has been that way ever since.
We didn't become friends right away—we were just two women respectful and supportive of each other's path. Then one night, after a big snowstorm, Gayle couldn't get home—so I invited her to stay at my place. Her biggest concern? Underwear. She was determined to drive 40 miles through a snowstorm to get to Chevy Chase, Maryland, where she lived with her mom, in order to have clean panties. "I have lots of clean underwear," I told her. "You can use mine, or we can go buy you some."
Once I finally convinced her to come home with me, we stayed up the whole night talking. And with the exception of a few times during vacations spent out of the country, Gayle and I have talked every day since.
We laugh a lot, mostly about ourselves. She has helped me through demotions, near-firings, sexual harassment, and the twisted and messed-up relationships of my twenties, when I couldn't tell the difference between myself and a doormat. Night after night, Gayle listened to the latest woeful tale of how I'd been stood up, lied to, done wrong. She'd always ask for details (we call it "book, chapter, and verse"), then seem as engaged as if it were happening to her. She never judged me. Yet when I'd let some man use me, she'd often say, "He's just chipping away at your spirit. One day I hope he chips deep enough for you to see who you really are—someone who deserves to be happy."
In all my triumphs—in every good and great thing that has ever happened to me—Gayle has been my boldest cheerleader. (Of course, no matter how much money I make, she still worries that I'm spending too much. "Remember M.C. Hammer," she chides, as though I'm one purchase away from following in the footsteps of the rapper who went bankrupt.) And in all our years together, I have never sensed even a split second of jealousy from her. She loves her life, she loves her family, she loves discount shopping (enough to schlep across town for a sale on Tide).
Only once has she admitted to wanting to trade places with me: the night I sang onstage with Tina Turner. She, who cannot carry a tune in a church pew, fantasizes about being a singer.
Gayle is the nicest person I know—genuinely interested in everybody's story. She's the kind of person who will ask a cabdriver in New York City if he has any kids. "What are their names?" she'll say. When I'm down, she shares my pain; when I'm up, you can believe she's somewhere in the background, cheering louder and smiling broader than anyone else. Sometimes I feel like Gayle is the better part of myself—the part that says "No matter what, I'm here for you." What I know for sure is that Gayle is a friend I can count on. She has taught me the joy of having, and being, a true friend.
Excerpted from What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey. Copyright © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1. Joy,
Part 2. Resilience,
Part 3. Connection,
Part 4. Gratitude,
Part 5. Possibility,
Part 6. Awe,
Part 7. Clarity,
Part 8. Power,