May 25, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Oprah Winfrey retires with from her long-running daytime talk show today – and with plans for her next big challenge.
After taping more than 5,000 episodes, she’s relieved to be moving on. In good Oprah fashion, however, she’s down-playing the pleasure out of respect for her show’s staff of 464 people (many of whom are now out of a job) and for the fans who adore her current venue.
“I literally curb my enthusiasm for the end, because I realize that for the other people that are part of this experience, the end is a different experience than it is for me,” Oprah noted in a recent New York Times interview.
Oprah is saying good-bye to a talk show, but not heading into the sunset or out of the industry. She’s moving to her next career phase: building her fledgling five month-old cable channel, OWN.
We can all learn something from Oprah about career self-management. She’s a self-made billionaire; a legend known to millions by her first name alone; a woman who understood the importance of creating and managing her own life, brand, and enterprise; and probably the most influential African American women in the United States.
Here are the lessons I’m taking from Oprah as she leaves network TV after 25 years.
Run your own race. No matter how good you are at something or how many people want you to continue doing what you do, when it’s no longer fun, have the courage to move on to something that is.
Be authentic. Oprah’s success has been attributed to her empathy, warmth, genuine curiosity, and humor. She morphed her talk show format over the years as it fit her interests and those of her evolving audience. She found ways to bring others along as she tackled tough issues that were deeply important to her, like racism, literacy, AIDs, women’s empowerment, sexual abuse, and more. Oprah wasn’t afraid to preach, confront, learn, or cry – and she transformed television and the lives of millions of viewers by some combination of all four.
Be smart, not beholding. Gender scholar Deborah Kolb has published widely on the topics of how poorly women negotiate for themselves and for the conditions to assure their success – and on what to do about that. Her book, Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success, is a classic. Oprah was a master at negotiating for her success. She understood the importance of artistic control – and wasn’t afraid to demand it at a time when women worried about losing media opportunities by rocking the boat (or gaining a few pounds).
Believe in yourself – but stay grounded. Oprah demonstrated confidence in herself and her vision from the get go – even in the early days when she described herself as “just producing by the seat of my pantyhose.”  More important, she never let that confidence blind her to the work that needed to be done or what she still needed to learn. Star that she is, Oprah has always been a savvy business woman wed to the consummate student. That combination has served her well.
Take risks. Early ratings for Oprah’s OWN channel have been disappointing. What if she’s now lost the Midas touch? Undeterred, Oprah’s going to give it a try and give it her all. That’s all anyone can do.
Leave at the top of your game if you plan to continue in the sport. Oprah is a sensation on network TV. Her fans adore her. What a boost to spirit and creative juices to know that others love what you do – and want more.
 Brian Stelter (2011). Oprah Moves on to Her Next Best Life. New York Times. May 23, 2011, p. B1.
 Brian Stelter (2011). Oprah Moves on to Her Next Best Life. New York Times. May 23, 2011, p. B2.