Oprah Winfrey reflects on trailblazing career journey: ‘Gratitude really is my religion’

Winfrey rose to prominence with "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which aired from September 1986 to May 2011.

Oprah Winfrey knows her career journey is nothing short of amazing, but she’ll never forget where she came from.

The 70-year-old media magnate, cultural trailblazer and philanthropist is overwhelmed with appreciation for her journey and the numerous honors she has received, including three Golden Globes, two primetime Emmy Awards, and 18 Daytime Emmys.

“I sound like a broken record,” she shared, “but gratitude really is my religion.”

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Oprah Winfrey at the premiere of “The Color Purple” held at The Academy Museum on Dec. 6, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Christopher Polk/Variety via Getty Images)

Winfrey — who rose to prominence with “The Oprah Winfrey Show” from September 1986 to May 2011 — spoke with People for their 50th anniversary special issue. She affirmed her lifelong commitment to encouraging and uplifting others, saying she would advise her younger self to “Hold on, girl. Hold on to yourself.”

“The most important thing is to remain centered so whether you’re on the cover of People or not, your identity isn’t tied to what the rest of the world says it is,” Winfrey continued. “Being able to not get confused by what the external says about your internal self is the most important thing for anybody who’s going to take the fame ride.”

She credits her ability to stay grounded throughout her career with her prior work experience, having been in TV since she was 19 after growing up in the church.

Winfrey attributes her exceptional ability to simplify complex thoughts and emotions to her early life experiences. 

“Well, when I was a little kid living on a dirt road in Mississippi, I was the one that was always playing the teacher,” said Winfrey. “And if we were playing house, I was the mother. Even if I was the younger girl, I would have to be the mother over everybody else. Some people call that bossy — I just call it, well, I know better, so I should be the one. I would have to say that teaching is my first love.”

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Winfrey acknowledges the welcome support of late poetess and author Maya Angelou in her career’s early years, as well as longtime best friend Gayle King and acting legend Sidney Poitier before he passed.

“I’ve never been to a therapist because I had so many on the show, but my real therapy came from downloading whatever was happening in the day with Gayle [King] every night,” said Winfrey. “There wasn’t a day that we missed being on some kind of phone call talking about what had happened in our days. I realized years later, talking to an expert about something else, that that was my therapy, that was my release. It was the way I regulated myself every day.”

As for fears for her 70s, the OWN founder and namesake mentioned her health, noting that she doesn’t live with a fear of death but rather a conscious acknowledgment that it’s possible at any time.

“When I turned 50, Maya Angelou wrote a poem for me,” Winfrey told People. “She says, ‘I have nothing to give you, but my heart and my words,’ and she wrote a poem called ‘Continue.’ One of the most important lines from that poem is, ‘My wish for you is that you continue to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.’ And that is what I intend to do.”