Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

A Glimpse at Oprah's Career In Her 20s and What We Can Take From It

She's a titan of media, philanthropy, film, literature and a cultural icon. Is there anything Oprah Winfrey doesn't do?

But at one point in her life, she was a woman in her twenties trying to figure out the next step in her career. Did she have this grand plan to take over the world when she was the co-host of a local Baltimore morning show in the early 1980s? It would be cool to think she had this all mapped out, but like most of us, she didn't have her entire career scheduled to a tee.

In fact, Oprah claims not to be much of a strategist.

"I haven't planned one thing – ever. I have just been led by a strong instinct, and I have made choices based on what was right for me at the time," she said.

She was doing pretty well on the pageantry circuit (she was crowned Miss Black Tennessee in 1972), but her news career was starting to take off, too. According to People, at 19, she became anchor of Nashville's WTVF-TV station and left Tennessee State University to be the first female African-American news anchor in Nashville.

"Even then you understood that success was a process," Oprah said of her 20-year-old self, just starting out as a reporter, "And that moving with the flow of life and not against it would be your greatest achievement."

Oprah certainly paid her dues in the news business before she turned into the superstar talk show host we know today. She worked for eight years as the co-host of that Baltimore morning show. At 29, she was given the opportunity to co-host the talk show "AM Chicago." Her talent shined through and eventually she took over. Within a few months, she beat the legendary "Phil Donahue Show" in viewership and the show was renamed, wait for it, "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

And then slowly but surely came her Oscar-nominated role in "The Color Purple," the opening of Harpo Productions, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" becoming the highest-rated talk show in TV history, 40 Emmys, her overwhelmingly popular book club (which turns every book into a best-seller), "Beloved," O Magazine, Broadway, the $40 million-plus Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, and OWN. (And we forgot to mention the best Oprah achievement, Oprah's Favorite Things.) Clearly Oprah has tons of free time on her hands.

But none of this was handed to Oprah on a plate. She worked for all of it. She used her abilities as an entrepreneur to take Harpo, Inc. from a small, five-person production company to a 430-person multimedia conglomerate (as of 2011).

"I have always had the deep understanding for myself that if anything was going to move forward in my life, I was going to have to be responsible for making that happen," she said.

Oprah has always pushed the notion that "You're responsible for your life." Remember that the next time you’re faced with a challenge at work or find you're at a crossroads in your career, think of that. 

What are some other career lessons we can take from Oprah?

Learn more about Oprah's inspiring career journey and life path here.

More From Levo:
• 6 Phrases You'll Never Hear Rich Women Say
• So You Landed the Job? Here Are 10 Tips to Help You Keep It
• 6 Daily Affirmations to Encourage You as You Grow in Your Career
•  "The Worst Career Advice I've Ever Gotten"

Photo Credit: Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images