By: Philippe Matthews
If you were like me, you sat stunned as you watched the exchange between Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant as Iyanla tried to explain to Oprah why she made the decision to break her contract with Harpo and launch her own talk show with media mogul, Barbara Walters.
The interview you are about to read was conducted a few weeks before Iyanla’s new talk show was to air on ABC and is demonstrative of her spirit and pride in being able to have her own TV talk show but the question is what was the price that she had to pay?
I must admit going forward that I am biased as I absolutely love Iyanla Vanzant and all that she has contributed to the world. Being a guru is not easy and I will continue to support Iyanla’s highest good. I believe all of us occasionally make decisions out of desperation verses inspiration due to our inevitable emotional scars or wounds and a sense of running out of time. Sometimes the truth can only be seen over a period of time and not in the moment as it seemingly has for Iyanla.
Iyanla Vanzant; author of Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, Acts of Faith, The Value in the Valley, Faith in the Valley, In the Meantime: and Yesterday, I Cried – has touched millions of people with her inspiring message of spiritual healing. As an empowerment specialist, Spiritual Life Counselor, and ordained minister, she lectures and facilitates workshops nationally with a mission to assist in the empowerment of women and men everywhere.
I recall talking to Iyanla about her book, “Until Today!: Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind”. The book was written in the form of a daily journal, which enables the reader to do spiritual work with a sense of purpose, and direction that is needed to truly transform their life. Iyanla says she wrote this book not just for the people. “I always write to what I need,” Iyanla admitted. “This is really what I needed, it was about me and learning to live from a different place. I think most of us live from our heads, from what we know, from what we’ve been taught and I’m in the process myself to learn how to live from a much deeper place.”
Divided into twelve sections, Until Today represents monthly devotion that focuses on a spiritual principle. “The journey into self-acceptance and self-love must begin with self-examination,” says Iyanla. The books introduction entitled, “There’s Always More” Iyanla explains, “A lot of people were reading Acts Of Faith for the past ten years and really got a lot out of it. They were able to use the words in Acts Of Faith to do a lot in their lives, but there’s always more to do. There’s always a deeper place to go, a deeper understanding, and a different perspective so, that’s why I wrote about there’s always more.”
Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind comes from the sense that there’s always more – challenging yourself to reinvent your spiritual commitment and growth. Iyanla says devotion, “Is the reverent, personal act of surrendering your will to Divine will. When we become devoted to healing our inner world, loving and honoring ourselves and using that love as the standard by which we interact with others, all the riches of this life will fall into our laps. That is what the journey of this book is about: learning to love and honor yourself from the inside to the outside.” Iyanla believes that daily devotion is necessary because to value and appraisal of life has been slowly diminished in our personal lives. She says life has become a, “By any means necessary, a means justify the end, survival. But, when people here devotion, they immediately think of something sacred, something reverent, spiritual and godly. So, if we start each day with a concept that this day is a sacred day. With the affirmations and with the statement at the top of the page, people will take a different energy, attitude and perspective into the day, cause we really have to get back to a place where we find the sacredness in life.”
Principles of Success
The twelve monthly principles in her book read like chapters in her personal life. In 1953, Iyanla was born in the back seat of a taxi in Brooklyn. Her mother died when Iyanla was only 2 years old and Rhonda (Iyanla’s birth name) was sent to live with her paternal grandmother. Her grandmother was so abusive and violent that at age 5, Iyanla was sent to live with her father and stepmother. One of the principles in Daily Devotions is the principle of Forgiveness. “I think most of us live from a place of genetic memory,” Iyanla offered. “What I experienced in my life was mere the hereditary and genetic effects of the people who raised me experienced. If you go all the way back, you’ll find what I experienced my grandmother experienced in some form and her mother. All the way back to the boat, to the cotton field. So, when we talk about forgiveness, it’s not about forgiving the act—it’s about forgiving the pain for the entire genetic line. It’s not just saying, ‘you did this to me and it’s okay,’ because it’s not okay. It’s about how do we shift this energy; so, I’m forgiving my grandmother’s ignorance, dysfunction and pain. I’m forgiving her confusion and abusers. When you think about forgiveness that way, you’re looking at a broader perspective.”
Iyanla says forgiveness is not just about letting go of the person or situation that has wronged you, she says, “You’re not forgiving for them, you are forgiving for you. How does it serve you to stay pissed off! If you stick your finger in the fire and get burned, are going to keep sticking your finger in there?”
With that being said, how do you address situations where people like to practice their pain? “It’s because it serves them, they get something out of it. What we really don’t understand is holding on to that kind of trauma really serves the lie that we’re unworthy, we’re not good enough, that somebody else is to blame, keeps us from assuming responsibility for our total lives, keeps us unable to make commitments. It’s what I call deceptive intelligence, which makes you think the illusion is real, then you get married to the illusion and then you continue to testify to the lie. Every time you tell your story – ‘they did this; that’s why I did that’ – you testifying to the lie. So, what I want people to do is confess the truth. The truth is, this happened and it absolutely has nothing to do with the Divinity of God in me and that’s what forgiveness allows us to do.“
Tainted with adversity, Iyanla’s life reads like a rock stars autobiography. Two years after moving in with her father, they lost their apartment and she went to live with family friends, and at age 9 was raped. She became a mother at age 16 to her son Damon and had a brief marriage that produced her daughter Gemmia. In 1977, Iyanla married Charles Vanzant, which produced her second daughter, Nisa. With three beautiful children and continuous beatings from her husband, Iyanla found her self-esteem and self-worth deteriorating out of control. Speaking on the principle of Worth, Iyanla offered. “I like most people in the world was taught that worth is based on what we can do, how youthful we are, how much we accomplish, how much we possess and what I discovered is that has nothing to do with worth. That has to do with how much you’re worth but has absolutely nothing to do with your worth. The mere fact that you’re able to inhale and exhale makes you worthy because that is the gift. Life is the gift! Not the car, the house or the money – life is the gift. We want to get out of the concept and consciousness of doing life and start being life. Worth is being the truth of who you are, not what you’re doing. Be the peace, the joy, being God at it’s best is when the loving takes place.”
In the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Dr. Stephan Covey admonishes us to seek to understand then seek to be understood. Iyanla learned this principle early when she got sick and tired of being sick and tired. She put herself through law school and took a job as a public defender in 1998, but she soon realized that her power was not behind her academic shield but her spiritual shield. After studying the Nigerian philosophy, Yoruba, she changed her name from Rhonda to Iyanla (pronounced Ee-Yon-La) and began her journey as a lecturer. But, Iyanla had to understand before she could be understood. “We think what we can see is the truth,” Iyanla explaines, “To get underneath the thing and see the truth of what it is, look at what you’re bringing to the situation and how powerful you are. Because what you bring to it is what’s going to manifest as your experience.”
Giving Service Without Becoming A Servant
Talk to any minister and ask the question, ‘why did you become a minister?’ and the answer will be quick and deliberate…Service! They wanted to serve humanity in some way and so did Iyanla when she wrote her first book in 1990, entitled, Tapping the Power Within: A Path to Self-Empowerment for Black Women that was named by the Late Mayor Thomas Bradley in October 21, 1992 as Tapping the Power Within Day. In 1994, the National Associated of Equal Opportunity in Education named Iyanla Alumni of the Year, and organization comprised of the presidents and administrators of the 117 predominantly Black colleges in the United States. She was also awarded an Oni by the International Congress of Black Women as one of the nation’s unsung heroes. It was also in 1994 when Iyanla started becoming a household name with the release of Acts of Faith. Soon followed, The Value in the Valley, In the Meantime, One Day My Soul Just Opened and the critically acclaimed, Yesterday I Cried.
After successfully making the transition from poverty to prosperity, Iyanla expressed her feelings about the principle of Service. “Service from a spiritual perspective does not mean subservient. The whole issue of poverty, dysfunction and welfare gives the notion of service a negative connotation. When I talk about service, I’m talking about giving what you have because you love to give it without any expectation of external reward or recognition. Service is just standing in the truth of who you are. Knowing that truth, offering that truth and knowing that it’s not your job to see that the truth received. Your job is to give it. The other thing about service is getting people out of this help modality. People always want to help somebody – help yourself! Help keeps you tied to the outcome. Social workers get burned out because they can’t seem to help their clients, but if you serve the clients – meaning if you give one hundred percent of your time, energy and attention, client-by-client – what they do with it is their business. Your job is done once you’ve served. I serve by writing. If I only sold one book, does that mean I didn’t serve? — Absolutely not. My service was in bringing the information forward. I am the messenger; I am not the delivery person! You cannot be responsible for whether or not the message is received; you serve by bringing forth the message. You can’t be responsible for whether or not people like the song — you serve by singing it. It’s about getting people into a level of self-appreciation – what you do from the truth of your being is enough.”
From Oprah to Iyanla!
The day Iyanla Vanzant appeared on Oprah was the day she could no longer walk down the street without being mobbed. Audience response to her initial appearances was so strong that Oprah brought her back as a regular gust expert. I asked Iyanla what was the first thought that went through her mind when the Oprah Winfrey Show invited her on the show. In that raspy voice and her New York humor, Iyanla offered, “What am I going to wear? I’ve got to look good! I went out and bought some red leather pumps and built the outfit up from there.” Her position on her newfound celebrity was equally amusing. “I do my own grocery shopping and people are going to learn not to faint in the isle when they see me coming. If they see me in the super market enough, they’ll stop. People are going to learn not to interrupt me when I’m eating. They’re going to learn not to chase me in the airport bathroom. I don’t take this whole thing too seriously. I don’t talk down to people and I don’t want people to look up to me. If everybody stepped in to their true power and glory, we’ll all be chasing each other in the bathroom! I don’t want to be a celebrity, I want to be somebody who is on purpose.”
In the fall of 2001, Buena Vista Television (BVT) President, Janice Marinelli announced that they would be launching a new daytime talk show aptly called, “Iyanla” by executive producer, Barbara Walters and partner Bill Geddie. The show’s format was slated to be pure entertainment that informed and addressed themes, which daytime viewers can relate to such as maintaining meaningful, lasting relationships, accomplishing personal goals and finding enduring happiness. Iyanla says, “We want to bring a different fabric and texture to the common, everyday experiences that people have in a way that allows them to get some good out of it. We’re going to take lemons and make lemonade. We’re going to look at pain from an experience of growth and learning not just the prostitution of it.”
Iyanla is positive about the comparisons that she’s going to get from having her own television show, but she is concerned about the competition that the media is trying to create. She says, “ I don’t mind being compared to Oprah, please compare me to Oprah! Because, I remember when they compared Oprah to Phil Donahue and she just kept on moving. Phil did what Phil did and Oprah does what Oprah does. I don’t mind the comparison, I don’t like the competition.”
In her humorous storytelling voice, Iyanla shared her viewpoint on the unique differences between Oprah and Iyanla. “There’s an exquisite place that Oprah has carved out for herself. She can go from holiday gift shopping to removing stains to interviewing Nelson Mandela! I may be good, but I ain’t that good! How does she do that? Put me in a room with Nelson Mandela and I’d probably faint! One day she had on a wig, jumping around interviewing Tina Turner and the next day she was interviewing two Presidential Candidates – hello! Let’s be clear…I am not there. I am about teaching people to improve their life in very practical ways. I could not sit across Denzel Washington and have a decent conversation — couldn’t do it! Wouldn’t know what to say to Bush! I just couldn’t figure that out. But, if you give me somebody’s child who is in trouble, I can work with that. Give me a dysfunctional relationship, I can handle that. Talk to me about losing faith in yourself and not having a sense of value and worth, this I can do. Nelson [Mandela] – I can’t hang! So, there is no comparison. I have the utmost respect for this woman. Just let Oprah be Oprah and Iyanla be Iyanla.”
In closing, I asked Iyanla the simple question, what does success mean to you? She paused for a moment and answered. “Success to me is being in conscious, consistent, graceful communication and service to God. There are days when I don’t get a chance to do that. I have days when I’m a total frantic human being trying to find my way through the maze of hysteria.” However, Iyanla doesn’t feel she has come close to achieving her ultimate success. She says, “There are still women being beaten. There are still men locked up in prison. There are still people living in dysfunction who don’t have a clue about God’s goodness and glory. Success will be when there are more people living in the glory than there are that don’t know about it. That’s how I measure success. I don’t have a lot of work to do, but God has a lot of work to do through me.”
It has been reported that Oprah told Iyanla that she wasn’t quite ready yet to host her own show, produced by Harpo and that she would pay her $1 million a year until she was groomed and met Harpo standards. Shortly thereafter, Iyanla was approached by Barbara Walters to launch her own show.
Iyanla called Oprah or her attorney’s to break their contract so she could pursue the opportunity of a lifetime to have her own daytime, TV talk show. The priced she paid signing with Barbara Walters was that no one even knew how to pronounce her name let alone produce a powerfully gifted, Afrocentric female who had been exclusively branded for television by the Queen of Media and Talk, Oprah Winfrey!
Take no offense to my words, ‘this is why my ass is exclusively on the Internet!’ LMAO!!!
I would like to have a dialog with you about Iyanla’s Fix My Life on OWN from this exclusive archived interview that found its timely release on what you have done if you had the chance to have your own talk show independent of Oprah. Would you have stayed and been paid a million dollars a year to be groomed until Oprah thought you were ready, or would you jump at the chance to your own show and hang with the legendary Barbara Walters?
Join me on Facebook for a discussion @ www.facebook.com/thepmshow
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