What I Know for Sure

What I Know For Sure
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Published: 9/2/2014
As a creative force, student of the human heart and soul, and champion of living the life you want, Oprah Winfrey stands alone. Over the years, she has made history with a legendary talk show - the highest-rated program of its kind, launched her own television network, become the nation's only African-American billionaire, and been awarded both an honorary degree by Harvard University and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

Key Insights

Oprah Winfrey is iconic. When people think of her, images like Oprah screaming “You get a car! And you get a car!” on her famous talk show come to mind. Even though she seems larger than life in many ways, In her book What I know for sure, Oprah unleashes some very down to earth advice.

The book title was chosen from an interaction where someone asked her what she knew for sure, and she couldn’t find an answer in the moment. Later, as answers came to her, she began to write. Soon afterwards, her column “What I Know for Sure” was created.

This book is a compilation of those columns. In each essay, she touches on topics she has personally struggled with, including isolation, loneliness, and feeling like she isn’t valued. And since the advice is coming directly from Oprah herself you know it's good (even if it might not be a car).

Struggling with a difficult decision

We’ve all been there, even Oprah. Sometimes there seems to be no right answer, or conversely, sometimes both all solutions seem to have equal merits. In regards to indecision, Oprah wants you to ask yourself:

“What would I do if I wasn’t afraid of making a mistake, feeling rejected, looking foolish, or being alone?”

Sometimes fear is the invisible force that is preventing you from doing the things that you really want to do. What feels like indecision is really an inner battle between what you want, and how strong your fears are. If you take your fears out of the equation for a moment, what decision do you want to make?

But even the process of struggling through making decisions presents it's own gifts. Oprah talks about how facing struggles and moments of indecision show you what is meaningful to you, and can showcase your greatest strengths. Let’s say your a mom who is trying to decide whether or not she should go back to school to finish her degree. Wrought with indecision and paralyzed with fear, she cannot make a decision. If she goes back to school, she is worried that her children will not get enough attention. On the other hand, she is absolutely terrified that she won’t be smart enough to be successful in her education. Choosing to leave is different than being too stupid to perform. She imagines falling behind, being ostracised for being older… and she can’t make a choice. She’s always dreamed of furthering her education, but fear has prevented her from moving forward.

If she looks to Oprah's line for guidance, the choice becomes a little simpler. What would she do if she wasn’t afraid of looking stupid? Of making a mistake?

Though this example may seem simple, many life decisions can become almost as simplified when you take the fear out of the equation.

It is ok to struggle with indecision. It is ok to let fear play a role in your solutions. However, it is not ok to let the fear of making a mistake, reeling rejected, looking foolish, or being alone dictate the way you make decisions in your life.

Hitting a dark patch

Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don’t. When you lose something, especially something essential that once defined you, the feelings and consequences can be absolutely crippling. Oprah calls these moments, “stand-down” moments. Moments that require you to stand up, and to know who you are, even who you are without the things that you thought defined you. Because they don’t. Your marriage, your job: these losses do not define who you are. How you survive these dark patches does. Oprah states:

“Being willing to learn from these challenges is the difference between succeeding and getting stuck”. Hard to imagine when emotionally you’re down in the dirt. However, changing the way you think about your situation is key to overcoming it. Getting stuck, just like overcoming obstacles, is a decision.

And Oprah hit a dark patch when she got demoted from her job as an Anchor for a news show in Baltimore, and now she’s Oprah. She wouldn’t have had time for a talk show had that demotion not happened. You don’t know where something as seemingly hopeless as a demotion can lead. You simply have to make the choice to continue.

On the topic of love

Oprah has talked to thousands of people, and one of the many things she knows for sure is that people want to feel valued. Oprah learned how much people want to feel valued when she interviewed men who had affairs. The thing that drew them away? Feeling valued by their mistresses. That’s just how important being valued can be. Oprah reminds us that the love we so desperately crave has to come from within, and can never come from another source. Oprah says, “Look inward, the loving begins with you”. See “Taking your pleasure seriously” for tips on how to do that.

On the topic of successful relationships, she also mentions that communication is one of the most essential elements of a successful relationship. Unfortunately, it's also the most challenging. When things get confusing, she says to simply ask your partner what they really want. Cut to the chase. You might be surprised by the answer. Sometimes what may appear to be an argument about a surface level issue, really goes much deeper. When your partner is yelling at you about the garbage not being taken out, they might really be saying they don’t feel valued. In fact, Oprah says, usually that’s some form of what they will say. Seems like being valued is important… now where have we heard that before?

She also states that “if you are holding someone accountable for your happiness, you’re wasting your time”. Read that again. There are much better things you could be doing with that time your wasting. See “taking pleasure seriously”.

Take your pleasure seriously

When was the last time you thoroughly enjoyed something? Like full focus, sitting back, pure pleasure? Oprah talks about hers: it was when she had a sip of her favorite Masala Chai Tea at 4:00 pm. She goes on to talk about enjoying these pleasures (or “Ahhhhh moments”) wholeheartedly. Whether it's laughing on the phone with a friend, or reading a good book, it is important to take the time to fully enjoy the things that make you feel good. And if you can do something that makes someone else feel good too, well that’s just an extra bonus. She also talks about ways to feel wonder. She states “life will lull you into numbness if you pass up on opportunities to feel wonder”. She (adorably) realized this after she adopted three puppies on impulse. If you don’t want to deal with the dog hair, there are other ways to feel wonder too.

Speaking of feeling wonder, one way to truly enjoy your pleasure is to learn to be in the moment. Oprah says living in the moment is an important spiritual practice. How exactly do you do that? Right now, you’re reading this sentence. Now you’re reading this one. You are here, in your chair, in this moment. Something like that.

If you get the choice to sit it out, or dance

Oprah dances. Metaphorically, and literally. She was given the chance to dance with Tina Turner on her show, and she took it! Amidst her rock star moment, Oprah says she felt tremendous trepidation and stress, but she also told herself that if she focused too much on the stress and the worry, the moment would pass too quickly. Oprah goes on to say, “You can either waltz boldly onto the stage of life and live the way your spirit is nudging you to, or you can sit quietly by the wall, receding into the shadows of fear and self doubt”. When given the opportunity, do you explore, live and enjoy? Or do you let fear control your actions? Oprah doesn’t sit it out, she dances! And she thinks you might feel good if you gave it a try too.

There you have it! Oprah’s What I Know for Sure. These tips can be helpful in changing your perception and increasing your awareness (even if they still aren’t a new car).


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