In a global season void of clear paths, Oprah Winfrey’s new book, “The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose,” is a welcome lesson. After all, if there’s anyone who has carved out a successful rose path from weedy ground, it’s Winfrey, whose early traumatic life in poor rural segregated Mississippi stacked the odds flamboyantly against her thriving anywhere, let alone lifting her to the heights she has risen to.
It’s also keen to note just how so very Oprah the book is; and if you’re of the few who don’t know what that means, think familiar, positive, warm with just enough personal emotive anecdotes to showcase her singular wisdom. And it’s all wrapped in a lovely package just for you. It’s a tone and style the former talk show queen has perfected for her legions of fans.
Yet, in many ways, that O vibe is the perfect voice for this think-positive, compilation book. In it, Winfrey pens a dozen short essays on her life principles — or as she sometimes refers to them, “spiritual laws” — peppered with quotes from luminaries as varied as Jimmy Carter, Cindy Crawford and RuPaul. Her goal: To help you find “your path” — or in vintage parlance what used to be termed one’s “calling.”
Says Winfrey from the outset: “There is no real doing without first being,” which also perfectly sums up even the book’s cover photo of a small pensive Winfrey walking a wild — yet well-worn path — amid mountainous trees as she’s clad simply in jeans, sneakers and oversize navy sweater with her hair pulled back into a ponytail and miles from her glam-ed self.
The book flows through various adages:
The Seeds: “When you pay attention to what feeds your energy, you move in the direction of the life for which you were intended.”
The Roots: “I don’t believe in luck. For me, luck really means preparation meeting the moment of opportunity.”
The Whispers: “Your life is always speaking to you.”
The Clouds: “For every dream, there is automatically going to be resistance.”
The Give: “Every single moment is an opportunity to be of service to another human being.”
The Reward: “All these years later, I am still keenly aware that I am not my salary.”
While these might at first seem like AA slogans or self-help bromides, they are not. The wisdom in this book comes in its easy reading, which allows you to re-read and re-use it, placing it perhaps on a nightstand or diving into it during an early morning quiet time. A slowed mind and attention are required to hear what is being said.
Winfrey’s core insights — and the moments that best illuminate her passion-driven inner self — are seen in two key stories she tells.
First, we learn much from the time when Winfrey — a self-proclaimed fearless public speaker — has the jitters after Harvard’s then-president, Drew Faust, asks her to give a commencement address.
At the time, Winfrey was in the beginning stages of her OWN television network’s roughshod debut and the press was slapping her down, complaining that her golden foot was slipping, with headlines such as: “Oprah Winfrey Isn’t Quite Holding Her OWN.”
“That one stung,” she says. “I had enjoyed a long stretch at the top and was proud to be known as a powerful businesswoman. So when Harvard reached out, all I could think was, ‘What can I teach about success when I’ve stopped succeeding?’ ” She says it was a particularly frustrating time. “And to be frank, I was embarrassed.”
Winfrey says she struggled with the fear for a while, learned why it had appeared, and then made the speech anyway. Take-away lesson: Winfrey listens and learns from her fear and pushes through it.
Another glimpse into Winfrey’s central character happens as she’s confronted by a reporter relaying critical comments from naysayers when she opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The negative comments said the school would not last, which surprised and clearly irritated Winfrey.
Her response: “People have no idea of my tenacity. Once I commit to something and I have a full-hearted desire to see it work, I can’t imagine what it would take to make me quit. Don’t bet against me. You cannot defeat someone who knows who they truly are. I know who I am and why I am doing this, so I would not bet against me.” The school still thrives.
Near the book’s end we meet up with Winfrey’s longtime staple refrain in her re-telling of the story of “The Wizard of Oz”: If you want to know yourself and live your best life, you’ll find that path when you sharpen your gaze and attention inside yourself and listen, and importantly, keep listening.
It’s a potent reminder of what’s ever more necessary these days inside a whirlwind of blasting social media, shouting pundits and much hand-wringing over vertiginous world affairs. And if that’s the only lesson heard by anyone, that’s enough; we say thank you, Oprah.
Flatiron Books, 208 pp., $27.99