I am absolutely reeling as I sit here watching Oprah’s second interview with Iyanla Vanzant. I am saddened and sympathetic and bowled over with shock. When I first saw her on Oprah’s show back in the late 1990’s, she was this strong, charismatic, down to earth, earth mother, speaking words of New Thought wisdom, and I am a sucker for New Thought wisdom. At that time, she seemed to have everything I wanted: success, books in print, a wide readership, confidence. As I observed her vibrance and enthusiasm and listened to her sage advice, I thought: This woman can rescue me from my problems.
At the time I became aware of Iyanla, I was going through a period of deep disappointment and despair. I had come within inches of realizing a lifelong dream only to have my hopes dashed. After years of writing and soliciting literary agents, I landed a real bigshot- an agent who represented A-list celebrities and athletes and musicians. An agent with great contacts in New York and Hollywood. I was so ecstatic when they took me on as a client, and so utterly devastated when they could not sell my book. It pushed me from self criticism to self hatred- from anxiety to despair.
One day I was watching Oprah when Iyanla invited viewers to write to her for advice. I proceeded to pour out my heart to her. After all these years, I still believe it was a letter that should not have been ignored. To this day, I don’t know why it didn’t warrant a “Dear Fan, I strongly suggest you seek professional help for your depression. Best of luck. “ But I received no response. I was hurt and disillusioned, but I also realized I had to seek help on my own, which I did. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself.
This evening, while watching Oprah, I learned that Iyanla lost her marriage and her fortune through behavior she admitted was careless and ill-advised. She lost a daughter to cancer, she toyed with suicide, and she had what they used to call a “nervous breakdown” in the produce section of a grocery store.
These revelations came in a two part interview which I initially was not going to watch because, all these years later, I was still hurt about the letter I’d written over ten years ago. Let me say here that I had written Oprah’s show before, and, as a result of that writing, had been invited to be part of the studio audience. So, for me to expect a response of some kind to this second letter was, based on prior experience, a reasonable expectation. In spite of my grudge, I watched tonight’s show, and I was struck by the irony that, within a few years of my plea for help, she was battling her own case of deep, deep despair.
I don’t know what I expected her to do for me all those years ago, but I know that you cannot give another person what you do not have yourself. And you should not expect another person to rescue you, because they can’t. They can teach you. They can inspire you. But they cannot convince you that you are worthwhile or talented or deserving of success. They can shout it to the heavens, but they cannot make you believe something you can’t accept, no matter how obvious and simple and basic it may be. You have to come to those realizations on your own. You have to understand that everyone, saint or sinner, on the fast track to success or the road to ruin, is worthwhile, is in possession of some talent, be it apparent or hidden, and is, by virtue of their humanity, deserving of personal success. Only when you acknowledge the hidden potential in the least among us, can you be certain of your own.
In the long run, Iyanla helped me after all. She reminded me of how far I have come and how much I have to offer.