With a 45-year track record of success, a net worth of $2.5 billion, and unmatched king-making power, you’d think there is pretty much no TV gig Oprah Winfreywouldn’t nail. But according to a revealing new Hollywood Reporter interview, things actually didn’t go so well when the TV icon tried to take her emotional brand of journalism to 60 Minutes.
Too emotional for 60 Minutes?
“It was an interesting experience for me. I enjoyed working with the teams,” Winfrey says diplomatically in the interview, “but it was not the best format for me.” What made her a less-than-perfect fit for the storied news program? Apparently, an excess of emotion.
“Never a good thing when I have to practice saying my name and have to be told that I have too much emotion in my name,” she continues. “I think I did seven takes on just my name because it was ‘too emotional.’ I go, ‘Is the too much emotion in the ‘Oprah’ part or the ‘Winfrey’ part?’… They would say, ‘All right, you need to flatten out your voice, there’s too much emotion in your voice.’ So I was working on pulling myself down and flattening out my personality — which, for me, is actually not such a good thing.”
Seeing the mismatch between her true self and the culture and demands of the job, she walked away. It’s courageous (and Oprah clearly isn’t short of other options), but it’s a lesson more professionals would probably benefit from learning.
You’ll be successful only if you can bring your true self to work.
Hiding your true character at work is exhausting. Just like Oprah dragging herself through seven takes of her own name, you have to constantly monitor yourself and calculate how to adjust your demeanor and actions to suit your workplace. Research shows that isn’t just unpleasant. It also takes a toll on your performance and your health.
“When it comes to your fundamental identity, rather than your opinions, hiding or downplaying things can actually be detrimental to your career in the long run. As Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Karen Sumberg have shown, out LGBT workers are more successful than their closeted counterparts, likely because they don’t have the added stress of ‘managing their identity’ on top of the work they’re expected to perform. And Deloitte research shows that ‘covering,’ or playing down differences at work, also has deleterious psychological consequences,” writes Duke’s Dorie Clark on HBR.org.
It’s hard to do your best work when you’re wasting energy covering up your true self. That’s true whether you’re Oprah Winfrey, an introvert in an extremely chummy office, or a do-gooder at a mercenary company. An ill-fitting gig might look good on paper. Oprah’s 60 Minutes job certainlyseems like a prestigious dream job. But if you want to be successful, you need to have the courage to walk away from opportunities that don’t align with your true self and toward those that allow you to be authentically yourself at work.
If you’re not a billionaire like Winfrey, that most likely doesn’t mean instantly quitting a perfectly good job, but it does mean making fit a bigger part of your thinking as you look for your next opportunity. Because, as Oprah’s career amply illustrates and science confirms, you thrive at work only when you can let your full, authentic character shine.