On the last day of 2017, the New York Times announced that Oprah Winfrey was joining the CBS Sunday staple 60 Minutes as a special contributor. The mega-influencer called the program the “bastion of journalistic storytelling.” Fast forward to this week, just over two years later, when Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter that she was leaving the venerable show, and why.
Winfrey cited how put off she was by the fact that producers asked her to repeat how she said her name (for segment “sign-offs”) seven times, to flatten how she said it in an effort to take the emotion out of it.
Here’s what Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter (edited for brevity):
They would say, “All right, you need to flatten out your voice, there’s too much emotion in your voice.” 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?” So I was working on pulling myself down and flattening out my personality–which, for me, is actually not such a good thing.
One of the greatest inspirational voices in our generation was told to tone down her Oprah-ness. And then Winfrey walked.
The irony and the lesson in Winfrey’s departure.
First, let me address the irony in the situation. When Winfrey announced she was joining 60 Minutes, she offered this reason for why she was doing so:
“At a time when people are so divided, my intention is to bring relevant insight and perspective, to look at what separates us, and help facilitate real conversations between people from different backgrounds.”
So a powerful, influential woman takes a job intending to bring her unique self to the table, to help unite diverse and divided backgrounds with real conversation.
She leaves because she was asked to take her unique self and squelch it, to be more like everyone else, not different, and bereft of genuine feelings.
It’s almost the definition of irony.
Now, pundits would argue that Winfrey also shared that she experienced a similar thing as a reporter, where she was told to take the emotion out of her voice, as reporters are supposed to be neutral, not overly involved in the stories they’re reporting. 60 Minutes was just doing the same thing, so the logic goes.
But the show knew what they were getting with Oprah–hell, the whole world knew. And she was clear about what she intended to bring. But the gears of the machine ground loud enough to drown out a unique voice.
They hired an eagle and asked her to fly in formation.
Now for the lesson in Winfrey’s departure: In the end, the icon decided she couldn’t accept a situation where she simply couldn’t unfurl her wings and be herself. She decided if she couldn’t bring her whole self to work, she’d take her whole self elsewhere.
And so should you.
When we’re free to be ourselves in our work (and in life), it reinforces our sense of self-identity, binds us to other human beings, and creates a bridge to a sense of belonging. It energizes us because we feel the power of being able to bring our unique creations and contributions to the world. It brings meaning.
The absence of the ability to be our authentic selves at work creates disharmonious actions, false fronts, and a slow-rotting from within.
If you’re working in a place that doesn’t allow you to be yourself, what’s the point of being yourself? This simple logic was at least partially responsible for my decision to leave the corporate world to become an entrepreneur.
If you’re a leader in a place that needs an authenticity boost, role-model authentic behavior by being a beacon of transparency, by being worthy of trust and belief, by behaving in a genuine, down-to-earth and approachable manner, and by believing in the power of each individual to bring their whole self to work (encouraging each person to bring forth their unique skills, styles, and original thinking).
The bottom line is you don’t have to be a media mogul to take a stand. Too much is at stake to not feel like you can bring your whole self to work every day.
If you find yourself in a place where that’s not the case, and if you’re financially able to make a change, don’t stay, not one more hour. Not another 60 minutes.