I have received numerous questions regarding Iyanla’s appearance on Oprah. People have wanted to know if I watched and what I thought. I haven’t shared any of this before yet it seems, as Iyanla and Oprah did this past week, it’s time to set my own record straight.
I worked with Iyanla when she was going through the difficulties she shared on Oprah, some of them at least. She was in the midst of her divorce, healing from her daughter’s passing (the hardest thing she said) and getting out from under her financial difficulties. I don’t know all the intimate details just some. She did confide her version of the talk show debacle with Oprah. I knew it was a hard time in her life.
When Iyanla was making her decision to come to Starting Over for the second season, she called me to discuss it. I was thrilled to hear from her and absolutely excited at the prospect of her joining the show. I mean, this was Iyanla Vanzant calling me! A woman who I had never met personally but who I had admired for years.
We were on phone for almost an hour. I answered every single one of her questions and concerns as well as gladly told her the in’s and out’s of the show giving her blow-by-blow accounts of what goes on. I thought she would be perfect on Starting Over and I told her so. I got off the phone believing we had a great connection and would be great allies. That was not to be.
Like I said, I had always admired Iyanla. She had, if I remember right, five books out before she became a New York Times Bestseller. That perseverance spoke to me. I had listened to her give the funniest speech I had ever heard at my church. Her ability to connect with a crowd is masterful. I thought of her as a way shower and very much looked forward to working side-by-side.
The Iyanla that I thought I bonded with on the phone was not the Iyanla that showed up to start taping. Iyanla, and this is my perception, walked on the show exhausted, with little to give. She overcompensated with a huge chip on her shoulder that came with a sense of entitlement and yes, what appeared to be a big head (as Oprah astutely asked). Yes, I get that it was just a mask for fear. Yes, I get that she was spinning out of control. Yes, I get that she was trying to protect herself. Yes, I had, and have, deep compassion for her. And on a human level, it was difficult to be the receiver of her rolling eyes, sharp comments and looks of disgust day in and day out.
If she could one up me, she did. If she could get more TV time by walking over my coaching moments, she did. If she could mutter under her breath some put down that no one else could hear but me and the audio people, she did.
This is what happens when we do not take responsibility for our pain. We unleash it on those around us. I believe she was doing the best she could. And her best hurt many people, including me. And, this is the sad part, she never cleaned up after her attacks. Sorry was not part of her vocabulary even when she was called out by the higher ups in production. Even when she was confronted with her behavior.
Because of this, Iyanla has been one of my greatest teachers. My self-esteem, in part, is what it is today because of her. Not because she built it up, but in spite of it. I had to nurture my self-confidence on a daily basis in order to stay centered and on purpose. I had to reach out for support. I had to learn what was mine, and what was hers. I am grateful for that time. It showed me what I was made of, what I valued and what I was capable of achieving.
Do you remember when Oprah said she received Iyanla’s letters of apology over the years? One way you know people have changed is their willingness to make amends. Iyanla has not taken responsibility for her actions towards me that, on some days, I’d call emotionally abusive. And yes, I do get that I might not even be on her radar. And that’s okay. Maybe she has changed immensely it just hasn’t trickled down to me. I pray that is true.
I also realize she doesn’t need my forgiveness. Forgiveness is an inside job. I have done the work necessary for me to move beyond it. And more important, I have forgiven her, for my sake, as well as forgiven myself, for my inability to be more enlightened. I mean, I too can be short, inconsiderate and unkind. I too have had moments of less than loving behavior. I know what it feels like to watch yourself have bad behavior and seemingly be incapable of stopping yourself. I get it. I’ve been there.
Iyanla’s perceptions may be wholly different than mine. As Oprah and Iyanla’s were. And there is no doubt that she was going through the most challenging time in her life when she was taping Starting Over. And what’s also true is she wasn’t able to rise above her pain and instead, fear got the better of her. That I have deep compassion for. I have been there as well.
Before I end, I do want to be clear: She did great work on Starting Over. She changed those women’s lives. She genuinely cared and worked her butt off. I believe that she just didn’t have any more kindness, compassion or respect to give but to the women in that house. And if that was the choice: respect me or respect the women? Then she choose wisely. The women were what mattered and that is what kept me on her side, standing for her work regardless of what was going on behind the camera. She did care about each woman in her tutelage. And if that’s all she had to give. So be it.
So do I think she’s changed? Do I think her peace is genuine? I hope so. But I also know that she spoke like a sage on camera on Starting Over while at the same time was hurtful to those around her. I hope this time her words match her actions. If they do, I know she has found the peace she seeks. That is what I wish for her. It is what I want to believe is true for her. And bottom line, it doesn’t matter what I think or believe. All that matters is what she believes. And she believes she has found peace. So I say, Hallelujah! Preach on Sister! It’s in God’s hands….