Oprah Winfrey felt like she had made a huge mistake after leaving the set of her talk show one day in 1988.
She had invited white supremacists to her show as a way to get insight into the source of their hatred, but the episode devolved into sensationalism, and Winfrey had a sick feeling that she had given the white supremacists a recruiting platform. More than 20 years later, two of those guests, now reformed, reappeared on Winfrey's show to apologize and to confirm her suspicions that they had used her.
Not long after the white supremacists' first appearance, she came across a book that provided answers she was looking for, she told LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner in a recent interview.
Author Gary Zukav's 1989 book, The Seat of the Soul, contained practical advice that Winfrey was able to apply to her career, particularly the "principle of intention."
"The number-one principle that rules my life is intention," Winfrey told Weiner. "And that is actually one of the reasons why I let the show go," she said, referring to giving up her talk show in 2011 to start her cable network OWN.
Though Zukav's book was part of the non-denominational, New Age spirituality movement, his thoughts on intention are widely applicable.
In his book, Zukav writes that, "Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect. In this most profound way we are held responsible for our every action, thought, and feeling, which is to say, for our every intention."
Winfrey realized that up to that point, the intention that had been driving her personal life and career had been the desire to be liked, she writes in the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of The Seat of the Soul. She decided to change her intention to pursuing what made her, rather than others, happy.
"So after reading Gary's book, I had a big meeting with all my producers and I said, 'We are now going to become an intentional television show,'" Winfrey told Weiner. She explained to her producers that "the idea behind it--the vision--is that we are going to be a force for good, and that is going to be our intention." That meant no more episodes where audience members argued with white supremacists.
Winfrey explained that there were plenty of times where she'd be pitched ideas that had plenty of details but no positive intention, and she turned them down. There were other times she dismissed pitches where she could tell the producer was manufacturing an intention he or she didn't believe in.
Winfrey said that this philosophy still drives everything she does because "I have to be able to find for myself the thread of truth that I can hold onto and sit in the chair and be an authentic person."
She decided to end the show when she did because she felt that she had done all she could with it, and she was not going to have a season where she would have to feign enthusiasm for her work.