Iyanla Vanzant has led one hell of a life. The acclaimed author and motivational speaker survived childhood rape, physical and verbal abuse, teen pregnancy, abusive relationships — all by the time she was 30. The next 25 years would be marked by celebratory highs — a successful career; five New York Times best-selling books; a place on The Oprah Winfrey Show; the launch of her nationally syndicated television show, Iyanla — and devastating lows: dismissal from Oprah, the cancellation of Iyanla, her daughter's death, her third divorce, going broke and losing her home to foreclosure. How could an educated, millionaire spiritual guru like Vanzant experience this?
It's a question explored honestly in her revealing new book, Peace From Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through. While these tragedies could be enough to push some people over the edge — and yes, she did consider taking that leap — Vanzant instead freed herself from the grasp of self-pity and took a thorough, honest examination of her life.
The Root spoke with Vanzant about how she has managed to endure, the lessons she's learned, the truth about her relationship with Oprah Winfrey and the failure of her own show, as well as her determination not to pass on to her grandchildren the problems that have plagued her and other family members.
The Root: A lot has changed for you in 10 years. Two obvious changes are that your daughter Gemmia died and you divorced your husband. What else is different?
Iyanla Vanzant: I'm a lot wiser now, having gone through so many losses and changes and transformations in my life that I know what matters. And I know who matters. The people who love and support me are still the people who love and support me. And that matters more to me now than the drive that I once had to build a career. And I'm not trying to build a career any more. My choice is to really be present and enjoy and engage in my life.
TR: You and Dr. Phil used to alternate Tuesday appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the late '90s, until [Iyanla producer] Barbara Walters lured you away during your contract negotiations with Winfrey. Now Dr. Phil has his own Winfrey-produced TV show and will be a featured expert on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Do you find yourself looking back, thinking, "If only … "?
IV: I really am at peace with what has happened because I know that what God has for me, it is for me. I know that if I'm supposed to be on television, I will be on television. If I [were] supposed to be on Oprah, I would be on Oprah. And every choice has a consequence. And I made certain choices that had certain consequences.
TR: Three or four years after your last Oprah appearance, you and Oprah had a friendly phone conversation about your departure from her show and the Iyanla show's demise. Have you two talked since?
IV: We have spoken since. I cannot tell you how many times or when or where. I don't remember. Not every day, not every year. I haven't been on Oprah in 11 years.
TR: Many people enjoyed you on the show and missed you after your departure. There were also a lot of rumors out there about why you left.
IV: Personally, for me, I would love to have a reunion with her just to tell the story. Whenever black women stand side by side, of course, there's always going to be rumors about why they stop standing side by side. And it's black people making up these rumors. Most white people, they don't care one way or the other.
And they do it to black women. They don't do it to black men. Is anybody talking about why Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock ain't friends? No.
TR: In your book, you wrote that Barbara Walters asked you to promise to call her if you ever needed anything. Have you made that call?
IV: I saw her once at the Emmy Awards, and she didn't know who I was. I had to remind her who I was. It would probably make absolutely no sense whatsoever for me to call her. And I will give her [this]: Barbara said to me, "I feel like I have ruined your life. You know, you were doing so well. You know, it's like I stepped in and created all of this for you."
And I said to her, "Well, I agreed to it. So you can't take responsibility. Nobody has the power to destroy my life but me." There is nothing that I want from any of them. I don't want anything from Oprah. I don't want anything from [Iyanla producer] Bill Geddie. I don't want anything from Barbara Walters.
TR: You are very adamant about breaking the cycle of negative behavioral patterns — such as domestic violence, incarceration, low self-esteem and single motherhood — in your family and not passing them on to your grandchildren. How do people end these cycles?
IV: Well, what I've discovered is that pathologies manifest as patterns of behavior that very often are unconscious. When you start discovering a pattern of behavior that brings you anything other than peace, you have to change the pattern. To do so, we have to be willing to do two things: You've got to be willing to give up everything you believe that you need, and you've got to be willing to do the work to get along without it. And I think that's where we have a challenge as people of color — doing the work and letting the stuff and people go.
TR: African Americans now have greater access to formal education and material wealth than before and might not want to put it at risk. What affect do you think this is having on the problems in our community?
IV: I had it all, and that's what I learned. I would have given up the car, the house, the career, all of the money, to keep my daughter alive. And I couldn't. And so what I discovered is that those things really don't matter because if you've got to be stripped of a few things, let it be those things. Let it not be your health, your good sense, your mind or your ability to create. That's what Peace From Broken Pieces is all about. I learned that I could live without all of that.
I didn't think I could live without my daughter. She was my best friend. Nothing will ever replace her, but I can sure live without her. All of the money, I thought I could not live without it. My house — I lost it all, and I am so grateful to know that I could live without it. If you could put your child in the ground, you could live through anything.
Listen to Iyanla Vanzant on Hayhouse Radio.