ESSENCE.com catches up with OWN's newest leading woman.
When Iyanla, Fix My Life premieres this Saturday at 10 p.m. on OWN, Iyanla Vanzant will have traveled quite a journey— one that requires constant tending, still. “Once you peel back the layers, you can use [the lessons] you’ve learned,” she says of reestablishing her footing during the decade-plus since losing her daughter, dissolving her marriage and watching her world crumble around her. Along with her private struggles, there was a parting-of-ways (and coming-back-together) with Oprah Winfrey and also, that short-lived daytime talk show which bore her name, but none of her likeness. Thankfully, that’s all in the past.
Moving forward, she once again takes center stage — on her own (no pun intended) — in her ongoing quest to help others live more full, truthful lives. She’s not doing the heavy lifting, though. More on that in a second.
ESSENCE.com sat with Vanzant to discuss her return to television, how her experiences have shaped her and why she feels that it’s her mission to share her wisdom. “I’m really clear that I’m on-purpose,” she says with a broad smile. “I’m a teacher; that’s what I do.”
ESSENCE.com: So, Iyanla, Fix My Life… how did we get here?
IYANLA VANZANT: Organically. It grew out of the conversation that Ms. Winfrey and I had in February of last year. We had a major conversation, a very authentic conversation, where for the first time, we discussed with each other — not with lawyers, agents or managers — what we thought had happened when we separated 12 years ago. We had that conversation publicly and came to understand what each of us misunderstood and we were able to clear that up. From there, she invited me to join her for “Oprah’s Lifeclass,” which gave rise to a number of questions and issues of the viewers and she said, “You need to do this.”
ESSENCE.com: How does it feel to return to television, with a new show? Is this a new Iyanla?
VANZANT: No, it’s the same Iyanla…[but] a wiser Iyanla, a more courageous Iyanla. The distinction that I make for myself is that with this show, I have a clear intention that I’ve taken a stand for. Before, I had a clear intention that I didn’t take a stand for. I have a clear vision for this show that I will not deviate from. Before, I had a clear vision that I deviated from. Here, I am in alignment with the vision and the intention of this network. Before, I didn’t know if the network had a vision or an intention. So, energetically, this is very different.
ESSENCE.com: What do you hope to do for your guests? "Fix My Life" is a big statement!
VANZANT: Well, I don’t do the fixing; they do the fixing. I don’t do anything but show up and interrupt your story. [laughs] I show up, I interrupt your story and I call a “thing” a “thing.” I challenge your assumptions; I challenge your abilities and your capacities. I sit you at a table, feed your mind and your soul and then I go home. Now, what’s left? You do that.
ESSENCE.com: And what’s this “thing” that you call a “thing?”
VANZANT: Everybody’s got a “thing.” Some “things” are nice and quiet. Some “things” have fangs and claws. Some “things” stink and have slobber everywhere.
You’ve got to know what your “thing” is and you’ve got to call it a “thing,” whether it’s meanness, nastiness, un-forgiveness, arrogance, ego, resistance, rebelliousness or defiance. Everybody’s got a “thing” and once you call your “thing” a “thing,” we can give it a place to be or dismiss it. And it’s all in the story.
ESSENCE.com: And what are you learning about yourself during the process? When I think about you and your journey, I think of someone who’s constantly peeling back layers…
VANZANT: I am. I’m about down to the core now. I’m the person that I always was, but in terms of how I approach my living, I’m not the same person at all. At all. I’ve buried a child, I’ve ended a marriage and the grandson that I was raising is now grown. My family has totally shifted. Also, I’m moving into that eldership age, you know? I’m at the “wise woman” age where it’s not about learning, but utilizing the information that I have in a way that serves other people. That’s a high calling and it’s a great responsibility.
ESSENCE.com: During your two-part conversation with Oprah Winfrey last year, you said that you thought her approval was about “the work” and not about you. Have you gotten past that?
VANZANT: Oh, yes. I wouldn’t have been able to do that interview with her had I not. You have to have a breakdown before you can see. You have to be able to do the autopsy on a dead body. You can’t do the autopsy on a living soul, so not until something dies do you get to look at it and do the autopsy and say, “Oh my God, a ruptured spleen,” you know? [laughs] “[Or] busted worthiness or false sense of self…” Now, we’re doing the autopsy.
ESSENCE.com: And how do you feel when you look back on those times?
VANZANT: When I look back, I can see that there was no way that I could have been able to keep up with what I was doing, at that pace, with the level of consciousness that I had. I’m so glad that fell apart because I was headed to a line of coke or a pistol. I would have killed myself… or slept with Ray J and made a sex tape!
ESSENCE.com: Wow! Nobody would ever think that you’d say that!
VANZANT: [laughs] Why? I would have done something crazy. Wouldn’t it be insane for [me] to be sleeping with Ray J and making a sex tape? I don’t know who would have been insane — him or me — but one of us would have been absolutely crazy!
ESSENCE.com: Okay, last question. If you could write the rest of your story, how would you like to see it unfold?
VANZANT: Well, I wrote the first part of the story and it was a horror story. [laughs] It was filled with drama and villains and it had some supernatural aspects to it, too. I wrote that and I don’t want to do that again. So now, I just ask, “Okay, God… what’s next?”
Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE. Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.