During the past 25 years as America's favorite workaholic, Oprah, built her empire, I was such a workaholic that I never managed to see any of her shows.
Last Saturday night, I was stuck in a little motel room in Northern New Mexico. It was plunging toward zero outside and the sidewalks were covered in black ice. So, we decided to eat a picnic in bed to the flickering light of the TV.
And there stood Oprah.
Spotlight in a white suit on a dark soundstage, over the course of the next hour, she told the back-story of the founding of her new network, including why she was quitting as an on-screen show host and moving on to instead produce other people's shows.
One scene in particular affected me. We saw Oprah early in the morning being driven in her chauffeured car to work. She sits in the back, without any make-up, still a bit puffy from sleep. Her voiceover during this image talked about the fact that though she loved her job, after so many years it had just gotten exhausting and repetitive. No matter how great you are at something, you have to move on and change up to be able to breathe.
If Oprah kept on doing the same thing the rest of her life, she might make more money. Just like rock stars who keep touring on the old hits. But I think she'd die inside.
There's a trade off between what makes business sense, and what makes sense for you as a breathing human being.
I've come smack dab against that wall myself. I was never remotely Oprah. I had a bit of success in a niche. A few hundred thousand people read my columns and case studies each week and flocked to my summits and events.
I had loved my job, but I also felt if I had to keep on doing it for one more day I'd fragment into a hundred-million pieces. It's a weird combination of being bored and stressed-out, both nearly to death. You just know you have to S.T.O.P.
Then, what? I'd been such a workaholic, that when that part of my life went away, and I'd slept for about a thousand hours to wake refreshed, there was just too big of a vacuum. Beloved hobbies like gardening, cooking, and travel just couldn't make a full life. Maybe if you quit when you're in mid-60s... but not in your mid-40s.
So, I started work again, slowly launching a series of sites in the 'Anne Holland Network'. This time it would be different. This time I'd start at 9 and leave at 5. This time I'd take vacations. This time I'd bring in a heavy-duty partner to run the business so all the leadership wouldn't fall on me.
Perhaps most importantly, this time I wouldn't be the one standing in the spotlight. Each of the sites in the Anne Holland Network would be based on my core editorial principals -- extremely practical content, based on research into what works in real-life to grow your business. However, instead of being the 'host' of every site, newsletter, and conference, I'd take a step back. We began to recruit top-notch editorial staff, one per new site, to become that site's 'host' instead of me.
So far we've got two sites successfully launched (Anne Holland's WhichTestWon.com headed by Senior Reporter Natalie Tomasso and Anne Holland's Subscription Site Insider headed by Editor Sean Donahue) with more on the drawing board for 2011.
My sense of relief at not being in the spotlight so much is powerful. It's also thrilling to train and empower editorial staff to take over their sites and really own them, in a real sense becoming their own bosses, focused on pleasing their readers. There's a learning curve here - as much for me, the queen of I'll-do-it-myself, as there is for them. But we're definitely on the road to getting there.
On that cold dark night in Santa Fe, as I watched Oprah introduce her new network, on which there is no Oprah show, I felt like I wasn't the only one trying to figure out this new business model. It was a "hey girlfriend!" moment. For the first couple of years, neither of us may make as much money in our new ventures as we had in our old ones... but maybe that's not the point to being in business. Business can go beyond capitalism, business can enable personal growth for you and your team. It does anyway for me.