Oprah: Gotcha. Let's talk about those early performances at the bathhouse.
Bette: I had a ball. The audiences were very encouraging. I've always been lucky enough to have great audiences. It has been quite a life. When I turned 50, I threw myself a big birthday party, and I looked seriously at what my life has been about. I recommend this to everybody. Ask yourself, "What have I done? How did I do it? Where'd I mess up? Where did I do well?" When I did this assessment of my life, I said to myself, "It was really good." I made a lot of people laugh, made a lot of people cry in a good way, brought a lot of joy to people, picked up a lot of garbage. And in all those years, I saw a lot. I went to foreign lands. I met interesting people. And I got it!
Oprah: What did you get?
Bette: I got that a person's life is a journey, a road. Sometimes you go off the road and sometimes you stay on all the way through. But you are the only one on that road. It's your road.
Bette: And in a funny way, when you realize that, it demystifies everyone else's journey for you. You're not jealous of other people. It takes a lot of anguish out of life.
Oprah: That makes so much sense.
Bette: You can feel compassion for others without feeling victimized yourself.
Oprah: I know exactly what you mean. Gary Zukav, who wrote The Seat of the Soul, says that true humility is understanding that everybody else's journey is just as difficult as your own.
Bette: And just as important. That's what I got when I turned 50. That's when I stopped, took a breath, thought about all the years before, and said to myself, "What was that?" From the age of 14 until I was 50, I just got on a treadmill and ran. I never stopped to assess what I was doing or to pat myself on the back.
Bette: When I finally did stop and look at my life, I realized that I had done what I'd set out to do. In my pitiful little way, I had climbed the mountain I had chosen. And there I was, on top.
Oprah: Did you think, "And now what?"
Bette: Yes, but not in a bad way. I was thinking, "What's that mountain over there? It's more rugged and it has no glamour, but it's more interesting."
Oprah: You were looking at the after-50 mountain?
Bette: Yes. When you reach a certain age, you have fulfilled your childhood dream and whatever your first or second adulthood led you to do. Then you're in your third adulthood, the one that leads to the grave, and you ask yourself, "What will I do between now and then?" Instead of thinking in terms of glamour, you start thinking in terms of reform—your contribution to the world.