Though Ellen's daytime talk show is a huge hit—she's won 29 Emmys in six years—and her career has never been better, she's traveled a long road to success. She says it was only eight years ago that she could hardly get people to return her phone calls. "It was really amazing to me that I would ever work again, at all," Ellen says. "Trying to get the talk show, looking back on it, we had to beg a lot of station managers to pick up the show because people thought no one would watch it because I'm openly gay."
Ellen first came out publicly on her prime-time sitcom Ellen. "I knew if I came out there was a possibility I would lose my career. But I didn't do it for my career, I did it for me to live my truth," she says. "I thought, 'I don't want to live and have any shame whatsoever.' I should be proud of who I am, and I don't care if people approve or not. It is who I am."
Ellen learned some of these lessons in other unexpected places. While she was struggling with whether she should come out, she says she had a dream that helped convince her to honor her own truth. "I was holding a tiny, little bird, a tiny, little, delicate finch," she says "I was holding it in my hand. It was clearly my pet that I loved, and I was putting it back in this cage that I kept it in—one of those bamboo multitiered cages. As I put the bird back in the beautiful cage it was in, I became the bird and I was still myself. The bird noticed that I had it up against a window, and [in front] of that window, which was open, the bars were much, much wider and had always been much wider. The bird noticed that, for the very first time, it was free to fly out. And I looked at the bird saying: 'Don't go. You're safe in here.' And the bird, being me, looked at me and said, 'I don't belong in here,' and flew out."