In 1992 I was running down a country road in Indiana with my friend and fitness coach, Bob Greene, when his question literally made my knees buckle. Despite all the wonderful things that were happening in my life, I could give him no immediate answer—I had to search back in my mind to seven years before. Not since the summer of 1985, when I was filming The Color Purple, had I felt deep-down joy.
Being in that movie changed everything for me—and not just because of the character I played. I was doing work that I loved, and I was surrounded by others who were equally passionate. I was so happy every day. Even on days when I didn't have to work, I showed up to experience the joy of just being there. Away from the set, I began to read books that revealed the power I had to cocreate my life with my Creator. The whole experience was more than just a lightbulb moment, it was a sunlight moment. I could truly feel the radiance of God's love shining above me, around me, and through me. I felt connected with my purpose.
I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace—a connection to what matters. Real joy, like real power, as Gary Zukav describes it, happens "when your personality comes to fully serve the energy of your soul." That's exactly what happened to me during The Color Purple. Playing the character Sofia and being part of the whole production was not just a job for me. In my soul I knew it was something I was meant to do.
Bob helped me realize that my busy life, though exciting and filled with accomplishments that made me happy, lacked real joy. Shortly after The Color Purple was released, The Oprah Winfrey Show went national. We were so driven to do and be the best. But after a while, those goals became empty for me. I'd think, So we're number one—now what? I was caught up in a whirlwind of trying to make every appearance and please the critics, the world, everybody. And I felt disconnected from myself.
After much soul-searching, I understood that I could always feel what I felt while filming The Color Purple if only I had the courage to live my life the way I really wanted to. I would have to cure myself of the disease to please and begin focusing on what mattered. And what mattered was not just performing on TV but using the power of television to influence others for good, to help people see their potential and reconnect with themselves.
What I know for sure is that you feel real joy in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth. Eventually, we each have to answer one glorious question: What am I really here to do? Your job in life is to find your job, which might involve something as simple as becoming an uplifting boss or an honorable friend. Regardless, once you discover exactly how you were meant to use your life and then spend your energy in service to that calling, real joy can't help but follow.