What I Know for Sure: Summary & Review

what i know for sure

What I Know for Sure is Oprah Winfrey’s autobiographical book in which she shares how she went from a difficult childhood to a media mogul and celebrity.

Bullet Summary

  • Whatever happened to you, you can not only overcome it but leverage it
  • Be grateful for what you have: you’ll be happier and even have more
  • Don’t use others for self-validation: love and fulfill yourself

What I Know For Sure – Summary

About the Author: Oprah Winfrey is an American media entrepreneur, talk show host, and vocal supporter of female empowerment initiatives.

The Main Message: You Can Turn Anything Around

The overarching message of  “What I Know for Sure” is that no matter how badly you feel your life is, you can turn it around.
It’s your responsibility to do it though, and nobody else.
Complaining won’t take you anywhere and only make things worse.

And as Oprah showed it, you can do it.

Early Childhood

Oprah didn’t have a happy and easy childhood.

Her mother was an unwed mother and she felt shame and regret about her pregnancy. She hid it until Oprah was finally born in 1953.

Oprah grew up lonely and raised by two inattentive grandparents.

Childhood and Teens

By most people’s standards, things not only didn’t improve much for Oprah but got much worse.

Oprah was still alone and lonely.

And she was sexually abused for four years between the age of 10 and 14. She even got pregnant and hid her pregnancy until the baby was born.
The child only survived a few weeks before dying.

Hardships Made Her Stronger

However, Oprah believes that the hardships and tragic events of her childhood also underpin her huge achievements.

Loneliness taught her self-sufficiency, to depend on nobody else for love and happiness but on herself.
And she acquired the mindset that nobody was there for her. She would have to fend for herself.

Be Your Own Source of Self-Worth & Love

Even though as a young woman Oprah was very successful career-wise she was looking for validation through a man’s love.

She didn’t just want a man’s love, she needed it.
In a particularly dramatic scene, Oprah once tried to stop a boyfriend from walking out on her by throwing his keys in the toilet.

My Note: Common low self-esteem issue
is rather typical behavior for women with low self-esteem and children who grew up without parental love. Also read: Will I Ever Be Good Enough.

Oprah makes the point that instead of depending on others we need to focus on ourselves as our own source of love and self-worth.
God, she says, has provided you with the ability to love yourself the way you deserve.

Implementing Gratitude in Our Lives

Like most people, gratitude didn’t come naturally to Oprah.

And like most of us, she used to focus on what she didn’t have.
What she didn’t have and immensely bothered her, was a lean physique.

She tried all kinds of diets and was obsessed with staying thin. Then one day, after a health scare, she realized that she worried about how she looked instead of being grateful for having a healthy body.

And from that day on she changed.
She focused on what she had and she was able to love the image she saw in the mirror.

Overcoming Fear of Judgement

A major sticking point on her way to success was the fear of judgment.

Sometimes Oprah also expressed the opposite of what’s fear of judgment for most people: the fear of being too successful.

It started in third grade when a teacher compliments her on the homework she had done.
That day she feared that her classmates would dislike her for being too arrogant. And that became her number-one fear for years to come.

Oprah believes that her weight gains were her unconscious way of saying “I’m not special”. By being fat she would send the message that she was normal just like everyone else.

But by hiding her talents she could never win.
She would be anyway too much for some and not enough for others.
And she decided to focus on herself instead.
The only person she had to impress or prove something to was herself. When she adopted that perspective fear stopped controlling her life.

The Importance of Saying No

When she started hosting her talk show many people would show up at the studio asking for her help.

And Oprah would try to help everyone all the time.
At a certain point, it got too much to handle though and she had to wonder what was driving her to help more people than she could handle.

And the answer was that she wanted to be liked and that, again, she feared that people wouldn’t like her if she said no.

Once she understood it was fear that drove her, she realized she had to learn to say no.
It wasn’t easy for her also because, she says, in her childhood violence made it difficult for her to enforce her boundaries.

But the first step was to accept that she was a kind and caring person even if she needed to say no.
And she started deciding based on what she wanted to do.

Pursue Excellence to Beat Racism

African American activist Jesse Jackson once visited Oprah’s high school and said that the best way to beat racism was to pursue excellence.

Oprah wrote that down and stuck it on her mirror so she would see it every day.

Let Go and Enjoy the Moment

Oprah Winfrey talks about one of the moments she was the most nervous in her life.

Dancing with Tina Turner.
She was so afraid she would ruin the show that she is shaking and uptight on stage.

But eventually, she was finally able to tell herself “this is your dream, enjoy or you will squander”. And she finally allowed herself to let go of her self-consciousness and enjoy the moment.

This is the video of that performance:

What I Know For Sure Quotes

On using pain to achieve success:

Turn your wounds into wisdom

On gratefulness:

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more

On cultivating happiness:

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate

what i know for sure

Real-Life Applications

When Everything’s Against You: Pursue Excellence
Whenever people or society are against you, whenever people want you to lose, whenever the cards are stacked for you to lose… Your answer must always be: get so good they can’t ignore you (in Oprah’s words: pursue excellence).


  • Sista-Science

Sista-science is my way of spoofing the expression “bro-science”, such as science that is not proper science but personal intuition or some bits of pop science mixed with personal opinions.

Oprah’s conclusions on emotional affairs and why people cheat feel a lot like bro-science.
There is research and evidence in those fields, so we don’t have to “guess” for answers.

  • Some Platitudes

The advice on “depending on ourselves” for our own love is a popular one -the popular book The Mastery of Love is an example-.
However, attachment theory shows that we can all be more confident when we have a strong partner to be attached to.

  • Some So-So Dating Advice

Oprah says that “if a man wants you, nothing can keep him away”. It’s an awesome book, but don’t take that one at face value.
Also read: the 8 most common women’s dating mistakes.


  • Great Message of Hope

What I Know for Sure delivers a great message of hope for anyone who has been through is going through a difficult time.

  • Powerful Life Advice

You can’t argue with life advice such as “enjoy the moment” and “celebrate more and you’ll more to celebrate”. That’s true and it’s life-changing.


By reading “What I Know For Sure“, I got the feeling that Oprah has a tendency of jumping to conclusions without second-guessing her judgment enough.

However, I also believe that she has developed strong self-awareness.

And I think that’s one of the positive sides of What I Know For Sure: it deals with fears and insecurities that many of us have, and it can help grow our sense of self-awareness.

Overall, I could recommend What I Know for Sure to almost anyone, but especially to those who had a difficult childhood or are facing difficult times.

But whether you should read it or not also depends on whether you like Oprah or not, though.
If you like Oprah, you will like the book.
If you don’t like Oprah, you might learn a thing or two… But you’re better off spending your time with some other authors you like 🙂

Check the best books collection or get the book on Amazon

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