Breathing space 

The importance of watching your own horse

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"Watch your own horse" was Oprah's mantra when she made her iconic TV show. Marisa Bate is having trouble telling herself the same thing 

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By Marisa Bate on

So in an exercise of pure millennial self-indulgence I’ve decided to write a letter to myself. This isn’t because I’m only interested in reading my own work – whatever rumours you’ve heard about us millenials. This is because I’m not listening to myself and maybe if I commit small black words to a screen, I might start. Here goes.

Dear Marisa,

Listen to Oprah.

Listen to the woman who turned daytime TV aimed at middle American housewives into the biggest TV show in the world. Listen to the woman who thought she was “too fat and too black” to be on TV but who became the first African American billionaire. Listen to the woman who Obama rings for advice. If you’re going to listen to anyone, listen to Oprah.

And listen to the absolutely brilliant Making Oprah podcast – the three-part documentary that examines Oprah’s iconic TV show and listen to what all Oprah’s producers say. Listen to how Oprah told them the same thing over and over and over. Listen to how all those producers parrot it back, all these years later: “Watch your own horse”, they say will a smile in their voice.

Stop being frustrated by underwhelming people getting overwhelming opportunities - life can be dickish like that and there’s nothing you can do about it


Listen to the fact that Oprah didn’t care what her competitors were doing. Listen to how she didn’t lose sleep over rival shows or new chat show hosts crowding the market that she basically built. Listen to how she didn’t waste a minute on them, she literally didn’t know what they were doing. Listen to how all her time and energy went into the Oprah Show –  nobody else’s show – her show. Listen to how she watched her own horse.

And then look when happened? Oprah became queen of the universe and the galaxy and the stars and everything.

So start listening to Oprah and stop being fixated with everyone but yourself.

Stop stalking writers online who had an idea you didn’t.

Stop looking at pretty, skinny blonde girls in far away cities and wandering why you aren’t that skinny or that pretty or in that city.

Stop being fascinated about other people’s career trajectory more than your own; stop wondering what you don’t have.

Stop being frustrated by underwhelming people getting overwhelming opportunities - life can be dickish like that and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Stop getting so angry that a social media following has replaced talent, spark and originality and enjoy the talent, spark and originality of brilliant writers with zero followers.

Stop giving validation to popularity and retweets. You know it’s meaningless so why does it crawl under your skin so much?

Stop worrying that your eyebrows look wild and spend more time reading. Stop comparing your thighs in a picture to the woman’s thighs in the picture next to you.

Stop predicting the future of people you have never met and put that energy into making your own future happen.

Stop listening to the chatter of others and their egos and their buzzing social media feeds and their “super exiting secret project!” and, for Christ’s sake, watch your own horse.

For Christ's sake, listen to Oprah.

And maybe then you’re realise that your own horse is actually doing OK.

Best wishes



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