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Iyanla Vanzant never imagined her career after 50. And at 69, she's just getting started.

The popular life coach chats with Know Your Value as part of our “50 Over 50” collaboration with Forbes, in effort to highlight women who are breaking barriers and are having their greatest impact over the age of 50.
Iyanla Vanzant is an inspirational speaker, lawyer, life coach and television personality.
Iyanla Vanzant is an inspirational speaker, lawyer, life coach and television personality.Roy Cox

Throughout her long career as a life coach, spiritual teacher and inspirational speaker, Iyanla Vanzant has touched countless lives. And at 69, Vanzant feels like she is just getting started.

The former host of “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” told “Morning Joe” reporter Daniela Pierre-Bravo that she is making the biggest impact at this stage of career.

“Starting with the pandemic…[people] were more willing than ever to try anything,” Vanzant said. “So, I started with a daily exercise activity with people from all over the world, teaching them how to breathe, teaching them how to get still, giving them something to focus on. Thirty four years in, I was still surprised by the response that I got, and it was called the ‘anti viral message.’ I did it every day for 49 days during the pandemic, during the shutdown. And then I went to once a week… That to me was the greatest impact, not the 19 books, not the television show … and the reason is because people were so willing.”

Vanzant continued, … I thank [Covid-19, or what I refer to as] ‘Miss Corona’ for two things … She gave two very clear messages: Go home. Get still.”

Practicing stillness is something Vanzant does every day, noting it got her through some of her darkest moments, including divorce, the loss of her daughter who died from a rare form of colon cancer, financial troubles and more.

Pierre-Bravo spoke to Vanzant as part of Know Your Value’s “50 Over 50” collaboration with Forbes, in effort to highlight women who are breaking barriers, proving success has no age limit, and are having their greatest impact over the age of 50.

The second annual "50 Over 50" list comes out on Thursday. In the meantime, we shine a spotlight on one woman who embodies the spirit of what it means to achieve so much later in life. Here are the highlights from the interview:

On if she ever imagined her career after age 50:

Vanzant: “No, never! I was hoping to get to 50.

…I was coming from total poverty, total dysfunction, no support, in survival mode. Fifty was too far ahead … It was moment, by moment, by moment, so I never thought to look ahead to 50, surely not 60 and definitely not almost 70.

… My father died at 59, and my mother at 33, my brother at 49, my sister at 52, so I didn't have a model for what it looked like beyond 50.”

On the advice she would give to women in their 20s and 30s who feel like they are in a rush to find success:

Vanzant: “Go home. Be still.”

On getting through a big life crisis, navigating tragedy:

Vanzant: “Give yourself permission to have the initial shock and horrification of whatever the change is — the loss of a job, a divorce, even a health crisis … I think what happens is we try to, you know. Push through it. No, no, no! Stay there for a couple of hours, even a day or so, and then I promise you it is one step at a time.

… And sometimes you'll fall over, and sometimes you'll stumble ahead, and sometimes you can barely get up. It's one step at a time, and you may not know where that step is going to lead you …Your daily spiritual practice, that is your ticket, whatever you're going into, whatever you're coming out of — your daily spiritual practice: centering, grounding, breathing, listening, trusting. One step at a time That's the only way you can do it, because you cannot rush through it.”

On a moment before age 50, where she almost gave up, and how she navigated through it:

Vanzant: "Well, when my daughter passed, and the grief was just so overwhelming … I was in the midst of a divorce. I had lost a million-dollar contract with a major publisher…

That really took me all of me, and I got a …pistol, and I was going to blow my brains up literally, and I stopped to think. And I was like, “OK. Who's going to find me? And what is it going to look like?” And I'm going through all of this, and I heard, you know, from deep within: ‘Stop being dramatic. This is what you're gonna do. You're gonna lay down, and you're gonna stay there till I tell you to get out up.’ And that's what I did. I went to bed and stayed there.

...For me, it was grief. That's what took me there, and sadness and sorrow, and not having a consistent daily spiritual practice, because I was so busy rushing around and doing so much and had fallen off my practice.

On what to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed or going through a crisis:

Vanzant: “Breathing. Most of us don't breathe. We sip air … We can walk around like that for months, really not breathing, not being present in the body. So, the moment something happens, whatever it is, breathe. Breathing will get you in your body and out of your head.

…You've got to get in your body and feel. You've got to get into your heart, and then to whomever or whatever, you have to ask for help.

Do you know how many of us walk around with a headache or a knee ache and won't ask for help? We’ve got to ask for help sooner, and I don't care who you ask it from: divine, internal, grandma, somebody. Ask for help.”

On why it’s so hard for communities of color to ask for help:

Vanzant: “We have so much taboo around mental health and self-care. I had no idea what self-care until a few years ago …Even for me, you know, growing up …everything was about survival. They couldn't tell their secrets. They couldn't ask for help. They couldn't appear weak.

They couldn't allow themselves to be vulnerable. We don't live in that time … so we don't have to do it… Holding on to practices that are no longer appropriate, and living in a way that is no longer that no longer honors who we are and who we are…

My grandmother scrubbed floors and toilets, and got up at 4:30 in the morning, and she cooked food for wealthy people …so that I, in the 21st Century, don't have to do it. I can be a housekeeper if I want to. I can be a domestic, but I don't have to. She had to as a Native American who was passing for Black.

…So for us today, we have to be willing to let go of the survival skills and the traditions and the customs and the taboos that are not appropriate for who we are.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.