Iyanla Vanzant’s journey from lawyer to ‘Iyanla, Fix My Life’ guru

Iyanla Vanzant

The phrase “life coach” probably causes a lot of people to roll their eyes, but one woman has made a career out of being exactly that. On OWN’S Iyanla, Fix My Life, Iyanla Vanzant fixes everything from friendships and marriages to the lives of rap stars (DMX) and reality starlets (Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Sheree Whitfield). But what qualifies her to do so?

If you were thinking a psychology degree, you would be wrong. Iyanla is actually a trained lawyer. Before that, though, she had a tough life. The kind of life that gives you the right to tell people that they can get through anything. Because from the moment she was born (in the back of a cab in Brooklyn, 1953), Iyanla (whose given name is Rhonda Harris) faced adversity. Here’s a quick rundown of the cards she was dealt:

-She was the product of an extra-marital affair

-Her mother passed away from breast cancer when she was just 3

-Her father wasn’t steadily in the picture

-She was raped by an uncle when she was 9

-She had three children by the time she was 21 (first one when she was just 16)

-She was married to an abusive man for 9 years

-She lost a daughter to cancer

-She has twice tried to commit suicide


After escaping her abusive husband with her three kids, Iyanla set out to fix her own life, enrolling in a Brooklym college and then the City University of New York Law School at Queens College. Her oratory skills landed her a job with the Philadelphia Public Defender’s Office–without an interview!

That would be impressive enough, but as we know, the story doesn’t end there. Iyanla eventually left her position. “Sometimes you just know,” she said in an interview with Ebony magazine. You have to listen within and it was clear to me that I did not go to law school to become a lawyer, I went to law school to change my mind.”

Iyanla Vanzant and Oprah

It wasn’t until she began teaching a class for women transitioning from welfare to working lives that Iyanla found her true calling. “When I started talking about personal transformation and spiritual principles, people thought I was a nut, particularly personal healing and spiritual principles grounded in an African-centered consciousness, people thought I was crazy and that was really challenging,” she says. “Now, it’s a booming business. And now it’s acceptable. Now we talk about it: “Oh I’m a very spiritual person.”’

And we talk about it in no small part because of Iyanla. After some stints on TV (anybody remember NBC’s Starting Over?) Iyanla hooked up with Oprah, and the rest, as they say, is history. Iyanla, Fix My Life has been one of the most successful OWN programs, and is currently in its fourth season. It airs Saturday nights on OWN at 9 pm EST.

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