We can all learn something from Maya Angelou’s journey. Discover the most profound advice that it can teach us.
Aside from being a remarkable novelist and poet, Maya Angelou was an incredibly strong woman. To this day, her story serves as an inspiration for female leaders across the globe.
When Angelou’s parents divorced when she was only three, she and her brother moved to Arkansas where they lived with their grandmother. But being a child of divorce was far from Angelou’s biggest tragedy.
Namely, her mother’s boyfriend raped her when she was eight. Angelou was brave enough to confide in her uncles and tell them what happened. Enraged by this unspeakable crime, Angelou’s uncles beat her mother’s boyfriend to death.
Traumatised by the effect of her words, Angelou spent the next five years in silence. She made a decision to not say a single word.
Little by little, Angelou recovered from the tragic events she experienced. In 1940, she moved to San Francisco with her brother and mother. She started singing, dancing, and recording poetry.
Angelou wanted to build a career in the theatre. However, at the age of 16, she gave birth to a son, and, with it, her life took a different turn. She started working as a nightclub waitress to provide for her son. At some point, she danced at a strip club, not realising that this would change her life forever. It was there that a theatre group discovered her one night, marking the beginning of what became an astonishingly successful career.
Angelou moved to New York and joined the circles of prolific Harlem writers. She later moved to Egypt, followed by Ghana, where she lived with her son. When she came back to the US, Angelou started publishing her autobiography, which became a global success.
Angelou’s life experience can hardly be matched, but it can teach us a whole lot. Here are some of her most valuable life lessons:
1. Be Proud of Your Story
You might be familiar with Angelou’s famous quote:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
It’s not always easy to share your deepest thoughts and experiences with others. It takes a great deal of courage and vulnerability. But you should never let fear or shame build a wall around you.
After staying completely quiet for years, Angelou decided to make her voice heard. She shared her entire life with the world – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Raw and unapologetic, her multivolume biography has inspired countless women to be proud of themselves.
You don’t necessarily have to publish a series of novels to tell your story. It’s enough to share it with those who matter. Not only will you see that you’re not alone, but you can also become an inspiration for others.
2. People Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel
Angelou learned how powerful words can be when she was very young. They can motivate and support, but they can also hurt. Make no mistake, these effects can last for a long time.
As Angelou said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When was the last time you thought about the impact you have on others? You have the power to spread kindness and love, so have you unleashed it yet?
Whenever you meet someone, see how you can make their life just a little bit better. Don’t underestimate the impact that a single kind word can have on someone’s experience. If we all strive towards supporting others this way, the world can truly become a much better place.
3. Courage Is Key
Do you stand up for yourself or others when needed? Are you brave enough to swim against the tide and follow your own path? Angelou certainly was, and she believed that every single person should be.
In her words:
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
Life will undoubtedly throw all kinds of challenges your way. As much as it may not seem like it, you get to choose what happens next. Choose courage and stand strong in the face of adversity, and you’ll be unstoppable.
4. Love Should Be Liberating
People often mistake love for need. They believe that holding onto something as tightly as possible is what love is about. But Angelou disagrees.
“Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.”
In this famous quote, Angelou summarised what love is truly about. It knows no boundaries, nor should it create them by forcing people together. True love means setting both yourself and others free. So don’t let ego or need poison pure love.
5. Be Yourself Instead of Trying to Fit in
In this day and age, we’re overexposed to everyone’s lives. We’re getting bombarded by images of the perfect mainstream lifestyle. As a result, it’s easy to feel like you’re less than perfect just because you’re not living that same life.
Angelou has a simple but profound thought on this:
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”
You should never strive towards being someone else. It’s a race you can’t win. Even if you achieve their idea of success, you’ll lose yourself along the way.
Each of us is truly unique, and you should proudly showcase how you’re different from others. Stick to your path, and don’t let others derail you.
6. Take Responsibility for Your Life
Have you ever felt like your life wasn’t going in the direction you want it to? Most people have been there once or twice in their life. It can feel as if you were the victim of your life, helplessly watching things as they happen.
Well, you’re not helpless, and Angelou knew this better than most. In her own words:
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
We can’t control the world, but we can control our place in it. You get to make a conscious decision as to how you’ll react to every single event. And these decisions have more power than you might think. Remember that you’re the creator of your life and that you get to write your own story.
Unleash Your Power
If there’s a woman that all female leaders can look up to, it was Maya Angelou. Now that you’ve seen some laws that she lived her life by, see how you can apply them to your own journey.
Remember that life doesn’t happen to you but for you. Every challenge comes with a lesson that will add to your rich experience and knowledge. So don’t fear any bad outcome, as it will only make you stronger. Tap into the power that lies within you and go through life bravely until you achieve what you’ve set your mind to.
If you need help becoming a true leader, I’m here for you. Feel free to reach out and book my speaking services.