Maya Angelou is one of America’s most beloved authors and a civil rights activist. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees, plus the country’s highest honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2014, she died at the age of 86 and left us with numerous books, poems, and countless teachings about how to lead happier lives and be better human beings.
During her career of more than 50 years, Angelou bravely shared her struggles but also wins as a black woman in America. Through her work, she encouraged millions of people not to lose hope during hard situations.
She was a spokesperson for black people and women for decades, and her work is considered a defense of black culture.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
Too often, we want to control life and everything that happens around us. Sometimes, this approach works. Yet, most of the time, it doesn’t.
Life is a series of unexpected miracles and challenges, and we’ll never be able to cope with all of them. Yet, what we can do is embracing difficulties and not allow them to reduce our self-worth.
Most people spend so little time alone that they let the world define their worth instead of showing up with their whole presence.
Things will always happen, and you’ll never be able to control all aspects of your life. Yet, what you can always manage is your reaction towards difficulties.
The misbehavior of someone has nothing to do with your worth. Their action reveals who they are, but doesn’t say a word about you.
How to apply:
Instead of worrying about what others might say, do, or think, focus on yourself.
Easier said than done, I know, but appreciating yourself doesn’t need to be hard. By spending some time alone and practicing self-reflection, you can strengthen your confidence and finally show up as the greatness you are.
Next time you face a challenging situation, focus on your inner world:
Why do you feel upset or angry about that happening?
What kind of emotions do you experience?
Why do you think that this particular situation triggered you?
And how would you want to feel instead?
“If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be.”
How often do you dim your light because you’re afraid of not being accepted or appreciated by others?
Let me guess: Too often.
Our entire education system teaches us to fit into existing patterns. Additionally, society and most families educate children to be normal and don’t want them to stand out from the majority.
That’s why this lesson from Maya Angelou is so precious: Only by being different, accepting your faults, and experimenting can you find out how amazing you are and live a beautiful life that is true to yourself.
Normality often seems to be safe, but it isn’t. It’s dull.
Doing whatever lights up your heart and taking risks, however, is the most powerful way to live a life true to yourself.
How to apply:
Next time you find yourself suppressing your authenticity and acting normal instead of real, take some time to explore your inner world:
Do you shrink back from being your authentic self just to be like the others?
Wouldn’t it be more amazing to do all the things you desire and live the unique life you deserve instead of doing what everyone else is doing?
“You are the sum of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
You’ve probably heard about the famous quote stating that you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.
While the point of the quote makes sense, it’s incomplete: You’re not only the average of the five people you’re surrounded by but as Angelou stated, you’re the average of everything you consume.
Every book you read, show you watch, song you listen to, conversation you have, and experience you make influences who you are.
Most people don’t take care about what they let into their lives and end up wondering about their misery.
The harsh yet straightforward truth, however, is that you choose your destiny. You pick the things you’re surrounded by, which eventually lead to the life you experience.
To make different experiences, start making new choices.
How to apply:
Take care of what you let inside your life and mind: Every piece of information you consume can influence your emotions, actions, and, therefore, your entire life.
Your time and energy are two of the most scarce resources you have. Thus, be cautious of how you spend them: Instead of wasting your time with negative influences, choose positive experiences, love, and joy whenever possible.
“Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.”
I see so many people trying to be successful at something just for the success itself. They’re not genuinely interested in the craft or process. They just want the results. They want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want to be writers without actually writing. They want to be entrepreneurs but don’t want to solve problems.
Well, guess what?
This barely works.
You can’t be good at something you don’t genuinely enjoy. Look at highly successful people, no matter if in business, sports, or art. Those who deliver massive results are the ones who are in love with what they’re doing.
I’ve never seen a successful entrepreneur who wasn’t on fire about his business or a successful sportsperson who wasn’t crazy about the game.
Everybody wants to be successful, but only those who stick through the hard times and make enough sacrifices will eventually see rewards.
How to apply:
Life is too short to chase dreams that are not yours. If you want to deliver significant results, first find out why you want it. Without an inner fire and a sincere desire, you’ll keep struggling to reach your goals.
Passion reveals massive action and keeps you going even when life seems to suck. Continuing any journey despite setbacks is hard, yet, it’s the only path to lasting success.
Stop believing that great results will come quickly by working hard enough. Instead, figure out what you truly enjoy and start investing your energy into the things that fulfill your soul because that’s where you’ll find most potential for success.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
One of the most common struggles, particularly young people nowadays face is that they want to have it all, and they want to have it all now.
We ignore our talents and efforts, but instead blindly compare our achievements to others. And mostly, we compare our foundations with the success of someone who’s been in the game for much longer.
Instead of making one right move after the other, we want to take massive steps towards success. Yet, that’s not how life works.
The only sustainable way to growth is through taking the next right action. Do the best you can until you know better, as Angelou stated.
When you choose to do what’s the next right move now, you’ll also be able to identify the next right step, and then again the next right step.
We can’t foresee the future. But we can take one right step after the other. And if we do so for long enough, we’ll eventually find ourselves at beautiful places.
How to apply:
Whenever you feel stuck and start panicking about what to do next, remind yourself to only focus on the next right move.
You can’t control the world and its happenings anyway. All you can do is taking a step in the right direction one day at a time.
Having plans for the future is sweet. Yet, sometimes, focusing on now and making the next right decision is the best way to live a happier, more fulfilled life.
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
There’s no single definition of success we all could ever agree on. Yet, I believe Maya Angelou’s description is universally valid: Liking yourself, what you do, and how you do it.
A good sense of self-worth is the foundation of a happy life. The problem, however, is that most people don’t even think of how they treat themselves. Instead, they pursue goals that are not even theirs. They continually compare themselves to others and end up wondering why they’re not fulfilled.
Our work takes up a significant part of our lives, and while not everybody needs to be genuinely passionate about what he’s doing for a living, liking what you do for the majority of your time is an invaluable way to a happier life.
How to apply:
Ask yourself what success means for you.
Too often, we work our ass off to be successful, without even knowing what we actually want.
For me, success means health, love, financial freedom, and the freedom to choose where and when I work. If all of this is present in my life, I’m successful.
But what does it mean for you?
While the lessons above are only a tiny excerpt from Maya Angelou’s work, her teachings have transformed millions of lives.
After reading several of her books and watching numerous videos, there’s one lesson I particularly admire:
“Just do right.”
In an interview, Angelou shared how her grandmother taught her to always do right and be the best human being you can be under all given circumstances.
“Right may not be expedient and may not be profitable but it will satisfy your soul.”
According to Angelou, it’s up to every single person on this planet to pick up the battle of life and make the world a better place while we’re still here.
If you want to dive deeper, you can find a collection of Angelou’s books and poems here.