Last week the internet was abuzz with news that celebrated writer, poet and political activist Maya Angelou had passed away at the age of 86.
As a long time admirer of Maya Angelou I want to pay tribute to her legacy and share some of the lessons from her incredible life that have impacted me as a woman and female entrepreneur.
In case you haven’t heard of Maya Angelou, her story is an awe-inspiring example of one woman’s triumph over her past through faith, optimism, courage and mental fortitude.
Her journey is so significant that it needs repeating as a reminder of what is possible in life – regardless your race, gender, religion or socio-economic background.
For me, Maya Angelou was one of the finest examples of a modern day Renaissance woman. She was a warrior who campaigned for love and equality through her writing that transcended cultural barriers.
Maya Angelou successfully rewrote her life story and in doing so, inspired millions of men and women around the world. That’s why I place her next to other leading voices of our time like Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.
The Extraordinary Life Of Maya Angelou
Angelou had a tough childhood. Her parents divorced when she was just 3, and she was sent to live with her grandparents in Arkansas, USA.
As an African American she experienced prejudice and racial discrimination first-hand. Then at the age of age while visiting her mother, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Within hours, her attacker was caught and murdered by her uncles.
This traumatic experience shocked Angelou into silence for the next 6 years of her life. During this time, although mute, Angelou became a voracious reader and discovered a passion for writing and poetry.
At the age of 16, she gave birth to a son and as a young single mother held down several jobs including dancing, singing and working in strip clubs to support herself and her child.
Her story could have ended there; a tragic tale of poverty, racism, rape and teenage pregnancy.
But Maya Angelou went on to become a celebrated writer and poet, she traveled to Egypt and Ghana as a journalist, got involved with the American Civil Rights movement and authored the hugely successful 1969 autobiography about her early years, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which made her an international star.
Author, actress, screenwriter, dancer, poet, speaker and political activist; Angelou can certainly teach us a lot about the human spirit and our capacity to forgive, survive and thrive.
You may not agree with her work or her political views but Maya Angelou’s optimism and courage provide valuable lessons for every entrepreneur. Much has been written about Angelou’s global impact but here are 9 of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes that enlighten as well as inspire me each time I reflect on them.
#1. You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.
When you find something you love and follow it with all your heart, you raise your vibration and attract people, resources and positive situations to you that increase your chances of success.
This vibration goes by many names – your frequency, your aura, your “vibe” or your energy field.
Whatever you call it, this energy is tangible and sensitive to your thoughts and feelings.
If you are down and depressed, your vibration contracts but when you are positive and happy it expands.
You might not be able to see a person’s vibration but you can definitely feel it.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is passionate about their work?
They ooze confidence, joy and have a special kind of charisma. Everything they do seems to work and you love being around them.
This is the magnetic quality Maya Angelou is referring to.
We all have it but it is at its strongest when we are happy and doing work we love. This is why it is so important to discover what you’re passionate about and then lock into that idea until you succeed.
#2. All great achievements require time
Success rarely happens overnight. More often than not it comes after years of hard work, planning, testing, failing and then eventually breaking through.
So don’t fall for those overnight success stories that marketers love to tell you.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon find they are completely made up or embellished here and there to get you to join their mentoring program or buy their latest widget, course or digital product.
Building a business, even online, takes time and work.
If you really want to make a difference and create something lasting, you must shift your focus from making money online to building a business that helps people and changes the world for the better.
#3. We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated
You’ve heard the saying, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and this is definitely a recurring theme in Maya Angelou’s life.
I doubt that many of us could have endured what she did and come through it with such class and dignity.
Successful people seem to share one thing – they are able to overcome adversity in order to reach their goals.
It’s the same for you and me.
Our Creator never gives us any challenges that we can’t handle. We are far stronger than we think but we don’t know this until we face obstacles and learn how to overcome them.
Being in business is challenging and you will be tested and stretched on a regular basis.
If you know this in advance, you can prepare yourself mentally and develop a different attitude towards setbacks and failure.
Each time you get knocked down, train yourself to bounce back. Learn to embrace challenges, rather than avoiding them.
The hard times you are going through are a crucial part of your story and the journey you are on. Every experience is making you into the person you have to become to achieve the goals you’ve set yourself.
Be thankful for them.
#4. There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Although she probably didn’t realize this at the time, everything that Maya Angelou went through – the good and the bad – became her story and a source of inspiration for others, especially women.
Her story touched me as a teenager living across the pond on a rainy little island.
Her words filled my heart and mind with hope and optimism at a time when I was questioning who I was and trying to figure out what I wanted to become.
I felt that no matter what I was going through, if Maya Angelou could turn her life around, then so could I.
Never underestimate your significance and your power to influence others.
Everything you have experienced so far, whatever you are going through and all your future ups and downs are shaping your story.
You and your story matter in ways that you may not even appreciate right now. It is what makes you unique and can become the heart and soul of your business.
#5. The most important thing is to dare.
Maya Angelou often talks about courage, and describes it as the most important of all virtues.
You may not be born courageous but every step you take pushes you out of your comfort zone and develops courage.
Building your courage muscle is like building any other kind of physical muscle.
You don’t try to lift 100kg right away. You start at a lower weight, say 10kg, then build up to 20kg, then 30kg until one day you are strong enough to lift a 100kg weight.
It’s the same for courage.
Don’t let your past define you. Of course, it’s part of who you are but it doesn’t have to dictate your future. Dare to be different. Try new things and have the courage to experiment regardless whether it works out or not.
#6. Nothing will work unless you do.
You have to be willing to put in the work to move your life forwards.
It sounds obvious yet too many people get nowhere because they waste time thinking, planning and dreaming without executing.
Maya Angelou was a prolific author and was known to follow a strict regime when it came to her writing; she would rise at 5am and leave her home at 6am to go to lonely hotel rooms where she could sit, think and begin work by 6:30am.
What new habits do you need to cultivate to get things done?
Do you need to get up earlier? Stay up later in the evenings? Exercise more, eat healthier or start meditating?
Once you have an idea of what you want to do, you must implement it and stick with it long enough to give it chance to work.
Don’t worry about knowing everything at the start, the steps will reveal themselves once you begin.
#7. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Too often in life we think we are stuck.
But we all have the power to change. It just takes a shift in our thinking.
Angelou encouraged women to shape their own destinies and look for solutions, as she had done.
She urged women to get out of a bad living situation, a dysfunctional relationship or a job they hated.
Even though taking a new path may be difficult it is better than remaining in a situation which is not nurturing you.
Instead of complaining about your situation, do something constructive; change it, move away from the people who don’t empower you and if you can’t do either of these things, then accept your situation and change how you feel about it.
Do whatever it takes to make your dreams happen.
#8. Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.
In life as well as in business everything comes down to how you feel about yourself.
Are you confident and full of self-belief that whatever you embark on will work out? Or are you riddled with doubt and fear?
You have to be your number one advocate and fan.
No matter how much criticism you get from people around you, no matter how tough things become or even if you take a wrong turn you must be able to stand by yourself and stand up for yourself.
Follow your heart and let yourself be guided by your inner voice. It will lead you to the right place.
Always remember that you don’t need anyone’s approval to succeed, you are more than enough.
#9. If you get, give, if you learn, teach.
Perhaps the biggest lesson from the amazing life of Maya Angelou is summed up by this last quote – the legacy she leaves behind.
Besides the huge body of work she produced, this wise woman gave us her soul, her humanity and her light.
Her teachings will no doubt inspire many generations to come.
While we may not have the reach and influence of Maya Angelou, each one of us is responsible for our own legacy. We all come into this world with our own unique gifts to share, to make a difference and to contribute.
Perhaps Maya Angelou’s greatest gift is that her life inspires us to be the best we can be. Her legacy fuels us to discover our own purpose so we may go out and share it with others.
You may not have given this much thought, or perhaps you are well on the way to building something of significance. Whatever the case, it’s worth stopping to ask yourself what do you want to be remembered for? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
What do you think is the biggest lesson from the life of Maya Angelou? Please comment and share below.