I had the incredible privilege of attending a night with Maya Angelou in Dallas, Texas a few years ago. While it was obvious that she was facing health challenges at the time, her voice and spirit were as strong as ever. Her words were provocative and empowering, yet the cadence of her voice was comforting. As I listened, I remember how inspiring it was to hear a woman who had found her voice and was using it to effect positive change in the world. As many reflect this week on the influence and impact of such a phenomenal woman, I can’t help but consider the lessons behind the words voiced by Maya Angelou. Here are just a few of the lessons I see in her words.
“A wise woman wishes to be nobody’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” – Maya Angelou
There’s no question that the statistics regarding physical and sexual violence against women are shocking. What the statistics don’t include are the additional ways women are victimized including the exploitation and sexualization of women in the media. As women, we also hurt each other. The “mean girl” behavior may start with middle school girls, but all too often it doesn’t stop with adult women – sometimes it becomes more pervasive and destructive. Maya Angelou understood that as women we have power, the power to support each other and the power to stand up for ourselves. We don’t have to let violence, negativity or cruelty control us or dictate how we will live our lives. Wise women stand together and advocate for change.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. – Maya Angelou
If you’re like me, this is a difficult lesson to learn. There have been many times in both my personal relationships and professional situations where someone has given me a glimpse of their true nature, yet I just didn’t want to see or believe it. It’s as if there’s something in our female DNA that makes us think we can fix things and change other people; unfortunately, it very rarely happens. I had a situation a few years ago in which I didn’t trust my instincts about someone and a friend wisely told me, “You can’t fix crazy.” A lesson I learned the hard way, but am better for it now.
“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.” – Maya Angelou
I find the message in these words to be particularly profound. Our whole experience as humans – who we are, how we act, what we say, the way we say it – is based on feelings. If my experience with you is negative, my feelings about you will be negative. If my experience with you is positive, my feelings about you will be positive. I believe the most important lesson for each of us here on earth is to learn to transcend the negative and to come from a place of love.
“It’s in the reach of my arms. It’s in the span of my hips. It’s in the stride of my step. It’s in the curl of my lips. I’m a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman.” – Maya Angelou
There’s so much pressure on women – we’re expected to be thin, look young, have the right handbag, be supermom and “lean in” at work. We try so hard to be what everyone else wants or expects us to be, we begin to think we’re not enough. Instead of apologizing or compromising, Maya Angelou celebrated being a woman. Believe in yourself. Appreciate who you are, as you are – a phenomenally, phenomenal woman!
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