The Inspired Example of Maya Angelou

Inspired by Maya Angelou

When I think of the courage to live a creative life, Maya Angelou comes to mind every time.

What I admire most about her was her Renaissance Soul. Multi-passionate, curious and talented, Maya Angelou disregarded the advice telling us to master Just One Thing in order to succeed. Her life disproved that old saw “Jack of All Trades…”.

(I suspect this saying began around the same time as assembly lines were invented.)

No one could accuse her of being a Master of None but she certainly had a varied career. She worked as a journalist in Ghana and Egypt and spoke eight languages. A talented jazz singer, she composed songs for the likes of Harry Belafonte. She was also known as a film and stage actor and danced in the opera “Porgy and Bess”. She worked with Dr. King for civil rights and was a professor of American Studies. She lectured to packed auditoriums, was a valued guest on talks shows and served as America’s Poet Laureate. Her list of awards is impressive. 

Lack of Focus?

When someone says ‘You need to get focused’ I point to Maya Angelou’s accomplishments and ask, “You mean like this, right?”

Don’t get me wrong. A laser focused approach to creativity (and life) works very well for some people. Mozart and his single-minded passion for music comes to mind. However, I’m not wired that way.  For me, doing one thing for the rest of my life would be like living the same year over and over.

I will admit though that, looking at Maya Angelou’s list of accomplishments, it’s hard not to feel like a slacker until I remember one important thing.

She didn’t do ALL those things ALL at the same time

I also be surprised if Ms. Angelou succeeded at everything she did. There are probably things not on this list where she learned what she needed and moved on. Even when she did succeed, we see her moving on as her interests and/or circumstances changed.

She learned, adjusted and tried again.

Her example encourages me to choose and take mindful action. Learn from the results. Adjust and try again. (That’s the formula for success right there, by the way.)

It takes practice

I’m sure she wrote many songs before Harry Belafonte decided to record one. Like the rest of us, she needed rehearsals in order to act, sing and dance. As a writer myself, I feel I can safely say a lot of her poetry ended up in the ‘circular file’.

Sometimes, we succeed spectacularly and at other times, it’s valuable learning that leads us to the next interesting thing. If we’re really lucky, we find passions that stick to us our whole lives. We may not see the pattern until we reach the end of our lives.

Today, looking back, Maya Angelou’s passion shows up as creative expression. That’s my passion, as well, which is why she inspires me so.

The gift of Maya Angelou’s life

Often coaching clients and peers tell me they feel guilty because they have so many interests. They worry that something is wrong with them and half-joke about being ADD. Behind their words is the fear they won’t achieve their dreams. I remind them of Maya Angelou’s career and many accomplishments. Her example gives us permission to be curious and live interesting, creative lives and a pattern to follow.

I tell them “It worked for her. Let’s see how to make it work for you.”

Who inspires you? Share in the comments and tell us why!


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