10 Lessons I Learned from Maya Angelou

21I’ve read all of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, some of her poetry books and most of her published essays. In fact, on almost every vacation I’ve gone on, I’ve taken her with me…in paperback. And since there are so many points of similarities between her life and mine (raised by our grandmothers’, Trinidadian ancestry, being prisoned within yourself as a child, a love for reading and writing, etc.), I had created a sacred space in my head for her. One in which she felt like family.

So, despite her having lived a great, meaningful life and having been so fortunate to live 86 years, I still dropped my phone and clutched my pearls when I got the text that she had passed. Moreover, I continue to get choked with a remembrance that she is no longer in the physical.

Secretly, I’d fantasized that one day I’d meet her and tell her how much she’d meant to me. However, as I think of it now, the woman that she was, it would have been more important that I let those truths flourish in my life than to have offered her those verbal accolades.

In honor of her existence and what she has meant to me, I want to share the most personal of the many lessons I’ve learned from her…

1. “When people tell you who they are [in word and deed], believe them.”

2. You are extraordinary. Through humility and service, we each have the capacity to live lives that shine.

3. No experience ever goes wasted. When you think you’ve fallen or made a wrong turn in life, if you live long enough, you’ll see how it will lead you to something greater.

4. Love yourself fiercely. Never mind the social standards that you do or don’t match up to. You are beautiful, just because you are.

5. Free yourself by forgiving. You do more harm than good to yourself by holding on to that which you are supposed to let go. The past is already gone.

6. Love freely. Open your heart and your doors to people. Give of your cupboards and your affections. It comes back to you. This is the circle of life.

7. Be understanding and patient with people, because we are all doing the best we can with what we have in any given moment. “When we know better, we do better.”

8. In life, you can reinvent yourself a myriad of times. Live by no one’s restricted definitions of who you are and can be—not even your own.

9. “Do what you love so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

10. “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.”


Although I live in my own authenticity, Maya Angelou is one of the few people in life who’ve ever made me say, “I want to be like her.” I’m endlessly grateful for a life well lived. –Thank you, Maya Angelou!


What are some of the lessons that you’ve gleaned from her life?

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