Inspiration to Reinvent Yourself: What Would Maya Angelou Do?


Liz, a fellow exchange student—whose face I cannot now recall—sorta kinda changed my life…

She introduced me to a woman who would later serve as the resident mentor in my head.

Liz and I walked alongside a larger crowd, on a dusty road, back to the international hostel where we had all dormed as foreign exchange students. She had just finished reading Maya Angelou’s, “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes,” and offered to lend it to me. In this part of Maya Angelou’s autobiography she talked about an important part of her life—the time she spent in Ghana.

Ghana…the place where I had just found myself studying abroad…

I had to read it, of course!

Initially I thought the value of reading the book was that Maya Angelou described people and places I had now come in contact with. I could relish in the fantasy of a shared experience. But after the first book, I grabbed yet another and another, until I had completed all five parts of her autobiography—developing a great appreciation for her along the way.

Maya Angelou, after having a child unwed during her teens, started her career prostituting…. Not the ideal career for any of you frugalistas, I would assume, but her life would later take very interesting turns.  By the time I finished her fifth book, which only covered half of her life, I was impressed with how full a life she’d lived. Not only had she danced, sang, performed on television, written a television series, and books, but she’d lived in different countries, worked for Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, acted with Sidney Poitier, been a part of a writing group with James Baldwin and Rosa Guy and even had Billie Holiday over for dinner once.

Two things impress me most about this heroine of mine. First, she told the story so ordinarily that I felt like this life could happen for me too. Second, the notion that you can reinvent yourself over and over is nothing short of empowering. In fact, like Maya, knowing no limits I’ve done it. I went back to school, while well on my social work career path at a time when I was approaching career stability and would soon be eligible for advancement opportunities. It would seem a setback as a doctoral degree takes a minimum of 4 or 5 years, but the opportunities that have abounded since, cannot be compared.

And you know what? I plan on changing career paths and taking detours again in life.

In short, let no one define you. Let no characteristic, be it age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, income level or creed make you think that your desired life is not possible.  Think about Maya, her life, all the indicators that screamed a future of doom and failure and think, “What would Maya Angelou do?

In closing, if I may recite the inspiring words of a friend of mine—that came in the form of text, as I wrote this here for you—“Stay open for the experience of life. No matter where it takes you.”

Frugalistas:  Share your “reinvention”  and stories of success. Share your challenges.

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