What Maya Angelou Taught Us About Life

master-class-maya-angelou-2-600x411Maya Angelou taught us that “When you get give, when you learn teach.” That is at the core of what this website is about. What good is it if we keep what we learn to ourselves? I started this site with the intention of taking what I learn in my own life and offer it in a way that hopefully you, as a reader, can relate to. So today, I dedicate this blog to Maya Angelou and share some of my favorite quotes as well as the underlying meaning behind them.

This quote is one of the first Quote Therapy posts I every put up on Psych Connection. It resonated because so often we want change, we want life to be different, but when that change comes, we’re forced to deal with the reality. This is the reason why over 90% of people who win the lottery go into bankruptcy – they don’t know how to deal with what they wanted. They were never equipped with the tools to handle that level of change. The truth is that change will come, but what will you do when it happens? Do you know how to maintain it? Even when you get what you want, there will be new challenges. If we keep wishing for things to change, we’ll always be on a hamster wheel. Can you begin to be content in every season of your life?

It’s often been said that luck is when preparation meets the moment of opportunity. We have to constantly prepare ourselves for our goals to come to fruition, so that when they happen, we’re ready. If we’re not ready for the moment where we get into a relationship with the person we thought we wanted to be with, we’ll sabotage it because we don’t know how to handle it when turbulence hits. If we’re not ready for when we win the lottery, we won’t know how to manage our new winnings. This is a concept you can apply to every aspect of your life – whether it’s a new job, relationship, money, etc. What else can you apply it to?

How often have you gotten in a huge fight with someone and then when someone asks you about it later, you’ll say “I don’t remember exactly what he/she said, but I was so pissed.” The details don’t matter at the end of the day. What matters is the kind of feeling you were left with. Take responsibility for your own role in any situation – what do you leave people with?

Another one of Maya’s great lessons asks when someone mentions your name in the context of others, what do they say? Do they say “Oh him, he can be such a jerk” or “She talks a lot behind people’s backs” or “He never listens”? Or do they say “He is so nice” or “She helps people around her so much” “He is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met.” What are you leaving people with? When people enter your space, do they leave better than the way they entered?

We cling to our ideas, habits, and beliefs so readily. We’re so quick to judge our circumstances and even our internal emotional states. And what Maya Angelou points out here is that whatever the situation is, free yourself from your beliefs and situations. Love yourself or the other person enough to free them of the shackles you created. Mays says, Love liberates – it doesn’t bind. “Love says I love you wherever you are.” Love says I love you however you are. Love may mean saying that “I’d like to be near you” or “I’d like to be closer to you,” but I know that’s not possible right now and I love you enough to let you go free. I love you enough to trust you as you go on your own journey. Love can also mean “I love you, but I can’t be near you the way you’re acting.” You can love someone from a distance.

We put up with other people’s issues so often and so readily. People often turn to us and say “I can be pretty crazy.” Or “I’m always late.” Or “I can be really negative.” Maya says, believe them – they know themselves much better than you do. And take it a step further. Don’t be surprised or hold them to an expectation that they cannot fulfill. If someone says that they are late, expect them to be late. And if you can’t handle that, then adjust your involvement because they’ve shown you who they are and it’s your responsibility to handle how you will or will not participate.

Another situation may be that you notice a friend of yours is talking behind your back or you hear something that someone said about you or you have someone who doesn’t support you. When people do this, they are showing you who they are in that moment. They are telling you that they don’t have the courage to talk to you directly. They are showing you that they would rather create drama than to create change. Take that in and believe them so when they do it again, you’re prepared. Don’t get mad after the 17th time you’ve gotten in a fight with them about the same thing, they’ve already shown you who they were the first 16 times they did it.

Although Maya Angelou didn’t say the above quote herself, I’ve heard her cite Terrence. So often in our lives we go around bitter, angry, and hurt that someone wronged us in a way we never imagined. However, if we internalize this quote, we can see that the qualities in them are also in us, we can have greater empathy for them and we may not be as vengeful.

Think about a time when you hurt someone else. You may not think it was as bad as a moment when somebody else hurt you, but the underlying issue is still the same, which is a lapse in empathy, judgment, and reason. Can you grant other people the same level of mercy you would want them to grant yourself?

If you can see this for the bad, imagine what it could mean for the good. Think about all the people in your life you admire. The same qualities in those that you admire are also in you. You are no different than them. You possess, on some level, the same qualities on them. All the people you deem to be “successful” are extensions of qualities you already possess. Find those qualities in you and let them out.

Now I want to ask you, what have you learned in your life? Who can you help in some way? Light the path for someone who doesn’t see the way. No matter where you are or what you have been through, someone else is in the same place you were and you can be a guide for them.

What other lessons have you learned from Maya Angelou? What resonated with you? Share your insights. What have you learned that you can now teach?

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Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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